Going Viral: Superfoods for a Supercharged New Mama Immune System
I used to have an immune system of steel, rarely getting sick.
And then, kids. If you’re like me, you’ve noticed periods of time where your immune system is in the tank after becoming a parent. Let’s talk about how to naturally increase our immunity.
Why your immune system sucks.
Your immune system is one of the first things to go when your body is under stress. Physical stress from lack of sleep, healing, malnutrition etc will always take away precious resources from your immune system, causing it to weaken. The typical culprits during the postpartum period aren’t surprising:
Lack of sleep. This is a huge bummer for your immune system, which won’t make enough of the necessary T cells and inflammatory cytokines without enough nighttime rest
Healing. No matter how you gave birth, your body needs to physically heal which also requires the attention of your immune cells. If you get
General stress and anxiety. Elevated levels of cortisol that occur during times of emotional stress decrease your body’s ability to heal via a downregulated immune system. This means slower healing from birth/ delivery as well as slower response to viral and bacterial infections
Hormone changes. After giving birth, your hormones (progesterone and estrogen) which can temporarily cause dysfunction in the immune system. Not only does this mean more sickness, but this is a very common time for autoimmune diseases to pop up
Germy toddlers. If this isn’t your first rodeo into the postpartum period, you likely have a snot faced toddler running around. If he or she is in school or daycare, new viruses are showing up in your house faster than you can say “why? why? whyyyyyy?”
Malnutrition. As you will read below, your immune system requires a ton of different nutrients to function at full steam. If you’re having trouble eating balanced meals, this will compromise your ability to fight infection. And if you’re breastfeeding, your little parasite’s meal is the priority and nutrients that are scarce will go there first.
Nutrients your immune system requires
Speaking of immunity nutrition, there are some basic requirements to keep your immunity fed and in good shape.
Protein. Your immune system cells are made of protein. If you don’t have enough high quality sources, you won’t have the building blocks to physically create the antibodies, T-cells, cytokines etc. A weakened immunity is one of the first signs of malnutrition.
Vitamin A. This is one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies in the developing world, leading to increased infection rates for viruses and other pathogens. We can get vitamin A from orange colored fruits and veggies, as well as animal sources like butter, liver and egg yolk.
Vitamin C. Probably the most “famous” contributor the immune system, we see that folks who are deficient pick up more viruses after exposure. Super dosing on this vitamin doesn’t help though - only those that are deficient before taking a supplement showed any benefit. Food sources of C easily help you reach optimum levels so skip the Emergen-C.
Zinc. Adequate amounts of this mineral stimulate immune cell production and keep your defenses high. More is not better though- excessive amounts will impair its function. Leafy greens, shellfish, squash and meat are all good sources. Steer clear of the supplements.
How to hack your immune system
There’s not much that can be done about the reasons why your immunity is in the toilet (with the exception of malnutrition), so let’s look at how we can best work our way around all of these challenges.
Eat a balanced diet. This goes without saying, but the more of the above nutrients you are able to squeeze into your diet, the better your immune system will function. Protein, healthy fat, starch and a fruit or veg at every meal will set the stage. Cooking is ideal, and utilizing gadgets such as a slow cooker or pressure cooker will help make that task easier in the days of a new baby (or any day, really). Asking visitors to bring meals and outsourcing to a company like Thistle for some new parent meals will help tremendously.
Try to rest. You’re not likely getting your recommended 7-9 hours in the early months (or years…), so try to rest as much as possible. That may mean going to bed earlier, taking turns with your partner for the early or late shifts, taking more naps or simply putting in some more down time into your day. Meditation has also been proven to improve the immune system so take a 10 minute break for meditation or journaling. I love the website calm.com and the app headspace.
Select superfoods. Foods like garlic, mushrooms and honey have been shown to improve the immune system’s response to viral infection. Getting these regularly in your diet, doubling up when you’re starting to feel sick.
Mind your gut. Much of our immunity resides in our guts, and becomes compromised if your digestion is not in good shape. Taking a probiotic supplement daily is associated with fewer viral and bacterial illnesses. If you have chronic GI symptoms or a more formal issue like IBS, working on resolving these will improve your immune response.
Supplement. Vitamin D, Elderberry Syrup and Adaptogen herbs* all have the potential to boost your immunity and keep it running at tip top shape! (*note: adaptogenic herbs are not all pregnancy and nursing safe, so check with a trusted health care provider before using)
That’s a wrap! Give these a try and come on back here to let me know in the comments how you’re feeling. For more info on my favorite supplements and dosing, check out my free guide to New Mama Supps.