When you become pregnant, everything that happens to you can affect not just your body but the fetus, too. This can make dealing with being sick more complicated. Before pregnancy, if you got a cold or became sick with the flu, you may have taken an over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant. Now that you’re pregnant, you might wonder whether it’s safe. Although medications can relieve your symptoms, some may harm a developing fetus. But treating a cold or flu during pregnancy doesn’t have to be a stressful experience, and you can take many medications while pregnant.

Medications

According to 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 a fetus’s vital organs. It’s a good idea to speak with your doctor if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant and currently taking medication or considering taking medication. Several medications are considered safe after 12 weeks of pregnancy. These include:
  • topical menthol
  • nasal strips
  • 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 your doctor recommends you take them. They increase the risk for problems:
  • aspirin (Bayer)
  • ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
  • codeine
  • Bactrim, an antibiotic

Home remedies for cold and flu during pregnancy

When you get sick while pregnant, your first steps should be to:
  1. Get plenty of rest.
  2. Drink a lot of fluids.
  3. 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 ease 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

Is it a cold or the flu?

The common cold and the flu share many symptoms, such as a cough and runny nose. However, a few differences can help you tell them apart. If your symptoms are generally mild, then you likely have a cold. Also, chills and fatigue are more likely with the flu.

Things you can do to reduce your risk

When you’re pregnant, your body’s immune system becomes weaker to prevent your body from rejecting the fetus. But, it also leaves you more vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections. Pregnant people are also more likely than nonpregnant folks their age to have flu complications. These complications may include pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinus infections. Getting a flu vaccination can reduce your risk of infection and complications. Other things you can do to reduce your risk of getting sick include:

When should I call my doctor?

Although most colds don’t cause problems for a fetus, you should take the flu 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 or pressure
  • vaginal bleeding
  • confusion
  • severe vomiting
  • high fever that isn’t reduced by acetaminophen
  • decreased fetal movement
The CDC recommends treating pregnant people with flu-like symptoms immediately with antiviral medications. Call your doctor’s office if you have any questions or you’re not sure your symptoms are worrisome.

Takeaway

Getting sick while pregnant can be particularly unpleasant, and you might wonder whether it’s safe to take OTC medications to ease your symptoms. Generally, doctors recommend avoiding medications in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. If you’re currently taking medication for a condition or it’s after 12 weeks, and you want to take something to reduce cold or flu symptoms, it’s a good idea to talk with a doctor about what’s safe and what you should avoid.