Coping with a Stomach Bug During Pregnancy

One of the most annoying things that can happen during pregnancy is catching a stomach bug, also known as gastroenteritis, especially if you have already been feeling nauseated. Read on for ideas about what causes tummy bugs during pregnancy, as well as what you can do to make the experience less miserable.

What causes stomach bugs?

While often referred to as the stomach “flu,” the influenza virus does not cause stomach bugs. Most often, gastrointestinal upset during pregnancy is caused by viruses, such as norovirus and rotavirus, though bacterial infections can also cause symptoms. [1] According to a study performed in Sweden, stomach bugs during pregnancy can be pretty common: in more than 10,000 mother-infant pairs, nearly a third of the pregnant people came down with a stomach bug during pregnancy. [2]

What are the symptoms I should watch out for?

If you have contact with someone with a stomach bug, it is also helpful to know what the symptoms are, so that you can watch for them in yourself. Common symptoms include:

How can I avoid catching a stomach bug?

The best way to avoid a stomach bug is to avoid contact with people who have it. For pregnant people who have older children at home, this could prove tricky, as your kiddos are highly likely to pick up a bug at school or childcare. If you are around someone who has a stomach bug, some of these things might help you avoid catching it:

  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly. Because most stomach bugs are spread by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your mouth, hand washing can help.
  • Do not share food, drinks, or utensils with someone who has the bug.
  • Clean surfaces often with disinfectants, especially if someone in your household has the bug. Focus on the bathroom, doorknobs, and kitchen.

What are the best ways to cope with a stomach bug?

What if you did everything you could to avoid catching a stomach bug, but still seem to have it?

  • Rest as much as possible. Rest will help your immune system fight the virus. If you need help caring for older children or your home, enlist your partner, other family, or friends. Prioritize taking care of yourself.
  • Stay hydrated. Vomiting and diarrhea both drain your body of fluids and can upset your electrolyte balance. Drinking water, electrolyte drinks, ginger tea, and broth as much as you can manage will help. If none of those things sound appetizing, you can try chilling them and taking tiny sips. If clear liquids will not stay down at all, you should call your care provider, as they may have other suggestions, want to see you, or prescribe an anti-nausea medication.
  • Eat bland foods. If you feel like eating, things like toast, pasta, and rice might help to settle your stomach, while spicy or fatty foods may just upset it more.
  • If you have a fever, you can take acetaminophen to reduce it. Check in with your care provider about the correct dosage.
  • Have adult diapers or big pads on hand. One of the worst things about vomiting while pregnant is that it can lead to incontinence. While wearing an adult diaper may not be cute, at least you won’t have to worry about puking while peeing your pants.
  • Call your care provider. Your doctor or midwife will want to know what is happening with your body and may have other suggestions for how to cope during pregnancy. [3]

Will the stomach bug hurt my baby?

It is terrible to feel sick while you are pregnant, but when that sickness comes with worries about the baby you are carrying, it can feel even worse. The good news is that most babies whose moms have gastroenteritis during pregnancy are just fine. That same study of pregnant mothers with a stomach bug in Sweden found no adverse effects on the babies. [2] Plus, your body, particularly your immune system, is really great at protecting your baby. As discussed above, it is important to rest as much as possible and stay hydrated with the help of medication as prescribed by your doctor, but try not to worry too much about your baby.

References:

  1. Mayo Clinic, Viral Gastroenteritis
  2. J.F. Ludvigsson, “Effect of gastroenteritis during pregnancy on neonatal outcome,” Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis, 2001.
  3. R. Horsager-Boehrer, “Should pregnant moms be concerned about gastroenteritis?” UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and daughter in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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