When you become pregnant, everything that happens to you can affect not just your body, but that of your unborn child. This realization can make dealing with illness more complicated.
In the past, if you got a cold or became sick with the flu, you may have taken an over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant. But now you might wonder whether it’s safe. Although medications can relieve your symptoms, you don’t want the drug causing problems for the baby.
Many medications can be taken while pregnant, so treating a cold or flu during pregnancy doesn’t have to be a stressful experience.
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:
- menthol rub on your chest, temples, and under the nose
- nasal strips, which are sticky pads that open congested airways
- cough drops or lozenges
- acetaminophen (Tylenol) for aches, pains, and fevers
- cough suppressant at night
- expectorant during the day
- calcium-carbonate (Mylanta, Tums) or similar medications for heartburn, nausea, or upset stomach
- plain cough syrup
- dextromethorphan (Robitussin) and dextromethorphan-guaifenesin (Robitussin DM) cough syrups
Avoid all-in-one medications that combine ingredients to tackle many symptoms. Instead, choose single medications for the symptoms you’re dealing with. You should also avoid the following medications while pregnant unless recommended by your doctor. They increase the risk for problems:
When you fall ill while pregnant, your first steps should be to:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink a lot of fluids.
- Gargle with warm salt water, if you have a sore throat or cough.
If your symptoms worsen, you might want to try:
- saline nasal drops and sprays to loosen nasal mucus and soothe inflamed nasal tissue
- breathing warm, humid air to help loosen congestion; a facial steamer, hot-mist vaporizer, or even a hot shower can work
- chicken soup, to help relieve inflammation and soothe congestion
- adding honey or lemon to a warm cup of decaffeinated tea to relieve a sore throat
- using hot and cold packs to alleviate sinus pain
Cold or flu?
A cold and the flu share many symptoms, such as a cough and runny nose. However, there are a few differences that will allow you to tell them apart. If your symptoms are generally mild, then you likely have a cold. Also, chills and fatigue are more commonly associated with the flu.
It’s no revelation that when you’re pregnant your body experiences changes. But one of those changes is that you have a weaker immune system. A weaker immune system helps stop the woman’s body from rejecting the unborn baby. However, it also leaves expecting moms more vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections.
Pregnant women are also more likely than nonpregnant women their age to have flu complications. These complications may include pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinus infections.
Getting a flu vaccination reduces the risk of infection and complications.
Getting a flu vaccination helps protect pregnant women and their babies for up to six months after birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So, it’s important for pregnant women to be up-to-date on their vaccination schedule.
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
Call a 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:
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain or pressure
- vaginal bleeding
- 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.