Having a cold or flu when you’re pregnant

The immune system is a little weaker during pregnancy, which makes you more susceptible to health conditions like the cold or the flu. If you do get sick, the symptoms might be worse when you’re pregnant, or they might last for longer than usual. This makes prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment even more important for the duration of your pregnancy. You’ll want to call your provider if you notice any of these, especially if it’s flu season. 

The cold and flu during pregnancy

Typical cold and flu symptoms include a low grade fever, a cough, a sore throat, dizziness, difficulty breathing, a high fever, vomiting, and chest pain or pressure. Colds are very common in pregnancy, and rarely hurt the developing baby, but the symptoms can be very annoying and most women want some relief from them while they wait out their cold. The best way to prevent a cold is to wash your hands often, and to avoid anyone who looks like they might have the cold, as it is easily passed between people.

If you get the flu, antiviral medication can help make it go by easier and faster. Unfortunately, you can’t get this medication without a prescription, so you’ll want to see your provider as soon as you notice flu symptoms. Other important tactics for treating the flu include getting a lot of rest, drinking plenty of liquids, and finding safe ways to treat symptoms. This could mean using hot packs to reduce chills, or eating chicken soup or drinking tea for a sore throat. It’s also a good idea to try and eat small meals regularly, even if you don’t have an appetite.

What OTC drugs are safest?

Your healthcare provider will let you know what products are safe and necessary for treating the flu in pregnancy, and you should ask him or her before taking any medication during pregnancy. That said, there are certain general rules of thumb when it comes to medications during pregnancy.

  • Decongestants: The preferred decongestant for pregnant women is chlorpheniramine. You’ll want to check with your provider before using any others.
  • Pain medication: The safest, pregnancy-approved OTC pain reliever is acetaminophen (Tylenol). Check with your provider before you use any other kind.
  • Antidiarrheal: It’s important to make sure that any drug for diarrhea won’t make you dehydrated. Kaopectate and Imodium are often considered safe during pregnancy, but your healthcare provider may be able to suggest others that work.
  • Antacids: The safest antacids to use during pregnancy are calcium carbonate, simethicone, and magnesium hydroxide; if you’re considering using others, you’ll want to check in with your provider first.
  • Other safe OTC drugs: You should always check with your provider before you take any drugs in pregnancy, but drugs that are generally considered safe for flu treatment include plain cough syrup, cough drops, nasal strips, and cough suppressants at night.

Can pregnant women get the flu vaccine?

Actually, it’s a really good idea for women who are pregnant to get the flu vaccine. The vaccine has been down to reduce instances of the flu in pregnant women and their babies by up to 50%. Infants can’t get the vaccine themselves until they’re six months old, but if the mother gets the vaccine, her body shares the antibodies with her baby, which protects him. Yearly shots are necessary because the types of viruses that cause the flu change year-to-year.

When to call your provider

As with most things in pregnancy, it’s always smart to err on the side of caution. Even if you just notice one or two cold or flu symptoms, it doesn’t hurt to let your healthcare provider know. It’s also a good idea to call your healthcare provider for a fever over 103 F (39.4 C), or a fever that lasts more than a few days, or is accompanied by a headache.


Sources
  • “Colds and flu during pregnancy.” UMICH. University of Michigan Health System, n.d. Web.
  • “Pregnancy complications.” WomensHealth.gov. Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, Sep 2010. Web.
  • “Pregnant Women & Influenza (Flu).” CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Feb 2017. Web.
  • “Treating influenza.” CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sep 2016. Web.
  • BO Rennard, et al. “Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro.” Chest. 118(4):1150-7. Web. Oct 2000.
  • Aida Erebara, et al. “Treating the common cold during pregnancy.” Can Fam Physician. 54(5): 687–689. Web. May 2008.
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