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, these changes don't protect you from the common cold. Getting sick when you're pregnant is tough and can make prenatal wellness strategies like getting in daily exercise difficult. Pregnancy can also rule out certain treatment options.

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

Doctors used to think that pregnancy suppressed your immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness. But it's actually much more complicated than that.

Research shows that the immune system is modified during pregnancy—not suppressed. Instead of being less active, it's active in different and carefully controlled ways that protect your growing baby. These modifications evolve throughout your 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.

The Common Cold and Your Baby

When you get sick, your baby is protected by your immune system, their own immune system, and 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 increase the risk of certain birth defects, making it especially important for you to contact your doctor and treat your fever appropriately.

The common cold doesn't typically cause a fever, which means a fever might 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 your OB/GYN or another health practitioner before taking any over-the-counter (OTC) cold or cough medications.

Many medications are not safe to take while pregnant or breastfeeding. This includes the common decongestant pseudoephedrine. Taking pseudoephedrine during the first three months of pregnancy slightly increases your baby's risk of developing an abdominal wall birth defect.

Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine, which has similar risks, are found in many cold and cough medications. This includes cold, cough, and allergy medicines made by popular brands like Advil, Aleve, Sudafed, and Mucinex.

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

Pregnancy-safe cough and cold treatment options include:

  • OTC steroid nasal sprays like Flonase (fluticasone propionate)
  • Neti pot
  • Saline nasal spray
  • Humidifier
  • Honey (for cough)
  • Natural throat lozenges
  • Menthol rub
  • The antihistamines Claritin (loratadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine)

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

Taking Care of Yourself

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

  • Get plenty of extra rest.
  • Drink plenty of clear fluids. This is even more important when you're pregnant.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Drinking hot water or tea with honey and lemon, gargling salt water, or sucking on ice chips are all safe 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 it completely. But you can set yourself up to have the best defense by following these strategies:

  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Washing 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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  2. Waller DK, Hashmi SS, Hoyt AT, et al. Maternal report of fever from cold or flu during early pregnancy and the risk for noncardiac birth defects, National Birth Defects Prevention Study, 1997-2011Birth Defects Res. 2018;110(4):342-351. doi:10.1002/bdr2.1147

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  4. Cleveland Clinic. Pregnant with allergies? 5 treatments that are safe for baby. December 23, 2020.