Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus. It’s mostly known for causing mild, cold-like symptoms, with many recovering within 1–2 weeks.

But RSV can cause serious illness in some people, including infants, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems.

Pregnant people may also be at a higher risk of RSV-related complications. Severe illness may cause health risks to a pregnant person and their baby.

Here’s what you need to know about RSV and pregnancy.

Most healthy adults who develop RSV have mild symptoms and recover without any treatment. Some don’t experience any symptoms at all.

A 2018 research article suggests that pregnant people may have an increased risk of developing severe symptoms due to reduced heart and lung capacity.

Research from 2020 outlined several RSV-related complications that can occur in pregnant people, including:

  • sepsis
  • pneumonia
  • respiratory failure

Preeclampsia, a serious type of high blood pressure that can develop during pregnancy, was another noted possible complication of RSV.

This doesn’t mean that every pregnant person who gets RSV will have a severe case. But being aware of these and other risks can better prepare you and your loved ones.

You may also be at a higher risk of severe RSV during pregnancy if you have a preexisting lung disease, such as asthma.

The symptoms of RSV in pregnant people are similar to those seen in older adults and children. Most commonly, the symptoms are like a seasonal cold virus.

Mild cases can cause:

  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • fever
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • fatigue

In more serious cases, RSV can cause shortness of breath and other severe breathing problems.

If you’re concerned about possible RSV during pregnancy, contact your doctor. They may want to see you if your symptoms are worsening or if you have an underlying medical condition that puts you at a higher risk of complications, such as asthma.

While some viruses may increase the risk of miscarriage, RSV isn’t thought to be one of them.

A 2022 research review found that RSV could cause severe illness in some pregnant people, but no miscarriages were found.

Still, more research is needed to confirm whether RSV can increase miscarriage risks in some pregnant people.

RSV is typically transmitted via air droplets and through direct contact with people who have the virus.

While you can get RSV the same way while pregnant, the virus can also pass to your fetus through the placenta. This is similar to other viruses that get into the bloodstream and pass into the placenta when pregnant.

Babies who are born with exposure to RSV are more likely to have lower birth weights. According to a 2022 review of research, babies who were exposed to RSV during pregnancy were also more likely to develop lung disease later in childhood.

RSV may increase the risk of early labor and preterm delivery in some people. A preterm birth is defined as a baby being born before 37 weeks gestation.

Not only can early labor lead to a preterm birth, but babies who are born too early may also be at an increased risk of severe cases of RSV. Other risks include:

  • breathing problems
  • developmental delays
  • vision or hearing problems

Aside from trying to stay away from others who may have RSV, as well as frequent handwashing, the best way to prevent RSV during pregnancy is to get vaccinated.

In August 2023, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an RSV vaccine for pregnant people at 32–36 weeks of gestation. The main goal of this vaccine is to help prevent severe RSV in infants 0–6 months of age.

If you do get RSV while pregnant, treatment typically involves rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Antiviral medications aren’t typically prescribed for mild RSV. However, children 8–19 months old may be given monoclonal antibodies to help prevent severe RSV.

While more research is needed on the specific effects of RSV on pregnant people, current research suggests that this virus may increase the risk of serious illness and complications during pregnancy.

Additionally, pregnant people with RSV may be able to pass the virus to a fetus, which can lead to complications after birth.

Despite the risks, there are steps you can take to help protect you and your baby from RSV. This includes the possibility of vaccination during the third trimester.

Consider talking with a doctor about this option and other steps you can take to help prevent severe RSV.