Why Postpartum Women Are at Risk for Autoimmune Disease and How to Protect Yourself

women, autoimmune, postpartum

Autoimmune diseases are on the rise, and unfortunately, women are more prone to them than men…

No fair, right?!

78% of autoimmune diagnoses are made in women1, with the majority of them occurring during their reproductive years.  

While researchers are still working to understand this connection, it’s clear that pregnancy and postpartum can trigger new autoimmune diseases or flare existing ones. The fluctuating levels of hormones that women experience during this time play a significant role.

But if you’re pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant soon — don’t worry. There are things you can do to prevent an autoimmune flare and stay healthy throughout your pregnancy and beyond.

I’m Dr. Laura Paris, an autoimmune specialist for women. In this blog post, I’m shedding light on what goes on in the immune system and hormones during pregnancy and postpartum. 

And you’ll want to read until the end because I’m also sharing exactly what you can do to protect yourself from unwanted autoimmune flares after your baby is born.

Let’s get started!

Women’s Health: The Immune System and Hormones During Pregnancy 

During pregnancy, your body works hard to create a safe and nurturing environment for your growing baby. Your immune system plays a crucial role in protecting both you and your little one from harmful pathogens and invaders.

To ensure your body doesn’t mistakenly attack your fetus, your immune system becomes more tolerant during pregnancy.2 T-regulatory cells, what I call the “peacemakers” of the immune system, take center stage in this process. These cells play an important role in maintaining immune balance and preventing overactive immune responses.

Alongside T-regulatory cells, high levels of hormones during pregnancy, such as estrogen and progesterone, also help promote immune tolerance. These hormones are believed to be anti-inflammatory and immune-suppressive, which can help to prevent autoimmune flares or the new onset of autoimmune diseases.

For many women, pregnancy can provide a welcome break from the symptoms of autoimmune diseases. It’s not uncommon for autoimmune diseases to go into remission during pregnancy, giving you a chance to feel more like yourself and enjoy the experience of carrying a child. 

However, it’s important to remember that this remission is temporary, and it’s crucial to take steps to support your health and well-being after delivery. 

Postpartum: A Risky Time for Autoimmune Flares

The end of pregnancy is a crucial time for the immune system as it shifts from a tolerant state to a pro-inflammatory state. This shift is necessary to initiate labor and delivery, but it can also increase inflammation throughout the body. This means existing autoimmune diseases may flare up — or even trigger new autoimmune diseases to develop.

Talk about horrible timing…

After delivery, the body experiences a significant hormonal shift. Estrogen and progesterone levels drop quickly, while prolactin levels rise to promote lactation and breastfeeding. Unfortunately, high levels of prolactin can also increase inflammation throughout the body. This can be particularly problematic for women with autoimmune diseases who are already prone to inflammation. 

Transitioning from the immune tolerance of pregnancy to the challenging hormone and inflammation changes after delivery can be difficult for many women… 

So how do you prevent postpartum flare-ups and keep your immune system in check? It’s all about self-care, sister.

Protect Yourself From Postpartum Autoimmune Symptoms With Self-Care

After delivery, new moms understandably become preoccupied with caring for their newborns. But during this time, it’s important to remember that your own health and well-being are just as important. 

Yes, you read that correctly! It’s so true… Neglecting yourself during the postpartum period can have significant consequences, especially for women with autoimmune conditions. 

The first few months after delivery are critical for healing and recovery, both physically and mentally. Prioritize self-care after the baby is born to help reduce stress, promote restful sleep, and speed up the healing process.

Fourth Trimester Self-Care Examples and Tips

Planning for postpartum care is essential in setting yourself up for a successful recovery during the “fourth trimester.” Here are some examples:

  • Taking naps when possible
  • Eating nutritious meals
  • Exercising gently
  • Taking time for yourself apart from the baby
  • Asking for help so you can rest and recharge
  • Limiting exposure to wind and cold
  • Avoiding large crowds to reduce the risk of infection
  • Saying “no” and protecting your time and energy

It’s crucial to remember that this is not the time to push yourself to lose baby weight or try to do too much too soon. Instead, focus on nurturing yourself and prioritizing your physical and emotional health.

Rest, nutrition, and healing should be your top priorities during the fourth trimester. Seek help for any issues that may arise, such as postpartum depression or anxiety, pelvic floor and abdominal healing, or building milk supply. 

Remember that prioritizing self-care is especially important for women with autoimmune conditions. It has the power to help prevent flares that can be even more challenging to manage when caring for a new baby. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be better equipped to care for your little one and enjoy the beautiful moments of motherhood!

Need Support?

If you’re struggling with an autoimmune condition after pregnancy, take heart. With the right support and guidance, remission is possible. 

That’s exactly what you’ll find in my program, Road to Remission. If you could use some clarity, wisdom, and encouragement on your autoimmune journey, I invite you to join.

I created this holistic, 4-month program for women like you who want to reverse their autoimmune conditions and take control of their health — the natural and safe way. You don’t have to do this alone. Don’t suffer in silence — take the first step toward remission today!

women's functional medicine autoimmune specialist

1 Fairweather D, Rose NR. Women and autoimmune diseases. Emerg Infect Dis. 2004 Nov;10(11):2005-11. doi: 10.3201/eid1011.040367. PMID: 15550215; PMCID: PMC3328995.

2 Vânia Vieira Borba, Gisele Zandman-Goddard, Yehuda Shoenfeld, Exacerbations of autoimmune diseases during pregnancy and postpartum, Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 33, Issue 6, 2019,101321,ISSN 1521-690X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beem.2019.101321.

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