Cold And Flu During Pregnancy

More than 200 different viruses are known to cause the symptoms of the common cold.  In the US alone, there are about 1 billion colds each and every year. Adults get an average of 2-3 colds a year, and pregnant women are affected as well.  The common cold is fairly easily recognized, causing well-known symptoms like scratchy throat, sneezing, and runny nose. The symptoms of flu start more abruptly and are more severe. 

Fever, chills, headaches, and muscle aches are more likely to be experienced with the flu rather than a common cold.

For pregnant women, both cold and flu can be challenging. Changes in the immune system, the respiratory system, and the heart during pregnancy make pregnant women more prone to get the infection and the illness may last longer. 

How are cold and flu viruses transmitted

The viruses responsible for cold and flu enter the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. They spread easily through the air on infected respiratory droplets. Everyone, including pregnant women, may become infected if someone with a cold or flu coughs or sneezes nearby. These viruses also pass to others through direct contact, for example shaking hands. 

How to manage cold and flu during pregnancy 

It is always best to prevent than treat. But what can you do if you already caught a cold or the flu? 

  • Get plenty of rest. Whether you need to take more naps, sit down and relax or sleep more during the night, it is important to allow your body some downtime.
  • Get plenty of fluids. Drink water, juice, broth or have hot soups  throughout the day. Add some lemon and honey in that hot tea. Flu in particular can cause more dehydration because this infection is more likely to cause fever.
  • Eat well. Enjoy small meals, more frequent, rather than a few large meals. 
  • Use a humidifier in the room and use an extra pillow to keep your head elevated to avoid nasal congestion
  • Use saline solution, either in a Neti pot or spray form to alleviate sore throat. 

If you experience moderate to severe symptoms of flu, contact your doctor. Do not take any medication without talking to the doctor first. Some medications are not safe during the first or second trimester, and some are not safe to take during the entire pregnancy. Generally speaking, it is best to avoid drugs during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, unless you experience significant symptoms. Drugs like acetaminophen, dextromethorphan,  guaifenesin, and some cough drops can be used, but check with a healthcare provider first. Avoid combination cold and flu formulas, as some ingredients may not be suitable during pregnancy.  Antibiotics do not work and should not be used for colds and flu. 

What can you do to prevent colds and flu during pregnancy?

  • Plain and simple, the most important step to take to avoid getting a cold or other infections, is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. According to the American Pregnancy Association, here are the most important factors to consider: eat nutritiously, make sure you get enough sleep, exercise regularly and take your supplements like prenatal vitamins and probiotics.  A healthcare professional specialized in nutrition and supplements can help you get the right amounts of nutrients. For example,  you may need higher doses of vitamin D, since many prenatal brands contain small amounts of vitamin D (400 IU), and this nutrient is essential for both the child and mother’s health. The same goes with omega 3 fatty acids. Some research suggests folate in the form of 5-MTHF Methylfolate may be a better choice than the  folic acid found in regular brands. 
  • Talk to your doctor about any drugs you are currently taking and also about the flu shot.  
  • It is also important to avoid factors that increase the chance of getting an infection, and also raise an infant’s risk of complications. Examples include:  tobacco smoke or second hand exposure, alcohol, environmental pollutants, radiation or  chemical substances like lead. 
  • The American Pregnancy Association endorses the use of an app called Fetal Life App, available on both Iphones and Android devices. This app offers valuable information including medicine tracking, dietary recommendations, blood glucose monitor, and more.  
  • Considering the fact that these infections can spread through contaminated surfaces, it is important to wash your hands regularly, and even more often when someone with a cold or flu is around. Since many pregnant women are worried about using excessively alcohol based hand sanitizers (due to alcohol and artificial ingredients), know that clean, alcohol free options such as hydrogen peroxide 3% can be used when hand washing is not possible. This solution  is effective to inactivate many viruses responsible for colds and flu. Hydrogen peroxide breaks down to water and oxygen, thus it does not leave  harmful residues.
  • Finally, avoid excessive stress at all costs. Stress suppresses the immune system and can affect the baby. Include in your daily routine a stress management technique you enjoy – it could be mindfulness meditation, yoga, listening to music or a walk in nature. 

It is always best to seek medical advice if you experience symptoms during pregnancy. There are respiratory infections that may cause symptoms, not just the cold and flu. The doctor will be able to give you the right diagnosis.

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