Having a cold is never fun—especially not when you’re expecting. If you’re feeling under the weather, you might be wondering how to tackle it. Is cold medicine safe for pregnancy? Will a cold during pregnancy affect baby? We asked two experts for answers. Below, get a rundown of everything you need to know about having a cold while pregnant, from symptoms to look for to quick tips on how to find relief.
The reasons someone catches a cold while pregnant are the same as they were before baby. The common cold is an infection of the upper respiratory tract, and there are over 200 viruses that cause it, including the very common Rhinovirus, says Cynthia Flynn, MD, a Florida-based ob-gyn with JustAnswer. Plus, cold viruses are easily spread through direct contact and the air (via sneezing and coughing), so they can be transmitted through something you touch or even by being near someone else with a cold, Flynn adds.
Pregnant women are also more prone to colds because of their changed immune system, which works extra hard to protect both mom and baby. “The immune system during pregnancy is very complex and changes to [give] immune responses to the fetus,” she explains. “While the specific changes are very complex, the end result is that minor infections may be more common.” They can last longer too—anywhere from five to 10 days, Flynn says. Most women will experience two to three colds during their pregnancy, but, like so many other aspects of pregnancy, this will vary from person to person. “Some experience no colds, and some many more. This depends on the exposure that the woman has in her day-to-day life,” Flynn says.
Does a cold during pregnancy affect baby?
If you’re wondering whether your cold will negatively affect baby, the good news is it won’t. In fact, if you catch a cold during the third trimester, you might even pass on some protective antibodies to baby, Flynn notes. Rest assured that, while you may feel uncomfortable, baby’s doing just fine.
You probably know the symptoms of a cold by heart: nasal congestion, a cough, sore throat and low-grade fever. While these symptoms remain the same during pregnancy, they can be hard to distinguish from typical pregnancy side effects. “A runny nose and feeling tired can be normal symptoms of pregnancy,” says Sharon Phelan, MD, an ob-gyn based in New Mexico. “Your blood volume increases by 40 percent during pregnancy, so all the blood vessels become more dilated. You’ve got a lot of blood vessels in your nose, so you can have more nasal discharge. And the hormones of pregnancy, particularly progesterone, tend to make you really tired.”
Unfortunately, there aren’t any tests for diagnosing colds, but if you have a runny nose (beyond your usual pregnancy nose), sore throat and cough, then you probably have a cold—especially if the people you’re closest to (like your partner and other family members) have colds too.
Differentiating between a cold and other respiratory infections
If you’re feeling under the weather you might be asking if you have a cold, or something else, like the flu or COVID. One way to differentiate between a common cold and other respiratory illnesses is by how bad the symptoms are. For something other than a cold, Flynn says the symptoms will be a little more severe and will include a sore throat, fever and muscle aches. If you think you might have COVID or the flu during pregnancy, reach out to your doctor to get tested.
If this is the first cold you’ve had since you’ve been pregnant, you’re probably wondering how to deal with it safely. Luckily, there are some pregnancy-safe cold medicines that can help treat your cold symptoms, both Flynn and Phelan say, including vapor rub and Tylenol (acetaminophen), Robitussin and Benadryl. While some other decongestants and cold medicine may also be safe while pregnant, you should always check with your doctor before taking anything. “Some decongestants, like pseudoephedrine, can increase your blood pressure,” Phelan says. “Since some women have blood pressure problems while they’re pregnant, it’s best to check first.”
Home remedies for a cold during pregnancy
Aside from cold medicines, there are also several easy home remedies for a cold during pregnancy, including:
Take in steam. Steam and humidity “help keep mucus loose so you can cough it out or blow it out,” Phelan says, which can help clear up clogged nasal passages. Take a steam shower once or twice a day, breathe in steam from a hot drink or run a humidifier to “keep your nasal passages moist,” Phelan suggests.
Drink fluids. It’s age-old advice for a reason. Flynn recommends drinking lots of water and decaf tea with lemon to soothe a sore throat. If you opt for tea, just be mindful of your daily caffeine intake.
Get some rest. It can be hard to slow things down with all the pregnancy to-dos on your plate, but if you’re dealing with a cold while pregnant, it’s important to get your rest. If you have little ones at home, ask a trusted loved one to help out for a few days until you feel better. If you work from an office, stay home for a day or two, Flynn suggests. Not only will you get some much-needed rest, but you’ll also prevent your cold from spreading to others.
What other moms-to-be do for colds
Sometimes the best advice comes from someone who’s been through it. Curious about how other moms-to-be feel better when they have a cold? Here’s what three Bump users said:
“My husband and I both woke up this past weekend with extremely sore throats, followed by a headache, serious congestion and body aches, and now it’s moved into our chests. I see my primary doctor this afternoon. We’ve both been breathing steam, which helps. He’s able to take Alka-Seltzer to help, but I haven’t really felt like I can take anything!” (Note: The Aspirin in Alka Seltzer may not be appropriate for all pregnant women, so definitely check in with your ob-gyn first.)
“All I’ve done is get lots of rest, drink rooibos (red) tea and also have hot water with one-fourth of a lemon squeezed in and some honey. I’ve found that it’s good for congestion and flushing out your system. I used Halls cough drops, too, but just the regular ones, not the ‘sustained release’ ones.”
“What really helped me at night when I had a cold was Breathe Right nasal strips! They totally open your nose so you can breathe. Vicks VapoRub also helped—I would put some under my nose, and that would clear out my nose.”
The good news is most colds are harmless and will go away on their own. However, there are some situations that may warrant a call to the doctor, Flynn says, such as:
- A high-grade fever (generally considered to be 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher)
- If the cold isn’t getting better or is getting worse after five days
- Difficulty breathing
- Over-the-counter medicine isn’t offering relief and your symptoms are getting increasingly uncomfortable
Once your doctor has evaluated if you have a cold or something else, they can offer next steps to help get you back to normal.
The best way to stay healthy while expecting is to try and prevent colds from occuring in the first place. Luckily, there’s lots of things you can do to keep your health top of mind—and thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, more people now are proactive about them. Somes ways to ward of germs are:
- Wash your hands (or use hand sanitizer) frequently
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Don’t shake hands with others
- Keep your distance from people with obvious cold symptoms
- Stay away from crowds and crowded indoor locations
- Wear a mask in public
If you do wind up coming down with a cold, don’t stress. Know it’s temporary, and there are ways to feel better. And baby is doing just fine.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
Sharon Phelan, MD, is an ob-gyn based in New Mexico with over 20 years of experience. She has previously served as the professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico, as well as a spokesperson for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She received her medical degree from and completed her residency at the University of New Mexico.
Cynthia Flynn, MD, is a board-certified ob-gyn based in Florida with over 20 years of experience. She is also an expert with the online platform JustAnswer. She received her degree from the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.
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