Getting the Common Cold When You're Pregnant

Why you might be getting sick more often and what treatments are safe

Your immune system goes through some amazing changes when you're pregnant. Unfortunately, they don't eliminate the possibility of catching the common cold. Fortunately, a mother-to-be's cold doesn't usually put an unborn baby at risk. But being sick when you're pregnant can make prenatal wellness strategies like getting in daily exercise difficult and rule out certain treatment options.

pregnant woman having a headache and morning sickness
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Pregnancy and Your Immune System

It used to be thought that pregnancy suppressed your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness. However, it appears to be much more complicated than that.

More recent research has shown that the immune system is actually modulated rather than suppressed. Instead of being less active, it's active in different and carefully controlled ways that protect your growing baby. What's more, this changes throughout pregnancy.

You may be more or less susceptible to certain illnesses at certain times. Some studies suggest that you may be most likely to get sick during the first trimester and least likely during the second.

Changes in certain immune cells can lead to remissions of autoimmune disease in some pregnant women while also making them more prone to complications of the flu and some other infections.

The Common Cold and Your Baby

When you get sick, your baby is protected not only by your immune system, but their own, as well as the placenta.

According to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), having a cold while you're pregnant typically doesn't harm the baby. The one symptom to watch out for, though, is fever.

Having a fever early in pregnancy may be related to certain birth defects, making it especially important for you to contact your doctor and treat the fever appropriately.

The common cold, however, doesn't typically cause a fever, so it may be a sign that you have a different illness, such as the flu.

Safe Cold Treatments

If you're pregnant and get a cold, it's best to consult with your OB/GYN or other health practitioner before taking any over-the-counter (OTC) cold or cough medications.

That said, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ranked the safety of certain medications—from Category A (no risk during any trimester) to Category X (potential for fetal risk, with the risk outweighing any potential benefit)—and this information can help provide useful context on a drug you're considering.

For example, acetaminophen, which is found in Tylenol and some other drugs, is considered the best pain reliever/fever reducer to use while pregnant. Other analgesics, like aspirin and Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen), are not recommended unless instructed by your doctor.

Studies have shown the OTC antihistamines loratadine (found in Claritin) and cetirizine (found in Zyrtec) are safe for pregnant women.

On the other hand, most decongestants and cough medicines haven't been tested in pregnant women and may have dangerous side effects for the baby. It's recommended that these shouldn't be taken during pregnancy unless your doctor has advised you otherwise.

Always talk to your OB/GYN or other healthcare provider before taking any medication during pregnancy.

Taking Care of Yourself

If you come down with a cold one, self-care will be an important part of your treatment as well. Do your best to:

  • Get extra rest.
  • Drink plenty of clear fluids. (This is even more important when you're pregnant.)
  • Try saline nasal sprays or steam inhalation for congestion.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Drinking hot water or tea with honey and lemon, gargling saltwater, or sucking on ice chips are non-drug ways to help soothe a sore or irritated throat.

Notify your doctor if your symptoms seem especially severe or persistent.

Cold Prevention

Since the cold is so common, it's difficult to avoid completely. But you can set yourself to have the best defense by following these strategies:

  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Wash your hands frequently

Most practitioners will also prescribe or recommend a prenatal vitamin for pregnant women to supplement their normal diet. Be sure to take that as recommended, as it could help you stay healthy.

If you're a smoker, quitting is imperative to boost your immune system and support the health of your baby.

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Article Sources
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