Preload Your Immune System
With the current pandemic climate, some postpartum mothers are concerned about staying well. Instead of joining the fear-factor folks who focus on the problem, have a happier postpartum mindset by focusing on the solution – how to have a healthier immune system. The immune system can be weakened postpartum by many factors – recovery from childbirth, different sleep patterns, more worry, and higher stress levels – but only if you allow it.
Explore these practical ways to preload your immune system to fight better for you:
1. Enjoy the Belief Effect
One of the mysteries of medicine is how those who believe their immune system will fight for them are more likely to stay well. Picture this: you have inside of you, mainly in the lining of your intestines, your own immunity pharmacy where your immune system cells make internal medicines for a healthier immune system. The better you believe in the ability of your immune system to keep you healthy, the better it will.
2. Eat Immune-Boosting Foods
Like any army, the better you feed your troops the better they fight for you. Healthy immune-boosting foods are fruits, vegetables, and seafood. In our recent books, The Dr. Sears T5 Wellness Plan and The Healthy Brain Book, we share our five-S immune-boosting diet: 1) smoothies 2) salads with spices 3) safe seafood 4) smart snacks, and 5) science-based supplements. During pregnancy you learned the importance of grazing or, what we call in The Healthy Pregnancy Book, the “rule of twos” – eat twice as often/half as much, chew twice as long, and take twice the time to dine. Your immune system also likes this way of eating, mainly because of the good gut feelings and lower blood sugar spikes. (See resources at the back of the books for immune-boosting recipes, such as the smoothie recipe we use in our family around five days a week.)
3. Move More, Sit Less
Movement mobilizes your immune system. Interesting research has shown that exercise increases the fighting ability of your NK (natural-killer cells). And movement outdoors is even better for your immune system. Movement in nature nurtures your immune system. So, as you will tell your children many times to help mellow their moods: “Go outside and play!” (See additional reading on this subject at the end of this article.)
4. Meditate More, Agitate Less
When you feel stressed out, so does your immune system. Back to those NK cells, the Navy Seals of your immune-system army inside. On the surface of these cells are stress receptors, meaning areas on the cells that are ultrasensitive to excessive and prolonged stress. Picture the stress centers in your brain and the stress receptors on your immune system cells sharing biochemical messages. The immune system signals your brain: “Hey, don’t stress me out, and I’ll fight better for you.” The brain registers that and cools it. Give your brain a calming focus: just looking at, touching, and loving your baby has a calming effect.
5. Say Good Night to Bad News
A good night’s sleep is so important for a healthy immune system. Use your postpartum energy to focus on doing the greatest job in the world – nurturing a little human being. The last thing you want to waste energy on is negative news. This is a good time for media distancing. A quick glance at the headlines, if you must, is enough. The best news is the birth and the growth and development of your baby. That is worth focusing on!
6. Laughter is Your Immune System’s Best Friend
Humor balances your immune system, mainly by lowering the excess stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. It also makes your immune system army inside fight better for you. Use screen time to relax with your favorite comedies. Joke books are fun to have laying around. Anything to help lighten your outlook on life will be good medicine. Laughter is a good immune booster – and so is using your favorite music to keep your spirits up and your mind relaxed and happy.
Enjoy the following references to learn more about each of these points to have a healthy immune system:
The Healthy Brain Book: An All-Ages Guide to a Calmer, Happier, Sharper You, William Sears, M.D., Vincent M. Fortanasce, M.D., and Hayden Sears, M.A., BenBella Books, 2020.
The Dr. Sears T5 Wellness Plan: Makeover Your Mind and Body, Five Changes in Five Weeks, William Sears, M.D., and Erin Sears Basile, M.A., BenBella Books, 2017.
The Healthy Pregnancy Book: Month-by-Month, Everything You Need to Know from America’s Baby Experts, William Sears, M.D., Martha Sears, R.N., Little Brown, 2013.
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”