When you’re expecting, catching a cold or the flu can be more than just unpleasant - it can also be dangerous for both you and your baby. During pregnancy, your immune system is suppressed so your body doesn’t reject the fetus, which makes you more susceptible to bugs going around. But with the right treatment and prevention methods, you can minimize your misery and lower your risks.
Why Pregnant Women Are More Vulnerable
There are a few reasons why pregnant women tend to catch more colds and flu:
Suppressed immune system - To prevent your body from rejecting the fetus as a foreign object, your immune system naturally dampens down while pregnant. This makes it harder for your body to fight off viruses and infections.
Increased heart rate and oxygen intake - When pregnant, your heart rate and breathing increase to provide oxygen for your baby. This accelerated breathing and circulation can increase exposure to cold and flu viruses.
Hormone changes - Hormonal changes during pregnancy can impact your immune response. Progesterone relaxes muscles and slows down digestion, while estrogen increases blood flow and mucus production - both of which can exacerbate cold symptoms.
Physical exhaustion - Growing a baby is tiring! Fatigue and weakness during pregnancy leave you physically vulnerable and less able to fight off sickness. Proper rest is essential.
Catching a cold or the flu while pregnant not only makes you feel lousy, it also puts you and your developing baby at risk. Let’s explore how to minimize symptoms and stay healthy.
Managing Cold and Flu Symptoms During Pregnancy
Dealing with coughs, congestion, fever and aches while pregnant can be worrying. Here are some safe and effective ways to find relief:
Rest and Hydration
This might seem obvious, but getting adequate rest and fluids is key when you’re under the weather. The extra sleep and hydration helps your taxed immune system and lets your body direct more energy towards fighting off the virus. Drink plenty of water, herbal tea and clear broths.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for Fever and Aches
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is generally safe for use during pregnancy to reduce fevers and relieve headaches, muscle aches, back pain and other cold and flu symptoms. Be sure to follow dosage directions carefully. Other pain relievers like ibuprofen are not recommended during pregnancy.
Saline Nasal Spray for Congestion
That painfully stuffed up nose that comes with colds and flu can make sleeping and breathing difficult. Saline nasal sprays are a safe and effective decongestant during pregnancy. Use as directed to moisten nasal passages and loosen mucus. This can provide relief from a blocked nose.
Avoid Decongestants and Other Medications
Many over-the-counter cold and flu medications contain decongestants and other active ingredients that are not recommended for use during pregnancy. Always check with your doctor before taking any medication while pregnant - even something as simple as a cough syrup. It’s better to avoid unnecessary medication.
Wash Your Hands Frequently
Viruses that cause colds and flu spread easily from person to person and surface to surface. Meticulous hand washing with soap and warm water is vital to avoid transmitting or catching an infection. Carry hand sanitizer with you when soap and water aren’t available.
Avoid Close Contact with Sick Individuals
Since cold and flu viruses spread through coughing, sneezing and physical contact, it’s smart to keep your distance from anyone exhibiting symptoms. Ask sick colleagues, friends or family members to wear a face mask when near you. Also avoid crowds during peak cold and flu season.
Don’t Share Drinks, Food or Utensils with Others
Share the love, not the germs. Viruses can easily spread through shared food, drinks and utensils. Avoid using the same plate or cup as someone who is sick. Wash dishes thoroughly with hot water and soap. Also be sure to replace your toothbrush after you’re well to avoid reinfection.
When to See a Doctor
Though rest and over-the-counter medications can alleviate milder cold and flu symptoms during pregnancy, it’s crucial to involve your doctor promptly if symptoms worsen. Contact your doctor right away if you experience:
- Fever over 100°F (37.8°C)
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Persistent cough producing mucus
- Dehydration from severe vomiting or diarrhea
- Symptoms lasting longer than 10-14 days
Pregnant women who contract the flu are at greater risk of developing serious complications, like pneumonia, that could require hospitalization. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication to treat the flu and help shorten duration and severity. Prompt treatment can prevent complications and is especially vital during the late second and third trimester when risk to the baby is highest.
Let your doctor know if you develop any troubling symptoms like:
- Contractions or preterm labor
- Reduced fetal movement
- Leakage of amniotic fluid
- Vaginal discharge or bleeding
Any of these could signal complications and require quick evaluation and treatment to ensure the health of you and your baby.
Preventing Colds and Flu While Pregnant
While it’s impossible to avoid every bug, you can take proactive steps to lower your odds of catching colds, flu and other viruses during pregnancy:
Get Your Flu Shot
The single most important thing you can do is get a flu shot. The flu vaccine is safe during pregnancy and provides critical protection for both mother and developing baby. With your weakened immunity, the consequences of catching the flu are too severe to risk. All pregnant women should get the flu shot as soon as it’s available - ideally before flu season ramps up.
Wash Hands Vigilantly
Make hand washing a habit to remove germs and avoid transmission. Lather well with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds after contact with communal surfaces or sick individuals. Keep hand sanitizer stocked in your purse, car and home so you can sanitize whenever soap and water aren’t available.
Avoid Sick People
Since cold and flu viruses spread through contact with infected individuals, limiting exposure can reduce your infection risk. Stay away from obviously sick colleagues, friends and family members. Kindly ask those exhibiting symptoms to wear a face mask around you. Also avoid crowded indoor spaces during peak cold season.
Disinfect Common Surfaces
Viruses can live on surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards, phones and countertops for up to 48 hours. Be diligent about disinfecting shared surfaces, especially when someone sick has been around. Use antibacterial wipes or a disinfectant cleaner to kill lingering germs.
Eat a Healthy Diet and Get Adequate Rest
Fueling your body with nutritious food gives your immune system the strength and resources to function optimally.Aim for a balanced diet rich in healthy proteins, fruits and vegetables. And don’t skimp on sleep! Physical exhaustion leaves you prone to sickness. Prioritize getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.
When to Seek Emergency Care
Most cold and flu symptoms during pregnancy can be managed with the above home treatments. However, in very rare cases, pregnant women with the flu can develop life-threatening complications that require emergency care.
Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Confusion or sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Decreased or no fetal movement
Rapid treatment is crucial for pneumonia, respiratory distress, dehydration, or other dangerous complications in pregnant women. Call 999 or go to your nearest A&E if you have any concerning symptoms.
Talk to Your Doctor About Prevention and Treatment
While dealing with colds, flu and other viruses during pregnancy can be stressful, the good news is they are manageable with proper care. Be proactive by talking to your doctor about prevention strategies like the flu shot. Should you develop concerning symptoms, call your doctor promptly for direction on safe and effective symptom relief. With the right precautions and prompt treatment, you can stay healthy and avoid complications from seasonal bugs.