As if it isn’t enough that you’re overwhelmed by the reality of being pregnant – that your whole world is going to be forever changed from here on out – you now seem to have come down with a mean ol’ tummy bug!
Or at least, you think so. Especially if you’re expecting your first little bundle of joy, determining what’s normal during pregnancy and what’s not is sometimes pretty tricky.
So, what do you do now that you suspect you’ve come down with the stomach flu while pregnant? And is it dangerous to you and your unborn baby?
Let me give you a little insight to my own experience of the dreaded stomach bug with my second bun in the oven.
It all started a couple months after we had put our toddler into daycare.
I probably don’t need to explain how the bug reached a mid-pregnancy me, but needless to say, we all know that daycare centers are breeding grounds for all sorts of nasties (not that it’s a bad thing for little ones’ immune systems, but more on that another time!)
Anyhow, our sweet and innocent toddler decided to be very sharing with a particularly nasty tummy bug that had been doing the rounds.
Without going into too many gory details, both my husband and I were hit with it a day apart from each other (with our toddler miraculously dodging that bullet – lucky little bugger!)
I remember that Friday night like it was yesterday.
I was 5 months pregnant at the time and enjoying the fact that I’d finally made it past the first trimester blues – bye bye morning sickness and tiredness, hello more energy!
Then suddenly, out of nowhere, waves of nausea struck, followed by what I can only describe as violent, projectile fluids coming out from both sides.
To put it mildly, I was man down.
Apart from feeling worse than any morning sickness had ever made me feel in both my pregnancies put together, I was confused and, to be honest, a little panicky.
Thoughts like “Is our unborn baby at risk?” were running amok in my head.
It wasn’t until my husband came down with the same symptoms the next morning (bless his poor soul – he’s a typical man-child when it comes to being sick) that I realized, “Okay, wait, this is definitely not morning sickness rearing its ugly head again.”
Now, I’ve always been one to err on the side of caution, and especially since I was pregnant,
I didn’t want to take any chances of putting my little one at risk of contracting some or other harmful illness.
So, picture this: The three of us scrambling into the car, my husband and I both with buckets in arms, all the while trying to keep our 2-year-old calm and unperturbed by the chaos.
Only the Lord knows how my hubby managed to drive to the ER that day.
One nurse (who we subsequently dubbed SuperNurse) was so awesome in sweeping our toddler up and keeping her thoroughly occupied while hubby and I were getting checked up.
Fortunately, neither he nor I were dehydrated as a result of fluid loss, and we were sent off with mild antidiarrheal meds, probiotics, acetaminophen (I was running a mild fever), strict instructions to get plenty of rest and keep up with our fluid and electrolyte intake, and reassurance that unless there were any complications, the stomach bug wouldn’t do any harm to our unborn child.
In the interests of providing that same reassurance to you, and also giving a little first-hand advice on what to do if you have a stomach flu while pregnant, so let’s cover all bases, shall we?
So what is the stomach flu anyway?
In the US, gastroenteritis is the second-most common sickness, but there’s actually still quite a lot of confusion among pregnant women when it comes to tummy upsets.
It may surprise you to hear that the stomach flu isn’t actually a type of flu at all.
The medical term for a tummy bug is gastroenteritis, which essentially when your stomach and the lining of the intestines become inflamed.
“Gastro” can be caused by an infection of a virus, bacteria, or parasite – although viruses are usually the culprit (for example, norovirus and rotavirus).
These types of tummy bugs are highly contagious and are contracted from contaminated water or food that is either prepared unhygienically or not cooked properly.
You can also get norovirus by being in direct contact with infected people and putting your unwashed hands in your mouth or rubbing your eyes after touching surfaces that are contaminated.
There isn’t currently any treatment or vaccine for viral gastroenteritis, but the good news is your immune system can fight it off and it usually gets better on its own after a couple of days.
Side Note: While I’m not going to get too much into it here, it’s also important to note that a few other medical conditions can share similar symptoms to that of gastroenteritis; for instance, food poisoning, appendicitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or urinary tract infection.
In some rare cases, it can also be confused with more serious conditions such as septicemia (when toxic bacteria infects your bloodstream) and intussusception (when your intestine folds into itself, causing blockage).
If you’re not sure, it’s better to rather be safe than sorry. Visit your healthcare provider who will be able to give you a proper diagnosis and, if necessary, treatment.
Symptoms of gastroenteritis
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) lists the most common symptoms of norovirus as follows:
- vomiting (sudden onset)
- watery, non-bloody diarrhea
- stomach cramps
- lack of appetite
- body aches
- fatigue and malaise (feeling generally unwell)
- low-grade fever and/or chills (present in about half of cases)
Complications and when to see a doctor
If symptoms don’t subside after even 2 days, check in with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
The fact that you’re pregnant makes you more susceptible to complications.
As a pregnant women, it’s especially important to watch out for dehydration – regardless of whether it’s from morning sickness or a tummy upset.
Dehydration is one of the greatest dangers to the body and contributes to thickening of the blood, impaired brain function, and weakened immunity.
If you are experiencing any of the following complications, urgently contact your OB/GYN or GP:
- You aren’t feeling any better within 48 hours.
- You haven’t been able to stop vomiting and keep any water or other fluids down.
- You’re severely dehydrated (dry mouth, dark urine, and lightheaded).
- You have a high fever.
- There’s blood or a coffee-grounds texture in your stools.
Is it a stomach bug or morning sickness?
It’s true that there are a few symptoms that accompany both morning sickness and a stomach bug – that is, nausea and vomiting – which can make it tough to discern which one you have.
The first important difference is that normal pregnancy symptoms don’t come with a fever, stomach cramps, or diarrhea.
Secondly, morning sickness occurs typically in the first trimester and can last well into the second trimester, whereas a stomach virus will appear out of seemingly nowhere, no matter what stage of pregnancy you’re in, and usually last 24 to 60 hours.
What medicines are safe to take for stomach flu while pregnant?
Because the virus doesn’t last long in your system, you won’t usually end up needing to take any medicine for it.
Besides, some antidiarrheal drugs (for instance, Imodium) aren’t considered a good idea during pregnancy anyway.
If it’s dehydration you’re concerned about, there are quite a few pregnancy-safe rehydration drinks available, such as Pedialyte, Gatorade, and any other sports drinks with electrolytes. (I would just hold off on the sweetened sports drinks until you can keep the more bland liquids down with no problem.)
However, if you’re in need of anti-nausea or antispasmodic medication during pregnancy, you’ll have to first get the green light from your healthcare provider.
For that matter, if you’re unsure about the safety of any meds during pregnancy (even over-the-counter medications), rather play it safe and check with your doctor or pharmacist first.
Also, a last note on medications. Trust me on this and do yourself a favor: Ask the doctor if it’s okay for you to take probiotics.
It will help replenish your gut’s good bacteria that the stomach virus killed and get you on the road to health that much quicker.
Tips on what to drink and eat
Let me just come out with it. I was so naively fixated on keeping my fluid intake up, I think I did myself more harm than good.
I never gave my stomach a chance to settle at all before forcing it to deal with water, ginger ale, and Gatorade.
Go figure my “upchuck” episodes seemed an unending cycle – my tummy was just yelling out, “Give me a friggen break already!”
I was later told by hospital staff that waiting an hour or two after having gotten sick before you drink anything is NOT going to send you to the ER for dehydration.
Rather wait until your tummy is a little more settled before introducing bland liquids in slow and small sips.
The “safe” liquids to drink include water (if you don’t like it plain, try boiled hot water with a couple of slices of lemon to help with gas), decaf tea, diluted juice (I found white grape juice to be the easiest on my stomach), ginger ale, coconut water, and clear/veggie broth.
If you like, you can also go for ice chips or popsicles. If your doctor gives it the okay, you may also drink rehydration drinks (e.g. Pedialyte) to make up for loss of electrolytes.
Stay away from caffeinated drinks like coffee and black tea, as well as milky drinks such as hot chocolate or milkshakes.
Alcohol is a diuretic and will aggravate the virus, so it’s a big no-no. Also steer clear of sugary drinks and undiluted fruit juices – it won’t do you any favors in the diarrhea department!
Once you can keep liquids down sufficiently, you can gradually start reintroducing really bland foods into your diet, for instance, potatoes.
Avoid any fatty foods (so no junk food!), dairy, and foods that are high in fiber. Plain yogurt (not sweetened) is great for getting your digestive system back on track.
You may have heard of it already, but it’s a good idea to follow the BRAT diet while you’re sick: bananas, white rice, applesauce, and toast (white bread, not whole grain).
The important thing while having stomach flu while pregnant is to just not force yourself to eat if you feel you’re not ready, otherwise it’s all going to come back up again!
Prevention is better than cure!
In the home: Your top priority is to maintain cleanliness in the house – establish and control hygiene practices in the family, encourage everyone to wash their hands more often, and periodically clean and sanitize living areas.
Food: Be sure to wash all your vegetables and fruits before eating, and make sure foods are thoroughly cooked.
Oh, and don’t forget that you shouldn’t be sharing your eating utensils with others during meals!
Water: It’s also important to control the quality of your drinking water. If you are not one hundred percent sure that your tap water is safe for consumption, rather boil your water or purchase bottled water.
Public places and restrooms: Thoroughly wash your hands, especially after visiting public places and the toilet.
Public surfaces such as door handles, escalator handrails, lift buttons, balustrades, and shopping cart handles are notorious for harboring all sorts of bacteria and microorganisms, so you’d do well by keeping a small bottle of hand sanitizer on you whenever you go out.
So, now you’ve armed yourself with all you need to know about gastroenteritis during pregnancy – everything from what causes it and how to recognize it in a timely manner, to dietary tips and preventative measures.
All that’s left is to wish you a speedy recovery!
One last NB note: If you think you may been diagnosed incorrectly, be sure to raise your concerns with your healthcare provider.
After all, you’re not only advocating for yourself anymore, but that little bundle in your belly too!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Norovirus in Healthcare Facilities Fact Sheet”, September 2011.
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