Coughs and colds in pregnancy

What causes a cold?

There are more than 200 viruses that cause symptoms of the common cold. The symptoms last about a week, although a cough can last up to three weeks.

Because a cold is caused by a virus and not by bacteria, antibiotics won’t help you get better.

Sometimes a bacterial infection of your throat, sinuses, ears or lungs can follow on from a cold. These may need an antibiotic, so see your GP if your symptoms keep getting worse. Always see your GP if you get a high fever while you are pregnant.

Will it harm my baby if I have a cold?

Having an ordinary cold, though miserable for you, should not be harmful to your health or your baby’s.

You’re very likely to pick up a cold at some time during your pregnancy. It’s normal to catch between two and four colds a year. Young children get colds even more often, and if you’re around them you may catch colds more frequently.

How can I tell if it’s a cold and not flu?

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between a cold and the flu. Colds can make you feel ill, so it’s easy to feel as if you’re coming down with the flu.

With a cold, you may have the following symptoms:

Generally, though, flu comes on faster, causes a higher fever and can make you feel exhausted. If you’re not sure, see your doctor quickly, because flu in pregnancy can be harmful for you and your baby.

How can I avoid catching a cold?

It can be hard to avoid picking up a cold. It’s not called the common cold for nothing! You’re most likely to pick up the virus when you touch someone who has a cold, or an object they’ve recently handled, like a phone or a door handle. Coughs and sneezes also spread germs.

Prevention is better than cure, so try to:

  • Stay away from anyone who has a cold, if possible.
  • Wash your hands often, and after you have been around someone who has a cold.
  • Ask those around you to practise the “catch it, bin it, kill it” routine. People with a cold should catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue, throw it away, and wash their hands.
  • Wash your hands if you’ve picked up a dirty tissue.
  • Clean surfaces in your home and your office space often.
  • Avoid sharing cutlery, cups or plates with someone who has a cold.
  • Avoid sharing towels – use your own, or use paper towels to dry your hands.

Eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, which are full of vitamins, can give your immune system a boost . As long as you’re eating well, you should be getting all the vitamins you need from your diet. But if you’re not sure you’re getting what you need, ask your midwife about taking a pregnancy supplement.

Herbal remedies are popular with many people who want to prevent colds and boost their immunity. But some of these can be unsafe for you or your baby. You can read more in our article about herbal remedies in pregnancy.

How can I treat a cold during pregnancy?

Antibiotics won’t help if you have a cold. Take it easy, rest when you feel tired, and drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated.

A stuffy nose is a nuisance and you can try inhaling steam or using a salt water nasal spray. Or you can ask your pharmacist to recommend a vapour rub that is safe in pregnancy.

If you want to take any decongestant medicines while you’re pregnant, always ask your pharmacist or doctor first. There is a small risk that taking some of these medicines during pregnancy could be harmful for your baby. With certain decongestants, medical studies have suggested a link with heart, ear or stomach defects.

Many cold remedies that you can buy over the counter contain a combination of ingredients – including a decongestant – so always ask for professional advice before taking them while you are pregnant.

To soothe a sore throat or cough, you could try honey and lemon mixed in hot water. It may help to gargle with salt water. Although it’s unclear how effective cough medicines are, you could try a simple one that is based on glycerine. If you want to try a cough syrup or lozenge, ask your pharmacist to recommend one that is safe while you’re pregnant.

For a headache or fever, you may want to take paracetamol. Follow the dosage instructions on the packet and as with all medicines when you are pregnant, take it for the shortest amount of time possible.

If you are in the first or second trimester, talk to your pharmacist or doctor before takingibuprofen because it is not usually recommended. You should not take ibuprofen in the third trimester as it is known to be unsafe for your baby.

If you took any of these medicines before you knew you were pregnant, try not to worry. The risks are very small and it’s most unlikely your baby will be affected. Mention it to your GP ormidwife and they will be able to advise and reassure you.