If you’ve got a sore throat, runny nose, head and body aches, or are coughing and sneezing, you may be suffering from allergies, the flu, or a nasty cold. None of which are much fun, and all of which can cause extra worry when you are pregnant.
When you become pregnant, your immune system can change making you more prone to getting sick. Although a sluggish immune system keeps your growing baby protected, your body can’t easily fight off colds, flu and allergy attacks. The good news is that even though you will probably feel overly tired, the symptoms of a common cold or flu are not typically dangerous to your baby. Your little one won’t experience the sniffles, achiness, and other annoying symptoms that can come with a virus.
“It’s important for expecting moms to take certain measures to try to avoid contracting a cold or the flu while pregnant,” says John Bertrand, M.D., of Walnut Hill OBGYN and member of the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. “But if something should come up, early treatment is always best under the guidance of an obstetrician or other health care provider.”
To reduce the need for an extra trip to the doctor, Dr. Bertrand recommends some ways moms-to-be can help prevent from becoming sick. The most important step to take is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a nutritious diet, getting proper sleep, and staying as active as possible.
Cold and Flu Prevention Tips
- Wash your hands often, and for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water. Make an extra effort to wash your hands more frequently when you are around those who have a cold or cough. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Viruses that cause colds and flu can stay on your hands, and regular hand washing can help protect you from getting sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Viruses can enter your body this way.
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, including objects such as doorknobs and toys.
- Take your prenatal vitamins. Vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, and folic acid are essential for your baby’s growth and development, along with your own health.
If you are feeling under the weather from a cold or flu, Dr. Bertrand says it’s likely to last about 10 to 14 days — a little longer than the normal 7 to 10 days. And yes, you can get a brand new cold just as the last one is winding down. There are 200 or more cold virus strains among us, with the most common one being rhinovirus. If your symptoms persist past two weeks, or seem to be getting progressively worse, Dr. Bertrand recommends you let your practitioner know.
“He or she will want to make sure your persistent cold isn’t evolving into something more serious, like a secondary infection or the flu,” he says. “Colds are best managed with rest, fluids, patience and a quick call to your health care provider to make sure they are aware of your symptoms, including any chills or rise in body temperature to 102° Fahrenheit or greater. If necessary, your doctor can also steer you toward over-the-counter medication options that are considered safe during pregnancy.”
How to Treat Colds and Flu during Pregnancy
- Give your body down time. Get ample rest, take naps, sleep through the night as much as possible, and sit down to relax.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Water, juice, and broth can add necessary fluids to your body to help flush out the virus.
- Even if you cannot stomach large meals, try eating small portions throughout the day when you are up to it. Focus on foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, iron, and calcium.
Dr. Bertrand cautions that over-the-counter products such as acetaminophen, nasal sprays, and nasal decongestants should be used sparingly and for the shortest period possible, but they can help alleviate fevers and head/body aches or provide some symptom relief from stuffiness. Sore throat lozenges can ease the pain in your throat.
If you prefer to stick with natural remedies, the use of a humidifier or nasal strips may reduce congestion. Sucking on ice chips, drinking warm tea, or gargling with warm salt water help alleviate a sore throat.
Although most colds do not cause problems for an unborn child, Dr. Bertrand adds that the flu should be taken more seriously. Flu complications increase the risk of premature delivery and certain birth defects. If you get sick with the flu, antiviral drugs prescribed by your physician may be a treatment option to lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. They also can prevent serious flu complications, such as pneumonia.
Talk to your ob-gyn about safe medications to take and about including vaccines as part of a healthy pregnancy. Vaccines help protect you and your baby against serious diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you get a whooping cough and flu vaccine during each pregnancy.
To learn more about having a healthy pregnancy, visit Texas Health Women’s Services.