Tips for Preventing and Treating a Cold During Pregnancy

Written by: Gabriela Alvarado



Time to read 7 min

No one likes being sick. But it is also an unfortunate fact that most, if not all of us, will experience a cold or the flu at some point in our lives.

If you are pregnant and it is approaching cold or flu season, you are likely wondering what happens when you catch a cold while pregnant. Is it safe to take medicine? Can the cold hurt my baby?

The good news is that in most cases, over-the-counter medications are safe to use and a cold is perfectly safe for your growing baby.

To help you get a better understanding of the ins and outs of having a cold from early pregnancy to your due date, we’ve compiled tips on how to tell the difference between the cold and the flu, how to prevent both, and tips on making yourself feel better if you do become sick.

Is It Common to Catch a Cold During Pregnancy?

During pregnancy, your immune system experiences a series of fluctuations and changes. Because of these fluctuations, pregnant women are often more susceptible to viral and respiratory infections.

The changes your immune system goes through while pregnant is not the same as being immunocompromised. However, your body is more sensitive to picking up germs because it cannot defend itself against illnesses in the same way.

The primary reason your body is more likely to catch a common cold than another healthy individual is that your immune system suppresses itself, so it doesn’t see the baby growing inside of you as a foreign invader. That said, health care providers say that having a cold while pregnant does not endanger your baby in any way.

Common Cold Symptoms:

  • Gradual onset

  • Runny nose

  • Stuffy nose

  • Sore throat

  • Headaches and body aches

  • Sneezing

  • Coughing

The CDC says most cold symptoms clear themselves up within seven to ten days. Unfortunately, as colds are viral, there are no medications you can take to cure a cold. There are, however, some over-the-counter medications (OTC), cold medications, and pain relievers you can take to relieve the symptoms instead.

Always speak with your doctor before taking any medications when pregnant, as some medications are not recommended to take when pregnant.

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Difference Between A Cold and the Flu

The common cold and the flu have many similar symptoms, and it may be tricky at first to decipher which one you are suffering from.

The main difference is that the flu is much more likely to cause a fever and chills. While a cold can produce a fever, individuals with the flu are more likely to experience a high fever. The flu also comes on much more suddenly than a cold does, and you are less likely to have a stuffy nose, sneezing, and a sore throat with the flu.

While nothing can completely prevent the flu, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women receive their annual flu shot. The flu vaccine reduces the risk of catching the flu by approximately 50% and reduces the risk of hospitalization by 40% in pregnant women.

The CDC also states that mothers who get the flu vaccine provide protection against the flu to their babies for the first several months of their baby’s life.

Cold Symptoms Vs. Flu Symptoms

Tips to Prevent a Cold During Pregnancy

Of course, the very best way to deal with a cold is not to catch one in the first place. Unfortunately, however, that’s not always possible. Still, there are steps you can take that will significantly reduce your chances of becoming infected.

Washing your hands

The most effective defense you have against getting sick is washing your hands. You should wash your hands before and after eating, when you blow your nose or sneeze into a tissue, when you come home from an outing, after using the restroom, before and after changing a diaper, and before preparing food.

To properly wash hands, use warm water, soap, and scrub for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer and wash your hands as soon as possible. Hand sanitizer, while helpful, should not be used as a replacement for proper handwashing.

Avoid touching your face

Our hands are covered with germs, even when we wash them well, and touching your face or rubbing your eyes can deposit germs right into some of the most sensitive parts of your body.

Avoid places where sick people are

Also, avoid large crowds, and wear a mask at all times. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we all have became accustomed to social distancing and wearing masks, so why not continue the practice? In many cultures, people wear masks regularly to prevent themselves and others from getting ill from common viruses like the cold and flu.

Using a humidifier during cold and flu season may also prevent germs from spreading as some studies indicate that viral germs spread more easily in dry air. However, it is essential to keep your humidifier clean because mold and mildew can grow inside, which can make you sick in other ways.

Get a log of fresh air and exercise

On nice days, crack the windows and get out and move your body. Exercise keeps your body healthy and builds your immune system. While cold air cannot kill germs, keeping a well-ventilated home can reduce the chances of catching a virus. Additionally, sunlight kills bacteria, so let the light shine in as much as possible!

Take your prenatal vitamins

 Also your supplements daily as prescribed by your doctor is so important. Not only are those vitamins providing essential nutrients to your baby, but they are also giving your body what it needs to stay healthy and strong.

How to Treat a Cold During Pregnancy

If you’ve still caught a cold during pregnancy despite your best efforts, first and foremost, speak with your obstetrics office and discuss which medications, if any, are safe to take. The FDA has a complete list of medications broken down into five categories and the risk factor during pregnancy.

The five categories are A, B, C, D, and X, broken down by trimester and nursing safety levels.

Some medications that are listed as not approved during the first trimester may be ok during the third trimester and vice versa, which is why it is essential to seek medical advice before taking anything. There is a wide variety of pain relievers, decongestants, cough suppressants, expectorants, and antihistamines approved for use during pregnancy.

However, some medications typically approved for use during pregnancy may not be safe if you suffer from high blood pressure or other preexisting conditions.

Medications that are typically considered safe for all three trimesters include saline nasal spray, Allegra (fexofenadine) RX, Claritin (loratadine), Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Sudafed (pseudoephedrine), Tylenol (acetaminophen), Robitussin (dextromethorphan) cough syrup, Robitussin DM (dextromethorphan and guaifenesin) cough syrup, and cough drops/lozenges.

Medications that pregnant women should avoid include Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen sodium), and Afrin nasal spray.

If you plan on breastfeeding, you should also discuss any medications you are taking with your provider. Some medications can be passed through breastmilk and are considered harmful to the baby.

Of course, there is a risk with any medication, so if you’d rather avoid meds altogether, here are some tips to provide cough and cold relief:

  • Gargle with saltwater for a sore throat

  • Use a humidifier or steam up the bathroom to relieve sinus pressure and pain

  • Use nasal strips and sleep propped up on your back (if possible) to help with coughing and congestion. A Nurture& Glider offers power recline and an adjustable headrest

  • Apply Vicks Vaporub to your chest, temples, and under your nostrils to help with coughing and congestion

  • Drink warm herbal tea or sip chicken broth to ease a sore throat
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When to call a doctor?

Rest, fluids, and time are all you need to get over a cold or the flu in most instances. However, there are some symptoms doctors say you should not ignore. The CDC recommends you call your doctor if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing

  • Persistent chest pain or pressure in your chest or abdomen

  • A fever and cough that seems to get better but then come back or worsen

  • Persistent dizziness or severe fatigue

  • Inability to urinate

  • Severe weakness

  • The worsening of any chronic medical conditions

It is never enjoyable to be ill, but having a cold or the flu on top of your pregnancy symptoms may feel unbearable. Stay positive and remember that the symptoms will most likely pass in a week to ten days. To reduce your risk of becoming sick while pregnant, wash your hands frequently, get plenty of sleep and exercise, and avoid being around those who are sick.

If you do catch a cold, consult your doctor on the best course of action and relax as much as you can; the Nurture& Glider+ is the ideal spot to recline and rest. Colds, unfortunately, will happen, but using these tips will help you get back on your feet as soon as possible!

L. Elizabeth Forry

Medically reviewed: Gabriela Alvarado

Medical surgeon with certifications from Imperial College London and Johns Hopkins University. Committed to medical excellence, she has conducted several academic research projects that have contributed to the advancement of the field.

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