Since finding out that you’re expecting, you’ve been trying to keep a watchful eye for any symptoms that come with pregnancy.
You’re expecting to feel tired, a little bloated, nauseous, and Lord knows what else this baby will do to you, right?
Or maybe you’ve been experiencing more symptoms than you ever imagined existed that it’s hard to even tell what’s NOT a side effect of being pregnant.
Either way, when you woke up this morning, you knew something was different about the way you feel. You’re sick to your stomach and feel tired and crampy. Did you eat something weird at dinner last night?
Is this another classic token of pregnancy? Or did you pick up a nice stomach bug?
Sign of pregnancy or the stomach flu?
Classic symptoms of the stomach flu include watery diarrhea (nonbloody), nausea, bloating, headache, low grade fever, abdominal cramping, sweating, clammy skin, and occasional muscle aches.
According to experts at Mayo Clinic and Baby Center, some of your symptoms can be related to pregnancy, however to a different extent than when you’re sick:
- Nausea (with or without vomitting): You may experience morning sickness at any time of the day, and possibly multiple times during the day. This queasiness, however, shouldn’t last all day. Unfortunately for some, it will last well into the second trimester.
- Bloating: All the hormonal changes might cause you to feel similar to how you feel right before you get your period.
- Abdominal cramping: Few experience mild cramps, very similar to when you’re on your period.
When you have the stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, these uncomfortable symptoms can feel quite different:
- Nausea: The nausea (and vomiting) you experience when you’re sick will only last a few days (but no more than 10 days), and you will likely be suffering with it all day long during this time.
- Bloating: The inflammation of your stomach and intestines can make you feel bloated.
- Cramping: The reason it hurts is actually good! Your body is working hard to try to get rid of whatever nasty organism made its way in.
Does this sound more like what you’re feeling? If so, chances are you’ve got more than just your baby roaming around inside!
How did I even get the stomach flu?
It’s funny that it’s referred to so often as the stomach flu, because it’s not related to the regular “flu” at all.
So then what is it?
Cleveland Clinic defines gastroenteritis (stomach flu) as an inflammation of the intestines caused by something viral, bacterial, or parasitic. Yummy!
All are contagious, however viral gastroenteritis is the most common stomach flu we see in the US. It is transmitted through direct contact, so you either picked up the infection through contaminated food (especially seafood), water, or a person already infected with it.
It’s all very lovely to think about, isn’t it? Not to mention that at this moment, keeping your nausea at bay can already be a challenge. You’ve likely lived through the stomach flu already during your life, at least once.
So, the real question now is: how will your new visitor affect your pregnancy?
Can the stomach flu cause any complications?
Fear not. most cases of gastroenteritis during pregnancy resolve with no adverse outcomes on mom or baby.
For good measure though, here are possible complications of having the stomach flu you should be aware of:
- Fever: May cause miscarriage, or premature labor, and in rare cases can cause birth defects, according to Dr. Dolan at Baby Center.
- Severe dehydration: Can decrease blood flow to the placenta, which can be dangerous for baby as the placenta provides essential oxygen and nutrients to the baby.
- Listeriosis: If you happened to acquire a more serious form of gastroenteritis from Listeria, Salmonella, or E. coli for example, these may cause intrauterine death, premature labor, or severe neonatal infection that you would normally see about 36 hours after birth, according to this team of physicians in the UK.
Note: The ACOG states that pregnant women are 13 times more likely to get listeria than the general population. Read through Baby Center’s list of guidelines to avoid getting this illness during your pregnancy!
How do I treat stomach flu without hurting my baby?
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for getting rid of gastroenteritis. The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to help manage your symptoms while you wait for your body to fight off your unwanted friend.
- Rehydrate! This is the single most important way you can help your body recover and prevent harm to your wee one. You’re losing a significant amount of fluids quickly so rehydrating is very important. Force yourself to drink liquids if you can; water, diluted juice, decaf tea, clear broth, and hot water with lemon are all good choices. If the idea of liquids just makes your stomach churn, suck on ice chips or popsicles instead. Do this often and every day. Real ginger is also known to help ease any type of ill-stomach feeling during pregnancy, so real ginger ale, tea, or ginger candies may help too.
- Choose the right foods. If you feel like eating, choose foods that are the most bland, easy to digest, and provide essential replacement nutrients. Everyone’s heard of the BRAT diet, right? It’s an oldie but goodie because it works!
- Bananas are easy to digest and replace the potassium you’re losing through vomiting and/or diarrhea.
- Rice (specifically white rice) is also easy to digest and can give you a much needed boost of energy from the carbs it contains.
- Applesauce contains pectin, a natural substance that helps with diarrhea.
- Toast (white toast) is easy to digest and can provide more carbs for you.
- Rest, and then rest some more. This stomach flu is the cherry on top considering pregnancy is already making you feel weak and tired, right? So get comfy, put on a good flick, and take a nap or two. Your body needs as much rest as possible.
- Take medications with caution. The AAFP lists common over the counter medications used during pregnancy. Based on FDA categories, it’s good to know that some medications are “generally regarded as safe” to use during pregnancy. Antacids like Tums or Maalox might ease some discomfort, as well as certain pain relievers like Tylenol or Motrin, although Motrin should NOT be used in your third trimester. Antidiarrheal medications like Imodium or Kaopectate can be taken but should definitely be avoided in the first trimester. Always check with your OB/Gyn first regarding any medications.
- Avoid aggravating foods and drinks. It’s best to stay away from dairy products, greasy or salty foods, spicy food, fiber, and caffeinated beverages for now – they can be a bit harsh on the stomach.
Can I prevent this in the future?
As much as I’m sure you love frequenting the bathroom and feeling subpar, keep these tips in the back of your mind so you don’t get down with the stomach flu again:
- Wash your hands. This might seem obvious but it really is vital, especially after going to the bathroom, changing diapers, and when working with food.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces. Use a bleach-based solution on kitchen surfaces, especially when you’re working with raw meat or eggs.
- Wipe off shopping cart handles.
- Avoid contact with someone you know is sick. If possible, keep sick family member(s) restricted to one bathroom and disinfect hard surfaces of the house until everyone recovers.
- Be extra careful when traveling. Drink bottled water and avoid ice cubes as well as raw food and undercooked meats.
- Get your other child(ren) vaccinated. The gastroenteritis vaccine (given to children under 1 year) seems to help prevent severe symptoms.
No matter what, remember you WILL heal. In addition to your doctor’s recommendations, let your mom instincts be your guide to recovery! Take extra care of yourself and you can do no wrong for your baby! Feel better soon, mama.