What to Do if You Notice Swollen Lymph Nodes During Pregnancy

Here’s what could be causing your swollen lymph nodes during pregnancy—and when to see the doctor.
ByErika Rasmusson Janes
Updated
Mar 2020
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Photo: Claus Vedfelt - Getty Images

Swollen lymph nodes are typically a sign of infection, from a simple cold to something potentially more dangerous, such as chicken pox. It’s this range of possibility that can be especially nerve-wracking when you have swollen lymph nodes while pregnant. In this already stressful time, you can’t help but think about what might happen if those microbes affect your pregnancy. The good news is, in the vast majority of cases, there’s no need to worry. Here’s what to know about having swollen lymph nodes in pregnancy.

What Are Swollen Lymph Nodes?

Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that contain lymphocytes, a form of white blood cells that help your body fight infection and disease. Lymph nodes play a key role in the immune system, clearing away germs and other foreign matter that invade your body.

Most commonly, swollen lymph nodes are a sign of an infection or recent infection, says Michael Cackovic, MD, an ob-gyn at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. As impurities pass a lymph node via the lymphatic fluid, the node swells up as it works to filter the germs out. You’ll notice a swollen node as a small lump or bump in certain areas of your body—most commonly, the neck, under your chin, in the groin and in your armpit. Sometimes swollen lymph nodes can feel tender to the touch, says Christine Greves, MD, an ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Orlando, Florida. As you heal, the swelling will subside.

What Causes Swollen Lymph Nodes During Pregnancy?

In general, the things that can cause swollen lymph nodes during pregnancy are what can cause it when you’re not pregnant, Cackovic explains—that is to say, an infection. Common causes are the cold or flu virus.

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Of course, it’s natural to worry whether the infection will affect baby. Its impact “depends on the underlying cause,” Greves says. Fortunately, most infections you’ll encounter, such as cold, flu, strep throat and mono, will likely not harm the growing fetus. But in rare cases, swollen lymph nodes during pregnancy are a sign of infections that can increase the risk for birth defects and miscarriage—for instance, herpes, chicken pox and fifth disease.

Never hesitate to call your doctor if you suspect something’s not right. To avoid any infection that might lead to swollen lymph nodes and a potentially problematic pregnancy, keep your hands away from your face, wash your hands diligently and stay away from people who might be sick. To avoid herpes (or any other sexually transmitted infection), use a condom if your partner has the condition, even when they aren’t experiencing a flare-up; avoid sex altogether when they are. If you’re not in a monogomous relationship, always use a condom and avoid sex in the last weeks of your pregnancy.

Can pregnancy hormones cause swollen lymph nodes?

If you’re wondering “Can pregnancy hormones cause swollen lymph nodes?” the answer is “unlikely,” Greves says. However, pregnant women have been known to get concerned over what they think are swollen lymph nodes but in fact are special tissue (located anywhere between the armpit and the groin) that are gearing up for milk production. “They can become tender and swollen but will atrophy and go away eventually,” Cackovic says.

When to Call the Doctor about Swollen Glands in Pregnancy

If you have swollen glands while pregnant and you’re unsure of what it is, talk to your doctor. In fact, it’s always a good idea to just ask—especially if the nature of the lump or pain changes, Cackovic says. Your doctor may want to examine it and do further testing.

How to Treat Swollen Lymph Nodes During Pregnancy

To treat swollen lymph nodes during pregnancy, you’ll need to treat the underlying condition. Assuming you’ve called your doctor, take note of what they recommend. Chances are, they’ll find that it’s a run-of-the-mill cold or flu, in which case, they’ll likely advise that you get plenty of liquids and rest. If the swelling feels tender, Greves recommends applying a warm compress and taking an acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Updated March 2020

Expert bios:

Michael Cackovic, MD, is an ob-gyn specializing in maternal fetal medicine at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. He earned his medical degree from Hahnemann University College of Medicine in 1997.

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.

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.

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