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Treating a Cold or Flu When Pregnant

cold and flu while pregnant


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Everything changes when you become pregnant. Everything that happens to you can affect not just your body, but your unborn child’s. That realization can make dealing with illness more complicated.

If you get a cold or become sick with the flu, you may worry about the infection affecting your 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.

Things you can do to reduce your risk

It’s no revelation that, when you are 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.

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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.

Flu shot tip
If you're concerned about trace amounts of mercury used as a preservative in most vaccines, ask your doctor about a preservative-free vaccine.

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

  • wash your hands often
  • get enough sleep
  • eat a healthy diet
  • avoid close contact with sick family or friends
  • exercise regularly
  • reduce stress

Try these apps for exercise during pregnancy »

Home remedies for cold and flu during pregnancy

When you fall ill while pregnant, your first steps should be to:

  • get plenty of rest
  • drink a lot of fluids
  • for a sore throat or cough, gargle with warm salt water

If your symptoms worsen, you might want to try:

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
  • plain cough syrup
  • menthol rub on your chest, temples, and under the nose
  • nasal strips (sticky pads that open congested airways)
  • cough drops or 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. They increase the risk 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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