It is unlikely that having bronchitis while pregnant will harm the fetus. However, bronchitis may lead to other complications, and a pregnant person should contact a healthcare professional if they develop a viral infection.

Bronchitis is a condition that occurs when the bronchial tubes — which connect the lungs to the mouth and nose — become inflamed. Viral infections are a common cause of bronchitis.

A person may be more susceptible to infectious diseases during pregnancy. During this time, viral infections may also cause an exaggerated inflammatory response, potentially resulting in complications for the pregnant person and the fetus.

This article examines bronchitis during pregnancy, including possible complications, treatment, and prevention. It also looks at the outlook for pregnant people with the condition.

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During pregnancy, a person’s immune system maintains a delicate balance that allows the body to tolerate the fetus while still protecting against infectious agents.

The pregnant person’s immune system must adapt to recognize that the fetus, which contains genes from both biological parents, is not a threat to the body, even though it includes material from another genetic source.

In this state of balance, however, the immune system may react to infections in ways that can lead to health complications for the pregnant person and the fetus. Pregnant people may also be more susceptible to viral infections that lead to bronchitis and other infectious diseases.

Bronchitis symptoms

A pregnant person should contact a healthcare professional if they develop bronchitis or another viral infection.

Symptoms of bronchitis include:


A viral infection that inflames the airways usually causes bronchitis. Viruses that commonly lead to bronchitis include:

Risk factors for bronchitis also include:

Bronchitis is unlikely to affect a fetus, as viruses do not usually cross the placental barrier.

However, doctors associate bronchitis with other conditions and complications that may impact the health of the pregnant person or fetus. The most common complication of bronchitis is pneumonia.


Pneumonia occurs in 1.5 in 1000 pregnancies. Changes in the immune system during pregnancy make pregnant people more likely to develop the condition or other respiratory illnesses.

Pregnant people who have recently had respiratory tract infections or those with comorbidities such as COPD or asthma are at higher risk of developing pneumonia.

While a doctor can typically effectively treat pneumonia that they diagnose early, the condition can potentially lead to health complications in pregnant people. This can include respiratory failure and complications for the fetus, such as premature birth.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome

Some viruses that commonly cause bronchitis, such as the influenza virus, can also increase the risk of developing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) during pregnancy. Pneumonia may also lead to ARDS.

With ARDS, fluid leaks from the blood vessels into the lung’s air sacs, also called the alveoli. The lungs become stiff and decrease in size, and hypoxemia occurs. This is when oxygen levels in the blood fall.

The condition is severe and can lead to serious complications for the pregnant person and the fetus without treatment. ARDS can make breathing difficult, and low oxygen levels in the blood can lead to organ failure or brain damage. In some cases, it can be fatal.

However, ARDS is rare during pregnancy, occurring in only 0.1 to 0.2% of people.

As with other groups, bronchitis treatment during pregnancy typically involves home remedies and rest.

Still, a pregnant person with bronchitis should contact a healthcare professional to monitor their health and that of the fetus. They should also only take medications a doctor advises are safe during pregnancy.

Treatment may include:

  • drinking warm tea or hot water with honey
  • using a humidifier to moisten the air
  • sucking on throat lozenges
  • taking over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen, at the lowest possible dose for the shortest amount of time

Although researchers have associated acetaminophen with complications during pregnancy in rare cases, experts consider it the safest pain-relieving medication for pregnant people.


A doctor will not prescribe antibiotics for bronchitis unless a person has a bacterial infection.

This is because researchers have found links between using certain antibiotics during pregnancy and a higher risk of preterm birth and low birth weight.

Doctors may consider prescribing antibiotics in pregnancy if they deem it safe. However, they generally tend to avoid using them unless the benefits outweigh the risks.

People can speak with their doctor about any concerns regarding taking antibiotics while pregnant.

A pregnant person may help prevent bronchitis by taking several steps.

The most effective means of prevention is vaccination against common causes of bronchitis, such as flu and COVID-19.

Researchers have found vaccination during pregnancy an effective preventive measure against various infections. Vaccination may also protect the pregnant person and the fetus from complications of preventable illnesses and reduce mortality rates.

A person can also help prevent bronchitis by:

  • practicing good hand hygiene
  • stopping smoking, if applicable, and avoiding secondhand smoke
  • avoiding areas where dust, chemicals, and air pollution are high, if possible
  • staying away from people who are sick, if possible

Bronchitis typically goes away on its own, and a person can usually treat the associated symptoms with home remedies.

Still, pregnant people should contact a doctor to monitor their health if they have bronchitis. This is due to the risks associated with certain underlying causes and complications of the condition, for example, pneumonia or, in rare cases, acute respiratory distress syndrome.

If bronchitis or its underlying causes progress to a more severe condition, there may be health implications for the pregnant person. This could include:

Changes in the immune system during pregnancy can make a pregnant person more susceptible to viral infections, such as those that cause bronchitis.

A person can usually treat bronchitis symptoms with home remedies, and the condition typically goes away on its own. However, a pregnant person should contact a doctor if they have bronchitis, as it may lead to health complications that could have consequences for their health and that of the fetus.

A person may be able to help prevent bronchitis by receiving vaccinations against common causes of bronchitis, such as COVID-19 and flu.

Pregnancy and parenthood resources

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