What to Do When You Have the Stomach Flu While Pregnant
You can probably tell from looking at my profile pic, but just in case, I need to let you know that I am definitely for sure not a doctor. This article is not meant to act as medical advice, but rather is a compilation of tricks and tips I've learned from my many bouts with stomach bugs, especially a really bad one I wound up with at six months pregnant.
If you're sick, always consult with your primary care doctor before taking any medications or following any advice on the internet.
What is the Stomach Flu?
First things first, just to be clear, the stomach flu is NOT a flu bug, and that's important because you don't clean up or treat it the same way you would treat a true flu. The stomach bug is actually gastroenteritis and that's a classification of viruses and bacteria that cause stomach inflammation. The inflammation causes diarrhea and vomiting along with nasty cramps (not to be confused with contractions - cramps are painful and sharp, contractions are usually more like pressure with pain mixed in. You stomach will harden during contractions.) and usually a nice little fever. Whoo hooo!
In the spring of 2015 my husband and I were celebrating a lot of things - the warming of the world around us, our one year-old daughter's newest words and the impending arrival of our second daughter. What we were not celebrating, one late night in the middle of April was my husband's stomachache.
"Did you think that chicken we ate tonight was weird?" he asked.
"No, you're being weird," I retorted, "You always mix weird combinations of food, that's probably why you don't feel good. You do this all of the time." I'm a really supportive wife and use our verbal communication as a time to uplift our marriage.
"I really feel like I'm going to puke."
"Stop being dramatic," I whined and rolled over. I was six months pregnant and the sleeping pill I took to control my hyperemesis gravidarum was kicking in. About 2.5 seconds later he bolted to the bathroom where he spent the next hour. I probably rolled my eyes in the dark to no one's witness with a pillow smashed over my ears for that entire hour until he finally emerged. "I'm going to die."
"Stop talking about it, you're making me nauseous."
"I'm fine now, it's just food poisoning or something."
He wasn't it and it wasn't. No sooner was he tucked back into bed and I was in the bathroom getting sick. We spent the next twelve hours defiling that bathroom and doing things in front of each other that I never thought we would. Then, two days later my sister-in-law who was also six months pregnant at the time (we like to do things together as a family <3 ) came down with it. And in quick succession this thing took down a lot of other people we love.
But I digress. I'd been pregnant and sick before, I'd battled hyperemesis gravidarum for a combined year and a half, but up until this point I had never had a true stomach virus while pregnant and I was totally freaking out.
When morning came I made a fevered phone call to my OB who confirmed there was a lot going around and that I probs wasn't going to die and my baby definitely was fine, despite all that had just happened to my bowels.
I was told to snack on whatever I could keep down, watch my fever and call back if I experienced contractions. Noted, noted and noted. I settled back into my bed-nest and observed my fevered, dehydrated husband weep while watching some nature documentary.
It was almost more than I could physically and mentally handle. But here I am, years later, to tell you that not only did I handle it but I survived it and so did my baby who is now a toddler who has spent the entire morning telling me that everything I do is not what she wants even though I only do what she asks me to do.
Here's how I survived to tell the tale.
I Learned How to Handle My Liquids
If you've just gotten sick it can be really tempting to grab a bottle of water or a can of ginger ale but stop right there! When you're dealing with gastroenteritis you're also dealing with extreme inflammation in your stomach so you need to give it a break before you start giving it more work to do.
Different doctors and medical websites will give you different timelines for when you can start consuming liquids again after getting sick but the general consensus is to not eat or drink anything for several hours after you vomit from gastroenteritis. The reason for the wait is to give your stomach a chance to bounce back from the trauma. If you keep putting something in it, it takes it longer to heal and the cycle starts over. So even though you may think you're helping yourself by replenishing what was lost, you're actually making yourself get sick more. Do this and the cycle of vomiting with take longer to end. I'm the queen of this mistake and usually think it's a cool idea to take a few chugs of Gatorade after getting sick because I'm so terrified that I'm going to die of dehydration. IT'S NOT COOL.
Plus, let's be real, who here has ever puked just once or twice when they had a stomach bug? Not me. I gotta bow down to that porcelain god at least like six times before I get a real break (and to be honest, when I had the particular bug I'm writing about here, I think that the true count was somewhere around a dozen times, perhaps because I was pregnant which may have escalated things a bit).
So do your thing, get it out, set up a blanket and pillow next to the toilet so you don't have to use up energy hobbling back and forth. Once it's been two solid hours since you last vomited then it's time to start thinking about consuming some liquids, slowly. Sometimes I can't wait two hours though. I'm just too thirsty, but if you can, wait at least an hour to avoid getting sick again and using up a bunch of energy so soon, then follow these steps to reintroduce liquids:
- To start, you should literally measure out the amount you're putting in, around two tablespoons or just a small splash into your cup.
- Stop, even if you're wanting more and wait 10-15 minutes.
- If you haven't vomited again, go for another couple of sips.
- Stop and wait the 10-15 minutes again.
- Repeat this over the next few hours.
If vomiting returns you need to start the cycle over. Remember that this is a virus and even though it feels like you're going to die, this won't last forever. That's what I kept telling myself in my fevered state as I puked all over our shower (my husband was on the toilet. It wasn't ideal).
I Figured Out What I Could Actually Drink While Sick
What you drink after vomiting is just as important as how you drink it. Ya can't just go sipping anything (and you probably aren't in the mood to anyway). Here are some safe ideas for liquids:
- Coconut water (not coconut milk). This stuff is pretty plain to taste and full of electrolytes but low on sugar.
- Pedialyte. If coconut water isn't your think try Pedialyte, doesn't matter what flavor but I prefer the purple stuff because it has a lighter taste than some of the other ones. Again, full of electrolytes but low on sugar.
- Water. I don't think this is ideal as your first drink after getting sick because there are no electrolytes but ice chips and water are helpful after you get some electrolytes in your system.
- Broth. If you feel like you can stomach some broth, this is a liquid with a bit of sustenance to help you regain your strength.
- LaCroix. Also water but with a bit of flavor and fizz.
- Gingerale. This is full of sugar and should probably be consumed after more substantial liquids like the Pedialyte, coconut water or broth.
- The syrup from a can of peaches. I know this sounds crazy and maybe it wouldn't be recommended by your doctor, but when I had this virus I read somewhere that this is a great trick for settling your tummy down and by golly if it didn't work wonders! I don't understand why, or if it was just my mind telling me it worked but it really laid the foundation for helping me get back on solids.
- White peach grape juice. this was another internet find. I had never tried it before to help with a stomach bug but this was a liquid that I not only kept down but that seemed to help with the pain of the stomach cramps.
Here's what you need to avoid in those first hours after the vomiting has stopped:
- Popsicles. I learned the hard way, all of the sugar and flavor just made me sick all over again.
- Slushies. Same as the popsicle issue.
- Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade. There's a lot of sugar in these and that can fuel diarrhea.
- Milk. Obvious. Ew.
- Coffee. Obvious. Ew.
- Tea. Caffeine, not good.
- Pop/Soda. Caffeine, sugar, not good for diarrhea.
I Was Careful About What I Ate and How I Ate It
I'm pretty sure that it took me at least twelve hours to attempt solids when I had this bug. When I did, I made sure to pace myself and only nibble. Literally. I just nibbled. Here are the few foods I could nibble, following the same timeline that I did for reintroducing liquids:
- Plain potato chips. The salt really helped me after losing so many electrolytes.
- Cheddar cheese and saltines.
- Plain noodles. I like plain ramen noodles or macaroni.
- Dry toast (no butter, it's hard to digest fats after you've been sick).
I think that was about it! Some other things worth trying are graham crackers, goldfish crackers and plain white rice.
Along with safe foods there are a lot of foods you should avoid within the first 24-48 hours of getting sick. One time, I was so hungry after getting norovirus that I just ate tons and tons of grapes and granola bars. It sounded so good and was SO FULL OF FIBER I was pooping pure liquid for days after that. AVOID FIBER. This includes fruit, veggies, oats, almonds, many cereals and brown rice. It's also a good idea to avoid spicy foods after a stomach virus.
After this particular illness and honestly with most stomach bugs I've come down with it took me at least two weeks to get my digestion back on track and I struggled with lingering diarrhea, nausea and stomach pains for some time after. Foods that helped me in those weeks of recovery were:
- Yogurt. Greek or regular, it didn't matter.
- Turkey sandwiches with cheese, light on the veggies.
- All carbs. Potatoes, rice, white breads, crackers etc.
- Bananas with peanut butter or nutella
- Pasta with a little butter and parm
- Smoothies if my appetite was poor, avoiding greens and especially acidic or fiber-packed mix ins.
- A small glass of milk
- Broth-based soups
- Protein bars
- Grilled cheese
Something to keep in mind though after you're through the worst of a stomach bug is that it's okay to indulge your cravings, even if they seem weird, just make sure to take it slow and not over-eat, since your capacity for intake will probably be smaller for a while.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Because I'm not a doctor, I'm not going to tell you what is too high for a fever while you're pregnant or what meds you can take. Instead, I'm going to tell you that once your OB's office opens you should call and ask the following questions:
- What temperature is too high? (Make sure to have a thermometer on hand to take your temp).
- What medications can I take to ease my suffering?
- If you are currently on any medications, ask your doctor if not keeping them down is an issue.
- Ask what signs you should be looking out for for the safety of your baby.
- Ask if there are any foods of drinks you should avoid in your particular situation.
- Ask under what circumstances you should come in.
Will the Stomach Flu Hurt Your Baby?
By now, you're probably wondering how your baby is faring and you're probably even experiencing some nauseating kicks and tumbles. I'm here to tell you, three years after my awful bout with a tummy bug while pregnant that my now two and a half year old is a-ok. In a nutshell, no, the stomach flu will not hurt your baby. According to AmericanPregnancy.org though, dehydration can to contractions which can lead to labor and that's why it's important to stay in contact with your OB or other medical care provider and watch out for signs of dehydration.
If it brings you some comfort though, as I said before, I had hyperemesis gravidarum (a condition that caused me to vomit several times a day, every day and that kept me pretty consistently dehydrated for months on end) as well as this stomach bug and I didn't experience early labor or contractions. It's just something to keep in mind, but not to stress too much about.
Signs of Dehydration
If you have a stomach bug, you can expect to be at least a little dehydrated. No one can stay properly hydrated when they have it coming out both ends. But here are a few signs of dehydration to look out for while you're battling a stomach virus during pregnancy:
- Dizziness. This is not an uncommon symptom of pregnancy or of having a stomach bug though.
- Headache. Again, vomiting and battling a virus is going to give you a headache.
- Sleepiness. Lol. I don't even need to explain why this is common with a stomach bug OR pregnancy.
Two ways that I kept myself in check during that awful bug was to one, keep track of my urine output. Since I was basically peeing my pants while vomiting I knew that somewhere inside me, there was some hydration to be found.
And two, I stayed alert for how dry my mouth was getting. If there was still some spit in there I knew I was at least eeking my through but if it got totally dry then that was a sign that I was dealing with dehydration.
How to Prevent Yourself and Others From Getting Sick Again After a Stomach Virus
Things You'll Need to Clean Up Properly During and After a Stomach Virus:
- Multiple rolls of paper towels
- Bleach-based spray like this one
- Plastic trash bags
- Powdered Oxiclean
- Hand soap
As if you don't have enough to deal with when you have a stomach bug, it's vital that you clean up properly as you battle the virus to prevent reinfection once you're better and to do you best to keep your family from getting sick. When I had this particular bug my oldest daughter was only one and I was terrified she would end up getting sick too since her dad and I both had it. Guess what? SHE NEVER GOT SICK. I think that this can be partially attributed to the fact that I was still nursing her (or maybe that's just magical thinking) but the biggest factor here is that I sent her off with my mother for protection when she wasn't nursing.
A few other things you can do to prevent infection/reinfection are to:
- Get your hands on a bottle of bleach spray. It's so important that you know that the only thing that kills stomach viruses is BLEACH. Not Lysol, not Clorox wipes, not hand sanitizer, not rubbing alcohol - JUST BLEACH. Stomach viruses are a hardy breed and some of them, like norovirus, can live on surfaces for weeks at a time. WEEKS. This is insanity! And it's also why it's so important to clean up every time you get sick. After you've gotten sick use your bleach spray to spray all over the toilet, toilet handle, the walls and floor surrounding the toilet. You should also spray any surfaces you've touched, including the sink. Follow the instructions on the bottle for how long to let the spray sit before wiping it away with paper towels. Throw the used paper towels in a plastic trash bag designated for cleanup.
- Each time you get sick, wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.
- After each time you get sick shut the toilet lid before flushing. This will help prevent the germs from going all over and doing their tricky invisible germ dance in your bathroom, leaving even more surface to clean.
- Remove rugs and textiles from your bathroom. For instance, my shower curtain at the time I had this bug was fabric. I was too weak to remove it but I slung it up over the curtain rod to keep it from catching any you know... each time I got sick.
- Quarantine all fabrics affected by the illness into their own separate plastic trash bag. Whatever clothes you've been wearing while getting sick, whatever towels you dried off with after rinsing off, whatever bathmat or sheets or pillows were nearby during your virus, throw them in a plastic trash bag and wash them in hot water with a super heaping helping of OxiClean and give 'em an extra rinse before throwing them in the dryer. Germs stick to clothes too. Don't throw this stuff in your laundry hamper because then you'll just contaminate the hamper and everything in there too.
How to Keep Comfy
A few last words about staying comfortable (relatively speaking) when you're dealing with a stomach virus and growing a baby.
Once you have the energy and you've awoken from the haze of horror, crack the nearest window and clean up your resting space as best you can so that it doesn't feel like you're just trapped in a mess.
If you have an oil diffuser, combat your nausea with lemon and peppermint oils and try to stay off your screen as much as possible. Tuck your phone away and turn on the TV or just roll over and stare out the window to fight eye-strain headaches.
Last, grab a clean washcloth and get it nice and cool with cold water before wringing it out. Folded up on your forehead or over your eyes, the cool of the washcloth will be a nice distraction from the stomach cramps and nausea.
Have You Ever Had a Stomach Bug While Pregnant?
If you've ever been down with a tummy bug while pregnant share below how you survived!
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© 2018 Kierstin Gunsberg