When you’re expecting, your growing belly can make it difficult to take in full, deep breaths. And bronchitis, an inflammation of the lower respiratory tract, can make taking in deep breaths even harder.

Bronchitis is inflammation of the airways that causes you to develop extra mucus. Acute bronchitis is most often caused by infection. It results in lots of coughing. You might also have a fever, sore throat, shortness of breath, chest pain, chills, and body aches.

While you may not normally call your doctor for these symptoms, you have to be more careful during pregnancy. Now you’re living for two (or more).

Bronchitis is fairly common, especially during the winter months. Taking preventive steps is important to help you and your baby-to-be stay well.

Bronchitis prevention

Bronchitis can be the result of a bacterial or viral infection. Both are unfortunately easy to catch. One of the best ways to protect against bronchitis is to wash your hands often.

Avoiding exposure to people that have bronchitis or other respiratory conditions is also important. If a loved one has an infection, try to stay away as much as you can. This is especially true if they have a fever.

The flu virus can cause bronchitis, so be sure to get an annual flu shot. You can also encourage those around you to get the shot. The flu shot doesn’t contain live viruses, so it shouldn’t make you sick.

Getting the flu shot can also boost your baby’s immune system for about six months after birth. That means your little one will be less likely to experience the flu virus.

Avoiding cigarette smoke is also important in preventing bronchitis. Smoking irritates the airway linings, hindering the body’s natural defense system against infections.

When to call your doctor

Unfortunately, for some expectant moms, bronchitis can quickly progress to a more severe respiratory disorder. One example could be pneumonia. Seek emergency medical treatment if you experience the following symptoms:

  • chest pain
  • coughing up blood
  • fever greater than 100.4°F, or 38°C
  • shortness of breath that doesn’t get better with rest

While a large portion of bronchitis-related cases are due to a virus, sometimes bacteria can lead to bronchitis.

Bacteria-caused bronchitis can be treated with antibiotics if symptoms become severe or don’t seem to be getting better after a week. Check with your doctor to see if you’ll need antibiotics.

Treatments

If your doctor suspects your bronchitis is due to a bacterial infection, they may prescribe antibiotics. While not all antibiotics are considered safe during pregnancy, some are.

The following antibiotics are typically considered safe during pregnancy:

You shouldn’t take a class of antibiotics called tetracycline antibiotics. Examples include doxycycline and minocycline. These are associated with potentially causing discoloration to a baby’s teeth.

The antibiotics trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole also are pregnancy no-no’s. They’ve been known to cause birth defects.

Antibiotics aren’t always necessary to treat bronchitis. A virus usually causes the condition and antibiotics won’t kill a virus. But if your symptoms aren’t getting better after a few days, see your doctor. They will evaluate you further and look for bacterial causes of infection.

At-home treatments

Always check with your doctor before trying any at-home treatments. You’ll want to make sure they’re safe for you and your growing little one. While these treatments won’t cure bronchitis, they can help you feel better as your body heals.

Try irrigating your nasal passages using a mixture of 8 ounces warm water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. This can help you feel less stuffy.

Lean forward over a sink with your head at a 45-degree angle so that one nostril is pointed toward the sink. Using a syringe or squeeze bottle, pour the water into your nostril as you breathe through your mouth. The water should come out on the other side of your nose.

Repeat this process about three to four times per day.

Other at-home treatment options include:

  • Vicks vapor rub
  • using a humidifier
  • rest and fluids
  • steamy shower
  • pregnancy-safe hot tea

Over-the-counter options

While you should always check with your doctor first, you may be able to take some over-the-counter antihistamines after the first trimester.

You can take the following medications to help dry up the extra mucus that has built up in your lungs after your first trimester:

  • chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton)
  • loratadine (Claritin)
  • Novahistine
  • pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
  • Tylenol Cold & Sinus

The takeaway

Most respiratory infections like bronchitis are not associated with a high risk for pregnancy complications or birth defects. But that doesn’t address the discomfort you experience while you are recovering from bronchitis. Take preventive measures and check in with your doctor for treatment options.