What to Do for a Fever During Pregnancy
March 6, 2020
Having a fever under any circumstance can be concerning, but a fever during pregnancy can be particularly unsettling. Your immune system is actually weaker when you’re expecting, so you’re more susceptible to getting sick—and your symptoms may linger for longer. Aside from feeling especially crappy, it’s natural to worry whether your spike in temperature will affect baby. Here’s what you need to know about keeping you and baby safe and getting you back to good health.
A fever is clinically defined as having a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater. But of course there’s a range of severity. A person’s normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees, so anytime your temperature is above that, you could technically have a fever (albeit a mild one), says Christine Greves, MD, an ob-gyn at the Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Orlando, Florida. “We usually consider a fever something that needs extra attention if it’s over 102 degrees,” she adds.
If you have a fever during pregnancy, the symptoms you may experience would be the same as if you weren’t expecting. “Being pregnant shouldn’t alter that,” says Julie Lamppa, CNM, RN, a certified nurse midwife at Mayo Clinic. Those symptoms include:
- Feeling hot and flushed
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
Wondering how baby may be affected by your fever? Rest assured, just because you’re sick doesn’t mean baby is also infected. Rather, the risks depend on how high your temperature gets. When you have a fever, your internal body temperature rises, which can also increase baby’s temperature, Lamppa says. “When a fetus becomes too warm, their heart rate may increase,” she says. However, Lamppa adds, “this is usually temporary and shouldn’t cause any long-term concerns.”
A low-grade fever usually isn’t something to be too concerned about. That said, if a woman has a prolonged fever due to an infection, there’s a chance it could harm baby, Greves says. That’s also true if your temperature spikes in the first trimester, since a fever in early pregnancy—a critical period of fetal development—can increase the odds that baby could develop neural tube defects and other congenital abnormalities, Lamppa says.
If you’re having a fever, there’s a reason for it. “A fever is a symptom,” Greves says. “You need to ask why this person is having a fever.”
There are a few things that could be behind this, she says. Maybe it’s just because you have a little cold—in which case, the odds of your fever affecting your pregnancy are really low, Greves says. Other common culprits behind a fever in pregnancy include the flu, a urinary tract infection (UTI) and a stomach bug. But it’s also possible to have a fever due to something more serious like listeriosis (a bacterial infection), toxoplasmosis (a parasitic infection) or encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain), she says. “That’s when the fever can be a problem—because of the reason behind it,” Greves says. Which is why it’s important to alert your doctor of your symptoms.
In general, it’s okay to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) when you have a fever during pregnancy, Lamppa says. Other than that, make sure you stay well hydrated and get a lot of rest, she says. Putting a cool washcloth on your forehead may help you feel better as well.
Things you shouldn’t take for a fever in pregnancy include aspirin and ibuprofen (i.e., Advil or Motrin), or, according to Greves, any herbal medication. “This is a very important period of time, and we don’t have any controlled studies that say herbal medications are safe,” she says.
Call your doctor if your fever doesn’t come down with Tylenol or if you notice an increase in contractions, abdominal pain or tenderness, loss of fluid or decrease in fetal movement, Lamppa says. And, of course, don’t hesitate to check in with your doctor if you have any concerns at any point.
Updated February 2020
Christine Greves, MD, FACOG, is an ob-gyn at the Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Orlando, Florida. She received her medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine.
Julie Lamppa, APRN, CNM, is a certified nurse midwife at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
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.