NOTE: This post is about the stomach bug. I use words like vomit and diarrhea frequently. You’ve been warned!
Well here’s a post I hadn’t intended to write at 39 weeks and 5 days pregnant! Just six days before my estimated due date, I woke up in the middle of the night, and I thought I was getting ready to go into labor. My body was cleaning itself out. I woke up my husband to give him a heads up…but about an hour later I realized this was not labor. It was viral gastroenteritis–aka, the stomach bug.
I made preparations for illness prevention this winter by praying for health each day, drinking elderberry syrup each morning, washing my hands almost excessively, eating a clean diet, and diffusing thieves oil throughout my home. But despite my best efforts, I couldn’t predict that a small child in my daughter’s gymnastics class would get sick within a few feet of me. (Thankfully, the little girl was late to class, so she was next to the bleachers where the moms sat, and not on the mat with our girls!) I’m nearly certain that’s where it came from, and it was a good reminder to me that you can’t control life!
Because we had so many friends who were sick, weeks earlier I had talked to my midwives and done research on what happens when a mother has a virus during labor. The vast majority of cases said that our bodies suppress labor until mom is better, and that when in labor, our symptoms often disappear as our bodies put all our energy into birthing the baby. I came across so many interesting stories of women who had respiratory illnesses, broken ankles or bloodied knees, and didn’t even know it while they were in labor. Just hearing this helped me to stay calm. I had a deep sense the baby would not be coming at least until the worst was over.
While this may seem obvious, please do contact your care provider if you get sick. While it’s generally a fast illness, it’s important that they are up to speed on what’s going on, to keep an eye on any issues that may arise.
After about 18 hours I felt better, and 30 hours into the virus, I was out of bed and free of aches and pains. By 48 hours, I had eaten egg pancakes, mashed potatoes, chicken soup and bacon! While I’m certainly not a doctor, I’d like to offer you some strategies I used to feel better fast.
I didn’t drink anything for an hour or two after the vomiting stopped. By that time, I was pretty parched, and knew water was not a good solution (despite common practice). If you’ve had several bouts of vomiting, you’ll have lost a good supply of electrolytes, so a rehydration drink is best. You can add some sugar or honey and sea salt to regular water to make a simple drink, but that didn’t really sound appealing to me. I just happen to have lots of coconut water around the house, and it’s been amazing. At first I drank it straight, and then I added a little sea salt, honey, and fresh lemon to it. It tastes delicious, and has really replenished me. I’d caution against commercial electrolyte drinks and flat soda, as they almost always have yucky additives that you don’t want in your body when you’re trying to heal!
I also sipped peppermint, chamomile and ginger tea. The peppermint helps to reduce your fever and soothe your belly, and the chamomile is an anti-spasmodic, helping to reduce stomach cramps. I also had pretty bad nausea on and off for the 12 hours after I got sick, so ginger was a must-have to keep that at bay. Once I moved into the diarrhea phase, I switched to an elder flower and red raspberry leaf tea, both of which are helpful for regulating digestion and improving diarrhea. (Here’s a great list of different herbs and how they can help during cold and flu season.)
While it’s important not to push yourself, dehydration can be dangerous to a mama and her baby, so make drinking a priority! The last thing I wanted was to have to go into the hospital for an IV, so I kept the coconut water, tea, and plain water, (which I actually didn’t touch) next to my bed, each with straws, to make sipping from a reclined position easier. Room temperature or warm drinks are much easier on the belly but if the only way to get it in you is chilled, do what you need to do to amp up your fluids!
Once I felt well enough to get out of bed (about 24 hours later), I took warm baths with 2 cups of the elder flower and raspberry tea, to help with the diarrhea. If you have a fever but are still up for a bath, make sure it is lukewarm! You can do a lemon foot bath to reduce fever. Just place slices of lemon the bath or a large pot and soak your piggies for about 20 minutes. You can also take a relaxing bath with a bit of peppermint oil to reduce fever.
While technically not a food, I have been taking a triple dose of my probiotic to replace the good bacteria in my gut that’s been swept away. I have no affiliation with this company, but I LOVE GutPro. (It seems a bit pricey, but I still have 1/3 of the bottle and it’s been over a year, so it’s actually really economical and recommended by Natasha McBride, founder of the GAPS diet.) It’s unlikely you’ll be eager to eat much in the first few days, but I found it helpful to start with bone broth, homemade applesauce made with just apples and some cinnamon, bananas and fresh pressed juices. I’m steering clear of bottled juices as they have a very high sugar content, which exacerbates diarrhea!
This was a little easier before kids. And nearly impossible at 39 weeks pregnant. Just rolling over hurt. Talking, opening my eyes, having the lights on–it was brutal for a few hours. I didn’t sleep at all that first night, but I stayed in bed for the first 18 hours (really, what else could I do?!) Thankfully, viral gastroenteritis is a self-limiting illness which means it gets better on its own. In other words, this too shall pass! Resting your body is so, so important, especially if you are primed for labor in the near future. I’ll admit, it’s been a bit painful to see my perfectly set up homebirth room turn into a recovery room. My kitchen was meticulous the night I got sick, because just in case I went into labor, I didn’t want anyone to have to deal with a mess. Now…well, let’s just say my 3 year old poured the milk from her cereal all over the floor this morning. Gleefully. But, I have to let go of these things, because a healthy body is far more important than a clean house!
Rest isn’t just for our bodies though. Give your mind a rest too. Stress is powerful, and can completely deplete our energy even when we’re well. So grab a book, that magazine you’ve been wanting to read, or call your mother-in-law to clean or watch the kids if you really have to. Relapses, unfortunately, are common when we push too soon, so do whatever it takes to give yourself ample time to recover and regain your strength! You’ve got this, Mama!
Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year to empower women to make the best choices for their families.