The seasonal cold is one of the most common respiratory sicknesses in humans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are millions of cases of the common cold each year in the United States alone.
Knowing what to do if someone catches a cold while pregnant can help to keep them and their baby healthy. There are a number of factors for a pregnant woman to consider when treating or preventing a cold, and there are times when she should seek a doctor's help.
Catching a cold when pregnant is quite common so knowing which medications to choose may be of some concern.
Treating a cold usually means purchasing any number of over-the-counter medications. When pregnant, there are other things to consider for both the woman and her baby.
Medications can be a sensitive topic. The possibility of medications affecting an unborn child may worry some pregnant women. Most over-the-counter medications use the same few ingredients to treat cold symptoms.
It is important to treat pain during pregnancy as it can lead to stress, high blood pressure, and even depression symptoms if left unchecked. Over-the-counter pain medications include acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.
According to studies noted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the use of pain relievers during pregnancy should be done under direct guidance from a doctor or healthcare provider.
Studies have noted the potential risks of using pain relievers during pregnancy:
- Prescription NSAIDs may increase the risk of miscarriage during the first half of pregnancy
- Prescription opioids may increase the risk of birth defects when taken in the first trimester
- Acetaminophen use during pregnancy may be linked to an increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children
The FDA note that the studies all have limitations in how they were carried out, so these may not be hard and fast rules to follow. For example, another study posted in the Official Publication of the College of Family Physicians of Canada states that acetaminophen use during pregnancy is safe.
The important thing to note is that healthcare professionals should always be involved in the decision to take any medication that relieves pain.
Cough suppressant medications such as dextromethorphan are often found in over-the-counter medications. These medications are generally considered safe for pregnant women in the correct doses, but drug-free options should always be considered the first line of defense.
Before using a cough suppressant medication, pregnant women can try using herbal or mentholated throat lozenges in order to ease a cough or sore throat.
According to a review posted to the Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherepeutics, none of the antihistamine drugs available today have been classed as safe to use during pregnancy.
Two drugs called cyproheptadine and chlorpheniramine are in a secondary category. These antihistamines have been associated with temporary symptoms in the pregnant mother but have not been linked to any birth defects when used during pregnancy.
This link does not mean that they are completely safe, but that no negative effects have been found yet. For this reason, many choose to avoid antihistamine use during pregnancy.
Studies on decongestant use during pregnancy have given mixed results.
Some studies suggest that using decongestants during the first trimester of pregnancy has been linked with a small increase in birth-related problems. However, multiple follow-up studies have failed to get these same results.
Oral decongestants are considered relatively safe to use during pregnancy, but should only be taken under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
Many of these studies are for short-term use of medications. Over-the-counter medications should not be used for any longer than needed to prevent health risks to both mother and child.
Many doctors recommend nonmedicinal alternatives for treating cold symptoms. Increasing liquid intake to eight to 10 glasses per day can help to flush out the body and make people feel more comfortable. Juices and smoothies can also provide nutritional intake when people have no appetite.
Resting for longer while sick is important to give the body time focus on recovery. Lying down with their head elevated may also help with breathing and stuffiness.
Many pregnant women also use room humidifiers to help clear a stuffy nose and promote a productive cough. Warm compresses are also applied to the head, sinuses, and shoulders in order to reduce pain and congestion.
Alongside eating well and staying active, regular hand washing may help to prevent a cold from developing.
One of the most important steps to take against colds while pregnant is to prevent them where possible. Doctors recommend regular hand-washing with soap and warm water. This is especially important after contact with other people or public items like shopping carts and door handles.
Staying active is also an important part of preventing colds. Light to moderate pregnancy-safe exercises such as swimming and indoor cycling can help to boost the immune system and increase the metabolism, causing people to feel hungry.
Healthful eating is another important factor in cold prevention. Focusing on eating a variety of fresh foods can help ensure the body gets the nutrients it needs. Finding a prenatal vitamin that includes zinc and vitamin C can also help to further support the immune system to prevent colds.
Cold and pregnancy symptoms
Pregnant women often experience cold-like symptoms. It is very common for women to have a stuffy nose while pregnant because shifting hormones will have an effect on the nasal passages. This may lead to a pressure headache that feels like the onset of a cold.
If other symptoms are not present, it is likely that the woman does not have a cold.
Symptoms that are typically caused by a cold include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Rough cough
These symptoms will usually not be caused by the hormonal changes during pregnancy. If a woman is experiencing these symptoms, she is likely to have a cold.
Risks and considerations
If a flu or fever is suspected then a healthcare professional should be consulted.
A cold during pregnancy is the same as any other cold, though the pregnant woman must take some additional thoughts into consideration.
If a pregnant woman is experiencing a fever, they should contact their doctor to see what steps can be taken to reduce the fever to safe levels as quickly as possible.
Will having a cold affect the baby?
Having a cold during pregnancy will not usually affect the baby. Colds are mild illnesses that are handled by the immune system relatively easily.
However, the mother's temperature and infections can affect the baby. If a pregnant woman is experiencing a fever or other signs of infection, it is important to speak with a doctor immediately to take steps towards reducing these symptoms.
When to see a doctor
The body deals with a cold while pregnant in much the same way as it deals with a cold at any other time. The symptoms are temporary, and in most cases the cold will be gone within 2 weeks.
If a pregnant woman experiences symptoms such as a fever of over 100.4°F, coughing up yellow or green mucus, or symptoms lasting longer than 2 weeks, they should speak to a doctor immediately.
Learn more about treating a cold or flu when pregnant.