Stomach flu can occur during pregnancy. A pregnant woman is as susceptible to contracting the stomach flu virus as anyone else. Stomach flu is caused by different types of viruses which enter the gastrointestinal tract and incubate in the stomach and the intestine where they multiply.
A pregnant woman who is infected by the stomach flu virus will experience the same symptoms as any other woman. These symptoms are as follows:
- Diarrhea or loose watery stools
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Slight low-grade fever
- Muscle ache
These symptoms if combined with morning sickness, which she may also be experiencing, would cause the pregnant woman a lot of discomfort. The symptoms of stomach flu in a pregnant woman may last from a couple of days to about ten days depending on the type of virus she has contracted. The symptoms could be mild to severe and they normally go away without any medication.
The foetus is not affected by the stomach flu virus as long as the infection stays within the digestive tract. On the other hand, if the pregnant woman suffers from dehydration then it is a cause for concern. If there is excessive loss of body fluids through watery stools and through vomiting there is a risk of the woman becoming dehydrated and this could affect the unborn baby.
There are several symptoms of dehydration which the pregnant woman could experience.
- There could be a problem with urination. The woman could pass no urine or very little urine which would then be dark yellow in colour.
- She could feel dryness in the mouth.
- There could be an excessive thirst.
- There could also be decreased tears.
- She could experience severe weakness and lethargy.
- A sensation of dizziness or lightheadedness could also be experienced.
As in other cases of stomach flu, a pregnant woman should take care not to get dehydrated. The gastrointestinal tract should be given some rest by avoiding the consumption of food till the diarrhea and vomiting ease. Instead she should consume fluids.
Initially she should have sips of water and suck some ice chips in between episodes of vomiting. Once the queasiness has settled she should go on a liquid diet of herbal tea or juice. Citrus juices, milk and dairy products, caffeine and alcohol should be completely avoided. To replace the loss of fluids the doctor may recommend some electrolyte replacement drinks or some oral rehydration fluids. Sports drinks are not recommended as they do not replace the minerals and nutrients lost due to the stomach flu.
As the symptoms of stomach flu start clearing, the pregnant woman can gradually start eating bland, semi-solid food. This would be easy to digest. She could be given a light clear broth, some toast, (untoasted bread would be difficult to digest), fruits like apples and bananas and rice. Once she is able to retain this light diet she could start on some bland solid food and gradually ease into a normal diet with plenty of fruits, vegetable and sources of proteins and carbohydrates. Spicy and fatty foods are not recommended during pregnancy.
A pregnant woman should avoid medication during an episode of stomach flu. There is no need to take anti diarrhea medicines as these would prolong the problem and have possible side effects. Simple home remedies and rest are all that she needs. In case of severe dehydration or if the diarrhea and vomiting continue for several days then she should consult a physician. Laboratory tests should be conducted to see if the symptoms are due to a more serious illness. The pregnant woman, if severely dehydrated, can also be given some intravenous drips to restore the fluid levels in her body.
Stomach flu during pregnancy can be distressing but it is not difficult to cure.