The Dangers of Illness During Pregnancy

When you’re pregnant getting a cold might seem scarier than usual. How will it affect your baby? What precautions can you take?

Your little baby will not develop an immune system to fight off illnesses until they’re 2-3 months old. That’s why pregnant mothers have to watch what they eat and drink so closely – your diet is the only form of defense your baby has against pathogens. Your immune system is also slightly lower during pregnancy. This is to prevent your antibodies from seeing your developing baby as a threat and attacking or rejecting the fetus. It also makes you much more susceptible to colds, viruses and bacteria. When you get sick during pregnancy the illness will often hit harder and you will stay sick for a longer period of time than normal.

Below I’ve listed the most common illnesses pregnant women can contract. Learn what to look for and when to go to the doctor.

Bacterial Infections

The first type of infection you can get during pregnancy is bacterial. These are very uncommon for most women. While your baby is vulnerable during pregnancy the placenta protects the baby against most types of bacterial infections.

Two of the most common are urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis. Both of these infections are caused by an imbalance of bacteria in the vagina. If you notice a “fishy odor” coming from your vagina or if you experience painful urination contact your doctor. If treated early these infections are uncomfortable for you but harmless to your child. If left untreated they can infect the kidneys, uterus or fallopian tubes. Such widespread infection causes low birth weight and preterm birth. You can prevent these bacterial infections by taking prenatal probiotics daily. They will help create the appropriate bacterial environment for your baby.

Listeria is the most “high-risk” bacterial infection a woman can contract during pregnancy. Because pregnant women have a lowered immune response they are 20 times more likely to develop listeriosis than women who are not pregnant. Women who contract listeriosis often have no symptoms. A baby that is infected with listeriosis can experience preterm birth, birth defects and stillbirth.

Precautions should be taken with diet and kitchen hygiene to avoid contracting listeria. Avoid consuming raw meat, raw fish, raw shellfish, cold-processed deli meats, unwashed vegetables and unpasteurized dairy products. Wash your hands thoroughly when cooking meat. Make sure all meat is cooked fully by using an internal thermometer. They cost $10 on Amazon.


I was 7 weeks pregnant when my husband got the flu. I hadn’t received any inoculations yet. In our small RV I was truly worried about whether I was going to get sick. As his fever climbed over 101 degrees I made a mental note to myself that as soon as he was better I was going to the doctor for the flu vaccine.

Why is influenza so dangerous for pregnant women? The flu is never fun but it can cause complications during pregnancy. The fever from flu can cause birth defects if it climbs over 102 degrees. Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration which deprives babies of nutrients. Dehydration also increases the risk of fainting which can injure mom and her unborn child. Contracting the flu during pregnancy increases the chance that pregnant women will develop other serious complications like pneumonia which are especially deadly to the fetus.

Inactive flu inoculations keep women and their babies safe during pregnancy. It also helps unborn babies develop their own immunity to the virus.

Food Poisoning

I’ve only been sick twice while pregnant. Once was a nasty head cold that hit me hard right on the heels of my husbands flu infection. The second time was food poisoning at the end of the first trimester. Food poisoning was much, much worse.

Food poisoning can be either bacterial or viral. It often comes from eating contaminated food. In my case I ate 2-day old chicken thighs in our fridge without heating them up properly beforehand. I was impatient and hungry. Later I became very, very sick. My first symptoms were dizziness. I actually fainted twice (thankfully I landed on my back and head instead of my stomach). I threw up so much that I couldn’t keep liquids down. My body was shaky and in pain. That night my fever climbed to well over 101 degrees. We had just recently moved to a new city and my insurance coverage had not switched over. My husband and I were considering going to the er when my fever finally broke. I spent the next two days sucking on ice chips and eating brown rice. I never want to go through that again.

These are common symptoms of food poisoning. While it will not directly affect your baby food poisoning can often cause people to run high fevers. A fever over 102 degrees can cause severe birth defects in an unborn child. If you do contract food poisoning go to the doctor immediately if you cannot keep liquids down for two days or if you have a fever over 101.5 degrees.

Have you been sick while pregnant? What was your experience like? Share your story with us in the comments section below!

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