Treating a Cold or Flu When Pregnant

Written by Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 17, 2015
Medically Reviewed by Healthline Medical Team on July 17, 2015

Wondering how to treat a cold or flu while you're pregnant? We can help you out with that.

Overview

Everything changes when you become pregnant. Everything you do affects your body and your unborn child. This realization makes getting a cold or flu more complicated.

If you get a cold or become sick with the flu, you may worry about the infection affecting your unborn child. And what if you suffer from a fever, or diarrhea? Could those symptoms hurt your child? 

In the past, you may have taken an over-the-counter decongestant, but now you might wonder: Is it safe? Although medications can relieve your symptoms, you don’t want the drug causing problems for the baby.

Fortunately, many medications can be taken while pregnant, so treating a cold or flu during pregnancy doesn't have to be a frightening experience. 

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Things You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk

Pregnant women have a higher risk of getting a cold or the flu because their immune system is weakened during pregnancy, according to the Cleveland Clinic. A weaker immune system helps stop the woman’s body from rejecting the unborn baby. But it also leaves expecting moms vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections. 

Pregnant women are also more likely than non-pregnant women their age to experience complications of the flu. These complications can include pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinus infections. Getting a flu vaccination reduces the risk of infection and complications.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting a flu vaccination helps protect pregnant women and their babies for up to six months after birth. So, it’s important for pregnant women to be up-to-date on their vaccination schedule. Ask your doctor about a preservative-free vaccine if you're concerned about trace amounts of mercury used as a preservative in most vaccines. 

Others things you can do to reduce your risk of getting sick include:

  • washing your hands often
  • getting enough sleep
  • eating a healthy diet
  • avoiding close contact with sick family or friends
  • exercising regularly
  • reducing stress

Treatments for a Cold or Flu During Pregnancy

Certain tried-and-true cold treatments can be trusted while pregnant:

  • getting plenty of rest
  • drinking a lot of fluids
  • gargling with warm salt water for a sore throat or cough

A few home remedies include:

  • Saline nasal drops and sprays for loosening nasal mucus and soothing inflamed nasal tissue.
  • Breathing warm, humid air to help loosen congestion. Try using a facial steamer, a hot-mist vaporizer, or even a hot shower.
  • Chicken soup helps relieve inflammation and soothe congestion.
  • Adding honey or lemon to a warm cup of decaffeinated tea to help relieve a sore throat.
  • Elevating your head to help you sleep better.
  • Using hot and cold packs to alleviate sinus pain.

What About Medications?

According to the University of Michigan Health System and most OB-GYNs, it's best to avoid all medications in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. That's a critical time for the development of your baby's vital organs. Many doctors also recommend caution after 28 weeks. Speak with your doctor before taking any medication if you’re pregnant, or trying to get pregnant. 

Several medications are considered safe after 12 weeks of pregnancy. These include:

  • Robitussin (dextromethorphan) and Robitussin DM cough syrups
  • Vicks plain cough syrup
  • Vicks or other menthol rub on your chest, temples, and under the nose
  • Nasal strips (sticky pads that open congested airways)
  • Hall's cough drops or Cepacol lozenges
  • Tylenol (acetaminophen) for aches, pains, and fevers
  • Cough suppressant at night
  • Expectorant during the day
  • Mylanta, Tums, or similar medications for heartburn, nausea, or upset stomach 

Avoid "all-in-one" medications that combine ingredients to tackle many symptoms. Instead, choose single medications for the symptoms you're struggling with. You should also avoid the following medications while pregnant unless recommended by your doctor. These medications increase the risks for problems:

  • ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, and others)
  • codeine
  • Bactrim (an antibiotic)
  • naproxen (Aleve)
  • aspirin

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Although most colds do not cause problems for an unborn child, the flu should be taken more seriously. Flu complications increase the risk of premature delivery and birth defects. Get immediate medical help if you experience the following symptoms:

  • dizziness
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain/pressure
  • vaginal bleeding
  • confusion
  • severe vomiting
  • high fever that isn't reduced by acetaminophen
  • decreased fetal movement

The CDC recommends that pregnant women with flu-like symptoms be treated immediately with antiviral medications. As always, if you have any questions, call your doctor's office.

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