What to Do When You Have the Stomach Flu While Pregnant
What to Know When You're Sick with a Stomach Bug and Pregnant
- Call your OB or nurses line to ask what their recommendations are for being seen, such as a certain fever threshold or not keeping liquids down for a certain amount of hours.
- Don't try to consume anything solid before you're able to keep liquids down for at least a couple of hours.
- Skip the water and just drink electrolyte replacements (like Pedialyte or Gatorade) to replenish the sugars and electrolytes you've lost while hanging out in the bathroom.
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 which I lovingly brushed off as him being dramatic (because I definitely never am).
And thus began 24 agonizing hours of us fighting over our single bathroom as we both took turns getting violently ill. The difference of course, was that he wasn't pregnant and I was (with hyperemesis gravidarum no less), complicating my ability to take fever reducers and causing me to worry a lot about my baby (she'll be four this summer, she's fine)!
Here's what I learned about caring for yourself when you're sick with a stomach bug while pregnant.
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.
Stomach bugs are actually medically referred to as gastroenteritis - a classification of viruses and bacteria that cause stomach inflammation.
This inflammation can cause:
- 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.)
- A fever
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, especially because each pregnancy is different and the best person to answer these questions about your individual situation is your OB. Here's what to ask when you call:
- 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.
- What signs you should be looking out for for the safety of your baby.
- If there are any foods of drinks you should avoid in your particular situation.
- Under what circumstances you should come in and be seen by a doctor or ER staff.
So You Just Threw Up
A lot. Here's how to reintroduce liquids so you can get back on track.
Should You Drink Something Right Away After Throwing Up?
No! But 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.
Reintroducing Liquids When You Have a Stomach Bug
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.
Then, once it's been two solid hours since you last vomited it's time to start thinking about consuming some liquids, slowly.
Here's the thing though - you're pregnant! It's hard to wait even an hour to eat when you're growing a human. So, try to 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.
- Wait 10-15 minutes to sip another 2 tablespoons of liquid.
- Repeat this over the next couple of hours, taking in just a couple tablespoons of liquid every 10-15 minutes as long as you're not vomiting.
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 while my husband occupied our toilet.
The Best Things to Drink When You Have a Stomach Bug
What you drink after vomiting is just as important as how you drink it. You can't just go sipping anything (and you probably aren't in the mood to anyway).
- Coconut water (not coconut milk). This stuff is pretty plain to taste and full of electrolytes but low on sugar.
- Pedialyte or a children's electrolyte solution. If coconut water isn't your thing, try Pedialyte. It 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 and easy to digest.
- 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.
Once you've kept one of those liquids down you can incorporate:
- Ice chips. These aren't exactly ideal as your first liquid after getting sick because there are no electrolytes but ice chips are soothing after you get some electrolytes back into your system.
- LaCroix. Also water but with a bit of flavor and fizz, try some LaCroix or another flavored sparkling water after you're able to keep down something with electrolytes.
- 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 and one that's worked for me ever since I found it. 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 and gave my baby and I some sugars we were desperately missing.
What to Avoid Consuming After You've Thrown Up
What Not to Eat/Drink
Why You Need to Avoid Them
I learned the hard way, all of the sugar and flavor just made me sick all over again.
Same as the popsicle issue, these are probably too sugary and flavored to consume too soon after getting sick.
I really don't know why you would crave this after getting sick but in case you do, it's going to be too hard for your inflammed stomach to handle right now.
You're also probably not in the mood for this, but just in case you're tempted, coffee is never a good idea when your stomach is upset since it works as a laxative for some people and the caffeine does the opposite of helping your be restful when you desperately need rest.
Likewise, the caffeine is tea might make you jittery when you're in need of relaxation.
As with the popsicles, consuming pop right after vomiting can irritate your stomach more. Hold off on the Sprite for now.
Sports drinks (like Gatorade or Powerade)
These aren't a bad idea when you're sick, but you need to set your sugary sports drinks aside until you've been able to hold down less sugary beverages.
You're Starting to Bounce Back!
Here's what you can snack on (and how) to regain your strength and feed your baby.
When Should You Start Eating Solids Again?
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 took little bunny nibbles.
You may be able to eat sooner than that, that's something to discuss with your doctor and to gauge with your own body.
It's a good idea though to wait to eat solids until you've held down liquids for at least 4 hours. Once you're ready to start eating again you should:
- Start with something very bland and light
- Take only a bite or two every 10 minutes
- Stop if you begin to vomit again
What to Eat After Throwing Up
You probably already know that a BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) is the go-to when it comes to reintroducing solids when you're dealing with a stomach bug. That diet may not be ideal for everyone though, especially if you're dealing with acid reflux (pretty common after a tummy bug) since bananas are high in acid.
Here's the first foods I was able to keep down when I was sick while pregnant:
- 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).
- Plain white rice
- Goldfish crackers
- Graham crackers
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.
Foods to Avoid When You Have a Stomach Virus
What to Avoid
Why to Avoid It
One word: fiber. Fiber is the reason to avoid nearly everything on this list. Normally, you should incorporate fiber into your daily diet because it helps you have bowel movements. But you don't need help with that right now.
Though delicious and packed with hydration, avoid eating raw fruit (like a bowl of grapes or sliced apples) while you're recovering from a stomach bug since the fiber won't help in binding you back up.
Same as the fruit - you don't need any extra help pooping right now.
Another fiberous food, oats are an awesome way to keep yourself regular when you're NOT sick with a stomach bug.
Rich in fiber, a few almonds are probably alright, and pack a lot of protein - but indulge in too many and you may find yourself back in the bathroom.
A staple if you're trying to eat healthy, brown rice is a whole grain - fiber and all. Avoid until your stomach is back to normal.
If you're craving cereal you might actually be better off with the sugary kid's stuff right now, since most healthy cereals are made with nuts and whole grains.
Your stomach's already been through a lot and is pretty inflammed. Don't add spicy food to the mix.
Foods to Eat When Your Stomach Still Isn't Healed
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 - white bread to cut down on fiber.
- All carbs. Potatoes, rice, white breads, crackers etc.
- Bananas with peanut butter or Nutella for some protein.
- Pasta with a little butter and parm, avoiding tomato sauces which were too acidic for my stomach.
- Smoothies made with gentle fruits, like bananas and peaches and avoiding greens and especially acidic or fiber-packed mix ins.
- A small glass of whole 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.
Signs to Watch Out For + Tips to Prevent Getting Sick Again
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 but if it gets so intense that you can't stand up this is a sign you're dehydrated.
- Headache. Again, vomiting and battling a virus is going to give you a headache but if you're concerned that it's throbbing more than you'd expect, give your doctor a call.
- Sleepiness. I don't even need to explain why this is common with a stomach bug or pregnancy.
Two ways to keep an eye on dehydration are to:
- Keep track of your urine output. Since I was basically peeing my pants while vomiting I knew that somewhere inside me, there was some hydration to be found.
- Stay alert for how dry your mouth is getting. If there is still some spit in there you're alright, but if it gets totally dry then that's a sign that you're 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 your 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!
A few 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.
- It's 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 to avoid contaminating them while you're 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.
Staying Comfy When You're Sick
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.
- 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.
Is it okay to breastfeed when you have a stomach bug?
Yes. You should continue to breastfeed when you have a stomach bug. When I had mine, I was too sick to care for my one year-old but had my mom bring her to me so I could still nurse her every few hours.
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 three-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.
How can you tell if it's really a stomach virus or if it's just morning sickness?
Normal pregnancy symptoms come and go and they don't involve a fever. Also, normal pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting (morning sickness) is going to start within the first trimester, not pop up randomly mid-pregnancy.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2018 Kierstin Gunsberg