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How to treat cold and flu during pregnancy


If there’s one thing more uncomfortable than being pregnant, it’s being pregnant AND sick. I was plagued by at least two colds during my pregnancy, and was utterly miserable. 

When not pregnant (or breastfeeding) I’d usually just slam the Codral and carry on as usual. But as I’m sure you know by now, you need to think twice before putting anything into your body when you’re carrying a baby. 

So what can you do to safely treat a cold during pregnancy? And what should you do if you contract the FLU during pregnancy?! We spoke to resident Mumli medical advisor Dr Sara Twogood M.D. to get the facts. 

Here’s what you should know about how to treat cold and flu during pregnancy.

Just so you know: You’re more likely to get sick during pregnancy (rude!)

When you’re pregnant you’re more susceptible to colds and flu because your immune system isn’t operating at full capacity. It sounds like a lame time to have lowered immunity, but this is actually a good thing. It means your body isn’t going to recognise your baby as something to “fight off”, and that it’s putting more of its energy into growing said baby.

The downside, of course, is that if you do get a cold or flu during pregnancy, your body may not cope as well as it usually would. For example, your sickness may last longer than normal. Dr Twogood warns us to “expect that symptoms will last longer during pregnancy. So a cold that would last 5-7 days when not pregnant, may linger for 2-3 weeks.” 

Ugh! So rude.

Cold or flu and pregnancy: Is it dangerous?

Dr Twogood says, “The cold or flu virus in and of itself is not dangerous. But the symptoms it can cause can be dangerous to pregnancy – especially respiratory symptoms like wheezing or troubling breathing.” 

Studies have also found that having a cold or flu with a fever just before or during early pregnancy, may be linked to an increase in birth defects.

So while you don’t necessarily need to fly into a panic if you do come down with something while you’re pregnant, it’s a good idea to learn how to treat cold and flu symptoms during pregnancy (or at least manage them).

See a doctor if…

You need advice on medication

Some medications are okay to take during pregnancy, and can help you manage nasty cold and flu symptoms. But your doctor will advise what’s best for you.

“A health care provider can give you a list of tips and medications that are considered safe to use during pregnancy, to help treat and improve your symptoms,” Dr Twogood advises. 

Medication isn’t helping

“If your symptoms are severe, even after using these medications, an evaluation might help,” she adds. 

One of the risks of flu in pregnancy is that it may develop into something more sinister like pneumonia. If you feel like medication isn’t making you feel better, your doctor might prescribe treatment with antiviral medications.

Your symptoms are severe

Dr Twogood says to see your doctor if you develop severe symptoms like: 

  • Shortness of breath
  • Significant wheezing
  • Being unable to eat or drink anything
  • A continuous cough that causes discomfort. 

You experience any irregular pregnancy symptoms

“Remember, routine pregnancy complaints can happen in the midst of your cold and flu symptoms,” she says. “Bleeding or decreased foetal movement in the third trimester would be reasons for an evaluation, too.” 

Always see a doctor if you feel your baby’s movements change, or you’re worried about your pregnancy for any reason.

Ways to prevent sickness during pregnancy

Now wouldn’t it just be easier for everyone if you don’t get sick during pregnancy? We like the sound of that. 

Here are some ways you can try to prevent getting a cold or flu during pregnancy:

  • Take your prenatal vitamins These bad boys are formulated with vitamins and minerals that pregnant ladies need to feel good. Keep on taking ‘em.

  • Eat foods rich in Vitamin C – Strawberries, broccoli, kiwi fruit, oranges and grapefruit are a few examples. Vitamin C is a handy tool for promoting postpartum healing, and is also useful for warding off cold and flu during pregnancy.

  • Stay hydrated, nourished and physically active – Taking good care of yourself in general will help promote overall health and wellbeing.

  • Get a flu shot – Is the flu vaccine safe in pregnancy? Dr Twogood says, “Yes! (Unless someone has other contraindications.)” There’s generally no negative associations between the flu shot and pregnancy, and it’s recommended that pregnant women get immunised. As an added bonus, the antibodies your body makes will pass onto your newborn and protect them from the flu after they’re born.

  • Rub your belly and chant ‘I shall not let sickness in’ – I’ve added this for good measure. It may or may not help.

Hey, don’t beat yourself up if you get sick despite doing all this. It happens! Thankfully, there are some medical treatments and home remedies for cold and flu during pregnancy that you can fall back on.

How to treat cold and flu symptoms during pregnancy

Medical treatments

If you’re worried about taking cold and flu medicine during pregnancy, you’re right to be cautious. But Dr Twogood reassures us that there are some safe options.

“There are many over the counter and prescription medications that can be taken,” she says. “For example, antihistamines like Benadryl and Unisom can help with sleep and congestion. Nasal steroid spray can be safe too. Healthcare providers usually have a list for patients to use as needed.”

But what about my beloved Codral, or other cold and flu medications? 

Many typical cold and flu meds like this contain phenylephrine, which isn’t safe to take during pregnancy. As Dr Twogood explains, “Some cold and flu medications affect the cardiovascular system and can affect blood flow to the uterus and therefore placenta and baby. Those should be avoided.”

Home remedies for cold and flu during pregnancy

Dr Twogood’s favourite tips for how to treat a cold during pregnancy at home include:

  • Using a humidifier.
  • Nasal saline irrigation (either a spray or Neti Pot – a contraption used to flush your nasal passages out with salt water).
  • Staying well hydrated.
  • And REST. Plenty of rest. (Follow the good lady’s advice on this one.)

But how the f*ck do you keep functioning?!

On top of those disconcerting physical pregnancy symptoms, pregnancy stress, poor sleep, baby brain, and the rest of the stuff you’re dealing with in pregnancy, having a cold or flu can really suck balls. But life can’t just stop, can it? 

If you’ve got other kids to care for, being sick AND pregnant is not a great mix. So here’s what you need to do.

ASK FOR HELP!

Go on. Bite the bullet. Ask your MIL over to help tame your toddler. Get your partner on dishwashing duty. Ask your boss for a week off (you’re still entitled to sick leave!). If ever there’s a time to let your body rest and recover from sickness, it’s now.

Don’t be a hero. Be in your bed.

Don’t avoid medication

“Many pregnant people are worried about taking cold and flu medicine during pregnancy, and want to avoid it,” Dr Twogood says. “I encourage people to use medications that are safe in pregnancy. This can make the symptoms so much more manageable!”

Like we’ve said, just run your meds past your doctor first to be sure they’re safe for pregnancy.

Release yourself from all expectations

The kindest thing you can do for yourself when you’re treating a cold during pregnancy is to just surrender. Don’t expect to keep giving 100% at work, keeping your house immaculate, and turning up to all the social gatherings. If you manage to have a shower and keep yourself (and any other children) fed, then you’ve won. Nice work!


Read next: 5 ways to manage stress during pregnancy


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