RSV is a respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. You may be at a higher risk of serious illness from RSV during pregnancy. An RSV vaccine during pregnancy can protect you and your baby.

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.

Some people may also be at a higher risk of RSV-related complications during pregnancy. Severe illness may cause health risks to a pregnant person and their baby. Here’s what you need to know about RSV and pregnancy.

Learn more about RSV.

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 you may have an increased risk of developing severe RSV symptoms during pregnancy due to reduced heart and lung capacity.

Research from 2020 outlined several RSV-related complications that can occur during pregnancy, 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 during pregnancy 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 during pregnancy, but no miscarriages were found.

Still, more research is needed to confirm whether RSV can increase miscarriage risks, and if so in whom.

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.

If you 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.

You can get an RSV vaccination if you are pregnant. In August 2023, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an RSV vaccine during pregnancy 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.

Do RSV antibodies pass to fetus?

According to the CDC, antibodies from a pregnant person who has had the RSV vaccine pass to their fetus starting two weeks after they have the RSV vaccine. Those antibodies help protect the baby from getting RSV at birth which is a high risk time for infants.

Can I breastfeed if I have RSV?

Yes, but be sure to practice prevention methods like covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze and washing your hands frequently. A 2023 review of studies found that nursing is associated with fewer RSV infections and less severe RSV infections in infants.

When should you go to the ER for RSV?

Seek emergency care for RAV if you have:

  • a high fever (over 100.4 for infants or children)
  • difficulty breathing
  • blue tint in lips or nail beds

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

Additionally, you may pass the RSV 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.