Viral gastroenteritis, commonly known as stomach flu, is an acute inflammation of the intestinal lining, usually caused by a viral infection. As pregnancy weakens the immune system, pregnant women are more susceptible to infections and its complications (1). Though it is a self-limiting foodborne illness, it is recommended to seek medical attention if you contract it while pregnant.
In this post, MomJunction tells you the causes, signs and symptoms, treatment, home remedies, prevention, and effects of stomach flu during pregnancy.
Causes Of Stomach Flu During Pregnancy
Stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis can be caused by viruses such as norovirus, rotavirus, adenovirus, sapovirus, and astrovirus. Among these, noroviruses, also known as stomach bugs, cause approximately 50% of foodborne viral infection outbreaks worldwide (2). The illness is contracted from contaminated water or food that is made under unhygienic conditions or not cooked properly.
Note: Acute gastroenteritis can also be caused by bacteria like salmonella, listeria, shigella, and campylobacter jejuni (2). Though the symptoms are somewhat similar to stomach flu, it may require treatment with medication such as antibiotics. Stomach flu is not the flu, which is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus (3).
Stomach Flu or Morning Sickness?
Stomach flu can be harder to identify during the early stages of pregnancy when most women suffer from morning sickness. However, if vomiting and nausea are accompanied by a lack of appetite, cramps, fever, or diarrhea, you may be suffering from stomach flu. Moreover, stomach flu will last only for a few days, while morning sickness remains until the second trimester (4).
Symptoms Of A Stomach Flu
In order to make sure that it is not morning sickness but stomach flu, you should look for a few more signs that show up in the first two days.
The Possible Symptoms To Watch For Include (5):
- Severe diarrhea or loose, watery stools
- Abdominal pain and cramps
- Sudden low-grade fever
- Muscle aches
These symptoms may seem mild initially, but if they do not subside even after two days, you should check with a healthcare provider. It helps to treat the condition effectively. Dehydration can be very serious during pregnancy, whether caused by morning sickness or infection. No matter the cause, it’s important to see a doctor if your symptoms are severe.
How To Deal With Stomach Bug During Pregnancy?
If you are just beginning to feel the early symptoms, you can help yourself with a little care and effort. Here are some ways you can take care of yourself at home:
1. Drink enough fluids
Fluids are very important when you are suffering from stomach flu. Your body loses fluids through sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea. You are at risk of dehydration, especially if you are suffering from frequent urination or passing dark-colored urine. The lack of fluids may cause a reduction in the volume of blood, which may then compromise oxygen and nutrition supply to the growing fetus (6).
Symptoms like constant thirst, dry mouth and skin, dark-colored urine, urine inconsistency, lack of urine, fatigue, or dizziness indicate dehydration (7).
What to drink: Drink plenty of water, clear broth, warm water with lemon (relieves gas), decaffeinated tea or diluted juice (white grape juice is easy on tummy). Grape water, vegetable broth, creamy soups, ginger ale, curd, yogurt, buttermilk, and coconut water are good options. You can also prefer popsicles or ice chips if you cannot sip through liquids.
You can add a dash of ginger to your juices or snacks, as it may help in combating infection. After talking to your doctor, you can also drink over the counter oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, DripDrop, etc., to cope with fluid and electrolyte loss (6) (8).
What not to drink: Caffeinated drinks such as strong black tea, coffee, and chocolate should be avoided. Stay away from alcohol as it is a diuretic and can aggravate your stomach flu. Stay away from outside food and junk food. You should also avoid undiluted fruit juices and sugary drinks that may increase diarrhea (6) (9).
Sickness and diarrhea due to stomach flu can make you feel tired and weak as your body fights against infection and also works to nurture your baby. Therefore, it is very important to get as much rest as possible. Rest until you feel you have recovered completely (10).
3. Eat proper food
As the symptoms of stomach flu begin to clear, you can gradually introduce bland and semi-solid foods. They are easier to digest. Solid foods are difficult for you to digest. Do not force yourself to eat more, as it can cause nausea.
The BRAT diet (6): It is the best diet option to ease the stomach issue. It consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast, which contain a considerable amount of carbohydrates. They provide energy and replenish your body with the nutrients lost through diarrhea and vomiting.
Bananas: Ripe ones support digestion and replace the lost potassium.
Rice: White rice is easy to digest and gives energy. Do not take brown rice as it contains high fiber, which could be hard on the stomach.
Applesauce: Offers an energy boost through carbs and sugars present in it. It also contains pectin, which eases diarrhea.
Toast: White bread is a good option and easy to digest. Whole wheat bread contains excess fiber, which is again not good for the digestive system.
What not to eat (9): Dairy, fibrous, spicy, or fatty foods should be avoided.
Dairy: Everyone may not have a problem with milk or dairy products, but they are not easily digestible.
Fiber: Too much fiber can cause flatulence, bloating, loose stools, and diarrhea.
Fatty foods: Do not include oily and salty foods. Also, cut down spicy curries, chili sauces, and tomato containing dishes.
Ginger is a natural digestion aid and an effective remedy for nausea (11). It may help relieve the symptoms of nausea and vomiting. You can take ginger chews available at health food stores or prefer homemade ginger tea. Here is how you can make brewed ginger tea:
You will need:
- Freshly grated ginger – 1 1/2 teaspoon
- Boiling water – 1 1/2 cup
How to make:
- Take a cup and put the grated ginger.
- Now fill it with one-and-a-half cups of boiling water.
- Let it remain for about ten minutes and then strain it.
If it tastes strong, you can add more boiling water to dilute the tea. Do not add any sweetener or sugar.
According to The Oxford Book of Health Foods, written by J.G Vaughn, a professor of food sciences at London’s King’s College, and Dr. P.A. Judd, Principal Lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, peppermint could also help combat an upset stomach, and it may ease symptoms of acute gastroenteritis. You can prepare peppermint tea the same way as ginger tea.
Consuming probiotics may help in the management of acute gastroenteritis. You may continue to take them during the illness and also for at least two weeks later (12).
7. Electrolyte drinks
Ideally, your body system maintains a balance and contains ionic solutions known as electrolytes. They regulate the functioning of your body, nerves, and muscles. When you are suffering from stomach flu, you lose many of these ionic solutions through diarrhea and vomiting.
To regain energy, stamina, and strength, you should replenish your body with the lost electrolytes. You can drink diluted, non-sugary fruit juices to prevent dehydration. You can take over the counter (OTC) oral rehydration solutions as recommended by your doctor to manage electrolyte loss (6).
Here is one homemade drink recipe that could help restore your energy.
You will need:
- Fresh orange juice – ½ cup
- Fresh lemon juice
- Filtered water – 2 cups
- Raw honey – 2 – 4 tbsp, for taste
- Unrefined salt – 1/8 tsp, for taste
How to make:
Mix all the above ingredients and blend them until smooth.
Water Vs. Electrolyte Replacement Drinks: Which One Is Better?
This depends on how severe your symptoms are. The more severe your symptoms are, the higher is the loss of electrolytes. Water and other clear fluids will help you to prevent dehydration, not replace the lost electrolytes. You should drink oral rehydration solutions, as per your doctor’s advice, to replace the electrolyte loss (6). However, it is recommended that you seek medical attention if you are experiencing stomach bugs or any other infections during pregnancy.
When Should You Call The Doctor?
- High fever
- Severe abdominal cramps and diarrhea
- ‘Coffee grounds’ appearance or blood in vomit
- Signs and symptoms of dehydration such as dry mouth, dark urine, etc.
- A lack of appetite and extreme fatigue
- You are not able to keep food down for a considerable time
- You cannot keep liquids down
Can You Take Medication?
If your symptoms are mild, your doctor may recommend home treatments with adequate fluid and electrolytes. Some women may require hospitalization and intravenous infusion of fluids and electrolytes if there is severe dehydration.
Some natural remedies that could treat morning sickness during pregnancy can also help with nausea and vomiting related to stomach bugs or other viruses. You may require antibiotics if acute gastroenteritis is caused by bacteria such as salmonella and listeria.
Note: Pregnant women are restricted from taking some medication that could harm the baby. It is recommended to seek your doctor’s advice before taking over-the-counter including, antacids (Rolaids, Tums, Maalox), gas relievers (Mylicon), and Acetaminophen or Tylenol medication for symptom relief (15).
How To Prevent Stomach Flu While You Are Pregnant?
- Wash your hands properly after using the washroom or toilet. Make sure the toilet seat and the area are cleaned every day. Consider cleaning the flush, taps, basin, door handles, and other surfaces with detergent and hot water.
- Avoid drinking impure water or eating uncooked foods.
- Wash your hands after gardening or touching your pets.
- You should not cook any food when you are ill. But there is no option, wash your hands thoroughly before cooking.
- You should keep a separate towel and flannel for cleaning and drying your hands.
- Keep away from those suffering from stomach flu. It is just a precaution but not something to be overly concerned about.
- Do not consume cold food that has been refrigerated for more than a couple of hours.
- Have a healthy diet, consume plenty of water, and do frequent and moderate exercises.
Can Stomach Infections Hurt Your Baby?
A stomach bug is not a virus that would spread directly to your baby. As long as you are healthy, your body will possess many natural defenses that help protect your baby from harm.
Pregnant women may have complications from viral gastroenteritis due to severe dehydration and high fever. Dehydration during pregnancy causes changes in the amniotic fluid volume and composition (17). High fever may result in congenital defects in the early trimester and may lead to premature labor and birth in the later trimesters (19).
A Swedish study shows that gastroenteritis during pregnancy had an impact on the duration of pregnancy, but not on neonatal outcomes (20). However, it is important to seek medical care if you have stomach flu during pregnancy to avoid complications and to identify other causes that may have stomach flu-like symptoms and could warrant emergency medical care.
Talk to your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms and try the remedies and preventive measures to stay safe. Consult your healthcare provider for the right diet and medication for stomach flu and follow as prescribed to fight the infection.
Do you have any experiences to share? Tell us about them in the comments section below.
2. Nathan D. Stuempfig and Justin Seroy.; Viral Gastroenteritis
3. Norovirus; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
4. Morning Sickness: Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy; The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
5. Symptoms & Causes of Viral Gastroenteritis (“Stomach Flu”); The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
6. Gastroenteritis: (“Stomach Flu”); Cornell Health; Cornell University
7. Dehydration; The United States National Library of Medicine
8. Treatment of Viral Gastroenteritis (“Stomach Flu”); The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
9. Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Viral Gastroenteritis (“Stomach Flu”); The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
10. Viral gastroenteritis fact sheet; Health; New South Wales; Southeastern Australia
11. Mehrnaz Nikkhah Bodagh, et al.; Ginger in gastrointestinal disorders: A systematic review of clinical trials
12. Szajewska H, et al.; Use of probiotics for management of acute gastroenteritis: a position paper by the ESPGHAN Working Group for Probiotics and Prebiotics.
13. Should pregnant moms be concerned about gastroenteritis?; The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
14. Nausea & Vomiting: When to Call the Doctor; The Cleveland Clinic
15. Medications Safe for Use During Pregnancy; Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital; Michigan Medicine
16. Preventing Norovirus; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
17. Schreyer P, et al.; Maternal dehydration: impact on ovine amniotic fluid volume and composition.
18. L. Sass, et al.; Fever in pregnancy and the risk of congenital malformations: a cohort study
19. Ludvigsson JF; Effect of gastroenteritis during pregnancy on neonatal outcome
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