Pregnant during the coronavirus pandemic: How to stay healthy

Pregnant women are facing a difficult time already, with hormones fluctuating and bodies changing by the second. Carrying another human inside your body is scary enough without a life-threatening disease on the loose. The Government has advised pregnant women to self-isolate for up to 12 weeks which may increase stress levels among pregnant women. So are there steps pregnant women can take to stay healthy in lockdown?

Why do pregnant women have to self-isolate for 12 weeks? chatted to Jenny Carson, Nutritional Practitioner and Technical Services Manager at Viridian Nutrition to find out what lifestyle changes pregnant women should be taking during this confusing time.

According to Ms Carson, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggest that pregnant women are generally not expected to experience greater severity of symptoms to COVID-19 than non-pregnant women.

However, she said: “But considering that some mums-to-be may be managing long-term conditions or develop a condition, for example, gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia, plus association to miscarriage is unknown, the introduction of a 12-week isolation as a preventative measure was considered necessary.”

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This period of isolation is throwing off everyone’s routine, especially meal times and food choices.

Ms Carson said: “A period of isolation may mean that normal eating habits cannot be maintained, however, this can be a time for creativity and resourcefulness.

“Those packets of dried lentils and beans that have gone long unused could soon be transformed in the meal masterpieces.

“And with some time spent resourcing recipes a nutrient dense and varied diet can be maintained.”

Ms Carson laid out what you should be eating while in isolation.

She said: “Firstly, aim to eat fruit and vegetables of several different colours daily, this can be achieved using fresh and frozen produce.

“Aim for three different vegetables per meal and one portion of fruit, add to this one or two portions of starchy vegetables, legumes or grains, for example, packaged grains, tinned beans or potatoes.

“While great protein sources too are available frozen or tinned, such as oily fish, meats, tofu or poultry.

“Finally, a comprehensive multivitamin designed for pregnancy maybe useful and easily ordered for delivery from your local independent retailer or online.

“Look for a complex of vitamins and minerals that does not include flavourings, colourants, bulking agents, glues or added sugars.

“Being indoors means that you may have greater needs for vitamin D, Public Health England recommend 400iu daily and so, this is something you may wish to discuss with your healthcare professional.”

Eating a rainbow of foods while ditching any processed, high salt or added sugar foods will set you in good stead.

Ms Carson added: “Foods that are wholesome and entire provide an abundance of nutrients that will not only help you to feel good but nourish you and your baby.”

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Stay connected

Everyone’s feeling lonely right now, but self-isolating for 12 weeks while your body is going through dramatic changes will be particularly difficult.

Ms Carson said: “Keep in touch with friends and family, speak to at least one person daily and if this is difficult there are online groups for self-isolating pregnant individuals.

“There has never been a better time to engage online, the lockdown has triggered the development of live streaming events, be it cookery tutorials, virtual crafts, Shakespeare readings and opera to name a few.”

Step outside

You may not be allowed to go for a daily walk, but try to get fresh air every day.

Ms Carson said: “If you have a garden or balcony, spend some time outside, and if you can combine this with a short meditation session, do so.

“There are so many benefits from outside exposure, not only does fresh air help to lift the mood, but the sun striking the eye triggers a cascade of mood enhancing and antioxidant effects.

“You should not look directly at the sun but spend a minimum of 10 minutes outside to benefit.”

Boost your immune system with supplements

Ms Carson said: “The immune function during pregnancy is a complex matter, for example, during the early stage of pregnancy when the fertilised egg is implanted on the wall of the womb, the immune function is lowered to stop the body treating the egg as a foreign agent and rejecting it.

“Once adhered the womb lining is flooded with immune cells to generate inflammation which lasts for the initial 12 weeks this strengthens the womb lining and connection with the embryo.

“With these changes in mind it is wise for pregnant women to only supplement in moderate amounts with the nutrients known to support the immune function and to avoid immune stimulating compounds and botanicals.”

Ms Carson said it is important to get enough vitamin C and D, zinc, magnesium and selenium.

These vitamin are necessary for immune support, she said.

She added: “Apart from vitamin C and magnesium, these would all be present in adequate amounts in a good pregnancy multivitamin and mineral formulation.

“However additional magnesium up to 300mg daily and vitamin C up to 550mg daily can be added. “Vitamin C is best taken in small amounts but regularly through the day, for example, a piece of vitamin C rich fruit with each meal, or an organic acerola cherry powder added to a smoothie, yogurt or overnight oats.

“Additionally, beneficial bacteria have been reported in research findings to support and regulate immunity.

“Great sources are fermented foods or if you prefer, a viable bacteria food supplement that provides 1.5-3 billion colony forming units.”

A final and simple way to keep an eye on your immune system is by adhering to the NHS and Public Health England recommendations in terms of hygiene.

She said: “Also ensure all other family members in the household commit to 20 second handwashing plus regularly cleaning multi-use surfaces including the TV remote, light switches and plug sockets, mobile phone screens and door and cupboard handles.”

Protect your mental health

You’ve already got enough on your plate, so try not to work yourself up about the pandemic.

Ms Carson said: “The coronavirus pandemic is unsettling and disturbing, and if you are following the hourly developments it can be deeply disconcerting.

“Try to limit your exposure to trusted sources, for instance, the government or NHS website or watch the Downing Street daily statement, these sources are factual.

“Equally, the prospect of self-isolation for 12 weeks can feel overwhelming.

“During this period, it can be reassuring to implement a daily routine, whether that involves home-schooling your children or interacting with online events, completing activities at set times in the day will give each day a structure, provide connection and grounding in a time that feels unpredictable.

“Other considerations should be given to meditation, journaling, exercise, starting a project, needlecraft, reading, watching movies, listening to music or playing an instrument.”

Your diet and nutrition also plays into your mental health, so pay attention to Ms Carson’s advice.

She said: “Certain nutrients are mood supporting that include magnesium, B vitamins, protein rich foods and beneficial bacteria or fermented foods.

“Meal planning so that each meal contains 3-4 different coloured vegetables, one portion of fruit, besides protein such as dairy, eggs, meat or fish takes the pressure off yourself on the days when it all feels a bit too much.

“Additionally, a good pregnancy multi should provide a cross-spectrum of essential nutrients plus adequate B vitamins but magnesium would need to be from food or a further food supplement.

“Green smoothies are rich in magnesium and easy to make.

“Consider steaming a double handful of greens, such as spinach, kale, leaves and seaweed, then pack them in a blender with some seeds, seed butter or nut better, 1-2 portions of fruit and half a teaspoon of mixed spices.

“In fact, bananas, avocado, cherries and berries can be mood enhancing.”

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