Treating a cold or flu when you're pregnant or breastfeeding: Village Voices

tea in bed

We all have our go-tos when it comes to self-care when we're sick. But it can be hard to know if your approaches are safe when you're feeding someone else via a placenta or your breasts, especially when as a general rule, supplement bottles tell you to avoid or "consult your health care practitioner if you're pregnant or breastfeeding" (which is sometimes a legitimate warning, but might just be there for legal reasons). Some of our conference presenters weigh in on what's safe.

"Lavender essential oil is the perfect antiviral for warding off cold and flu viruses during pregnancy! Many essential oils are far too potent to smell during pregnancy, but not lavender! Chemically speaking, it's one of the most gentle EOs. When you smell it's sweet floral scent, molecules from the oil go into your respiratory system and fight off viruses. Put it on a scarf or lava bead necklace for optimal effect. 

But don't forget: never consume essential oils by mouth regardless of what the big EO companies tell you. Herbs are safe for consumption but essential oils are far too strong and in some cases can even kill you if taken internally Many oils are safe in skin care, though with proper dilution (no more than 15 drops per 15ml of any vegetable oil). When in doubt, consult a well trained aromatherapist, especially during pregnancy (not just a EO company rep!)."
- Tynan Rhea, doula, sex educator and aromatherapist


"When I'm sick, I take extra care with what I eat. I make sure to avoid dairy and sugar, which are mucous-forming and inflammatory. I like a vegetable-rich miso soup, or my Sweet Potato Soup with a bit of extra cayenne. Dairy-free pesto that's nice and garlicy on pasta or a gluten-free wrap with roasted roots is both nourishing and delish.

I make a tea of fresh chopped ginger, a cinnamon stick and a couple clove buds, then I pour in a generous splash of organic apple cider. Or lemon balm tea, because it's calming and anti-viral, maybe with some elderberries added for immune-boosting, and a squeeze of lemon.

Finally, but most importantly, I do whatever I can to give myself a decent amount of time to rest. Sickness is often the way our body tells us to sloooooow down."

- Jae Steele, holistic nutritionist, and trained midwife

"Pregnancy can be hard at times, and even harder when you come down with a cold or flu. These herbs are safe to take when pregnant or lactating, and will hopefully get you feeling better quickly!

  • Probiotics: Your biggest immune system is in your digestive system, so I encourage all my pregnant patients to take a probiotic, like Genuine Health's Advanced Gut Health formula
  • Echinacea: This simple tincture is effective at boosting your immune system and fighting off infections. Start taking at the onset of an illness, and discontinue once better. 
  • Nettle: One of my all time favourite herbs. Nettle is rich in minerals, which provides a lot of nourishment, something all pregnant mamas need, especially those that are unwell. 
  • Garlic, Onions and Ginger: Add them to your cooking! A perfect base for soup, stews, rice dishes and stir fries. 
  • Honey: This liquid gold has amazing antibacterial properties. Add it to a tea, stir some into your morning oats, or take it off the spoon. It helps to soothe sore throats and fight infections.'

- Rachel Schwartzman, naturopathic doctor and doula


"I love acupuncture in these situations! It is completely safe in pregnancy and while breastfeeding (as long as you find someone qualified and experienced in pregnancy). Acupuncture can help to boost the immune system to fight off the infection more quickly as well as helping with any annoying cold and flu symptoms. For example, a few simple points can very quickly drain congested sinuses and relieve sinus headache. My husband always knows I have a cold coming on when I'm walking around the house with tiny acu needles stuck in my face!"
- Michelle Kapler, acupuncturist

"When it comes to colds and flus, regular whole body movement is your first line of defence. As an osteopath I view the body through a mechanical lens - how are things aligned, and how are they moving? Not only bones and muscles, but fascia and fluids too. For a healthy immune system, lymphatic fluid has to move freely to fight off invaders. There’s no pump; it relies on muscle contractions to help it circulate.

Since there are large clusters of lymph nodes in your armpits and groin, the swing of your arms and legs while walking is the perfect stimulation. Active breathing gets your diaphragm (a major muscle!) and intercostal (between the rib) muscles working too. More oxygen, better waste product elimination, plus more power if you need to cough.

Here’s an easy way to practice active breathing:

  • Tie a stretchy band or pair of tights around your ribcage at mid-lower chest level.
  • Stand in alignment with feet pelvis width and hips over your heels with butt untucked. Or sit with weight on your sit bones. Allow the front of your ribcage to relax down.
  • Breathe in, expanding the sides and back of your ribcage into the resistance of the band. Pause, then exhale fully.
  • Continue for 5 – 10 breaths. If you feel dizzy or faint stop – you’re overdoing it!

For best results, repeat frequently throughout the day. It's simple, but effective."
- Janet Walker, manual osteopathic practitioner

So what about you? How do you care for yourself when you're sick?
Please share with us in the comments.

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