Safe Cold Remedies for Pregnant Women
Sleep Propped Up
Getting enough sleep during pregnancy is essential, but hard to do when your nose is stuffy. Propping yourself up can help.
Sleeping with your head and upper body slightly inclined allows for better sinus drainage and makes it easier for you to breathe through a stuffy nose.
While lying down or sleeping, use pillows to keep your head elevated. Even better, consider raising the head of your bed a few inches by propping it up with sturdy books or blocks (because you’re pregnant, let someone else undertake this project). For extra-miserable sinus congestion, you might find relief and be able to rest by taking naps in a semi-upright recliner chair.
Saline Nasal Drops and Spray
When that almost inevitable case of runny nose and nasal congestion strikes during pregnancy, some of your best courses for treatment are non-medicated remedies—including saline.
A simple combination of salt and water, saline thins and loosens nasal mucus (especially the dry, crusty variety) and soothes inflamed nasal tissue. Both saline nasal spray and drops work equally well, but be sure to choose a brand that lists water and salt as the primary ingredients. Don’t use nasal spray containing any added medicines before first checking with your doctor or midwife (look on the label for an “active ingredients” list). When in doubt, a basic saline solution is easy to prepare at home. Dissolve one-quarter teaspoon salt in eight ounces of water. With a clean medicine dropper, place a few drops of the solution in each nostril. Wait five to 10 minutes before gently blowing your nose. Repeat as needed.
Warm, humid air cando wonders for alleviating your congestion and cough
How It Helps: A facial steamer, essentially a hot-mist vaporizer attached to a face mask, can provide you with all the congestion-loosening benefits of sitting in a steamy room—without the added risk of making you overheated.
Making It Work: Follow the manufacturer’s directions for adding water and “steam clean” nasal passages and sinuses for approximately 10 to 20 minutes. Facial steamers are available in cosmetic departments, beauty supply stores, and some pharmacies. Dr. Marjorie Greenfield, MD, obstetrician and author of The Working Woman’s Pregnancy Book, offers the following low-cost alternative for harnessing the power of steam: lean over the sink and with a towel draped over your head, let the hot water run to make a little steam tent for yourself. “This works well to loosen up secretions and relax a cough,” Dr. Greenfield finds.
Mentholated Chest Rub
A little dollop of mentholated salve on your chest, temples, and under the nose can alleviate your cold sysmptoms.
How It Helps: The soothing vapors released from mentholated chest rub open the body’s air passageways by triggering blood vessels to dilate. According to Beth Iovinelli, RN, mentholated chest rubs and salves are safe to use during pregnancy (menthol is made from the essential oil of peppermint leaves).
Making It Work: Follow package instructions for how much and how frequently to apply. A small dab of mentholated salve under the nose can open up nasal passageways and aid in a good night’s sleep; chest rub helps quiet a cough. You can also place a menthol tablet in your shower (available at most pharmacies). Heat from the water will release the vapors into the air.
If your throat is sore or scratchy, Sharon Cooper, a midwife from Brooklyn, New York, recommends preparing a simple saltwater gargle by dissolving one-quarter teaspoon of salt into eight ounces of very warm water (hot water could scald your throat).
How It Helps: Salt in the water draws out mucus, reduces painful swelling, and quells that itchy or irritated sensation that so often accompanies a sore throat.
Making It Work: Gargle with saltwater throughout the day as needed. Cooper suggests stirring a teaspoon of honey into the saltwater for a gargle with extra soothing power.
Nasal strips are sticky tabs that are placed over the nose and work to open those congested airways.
How It Helps: Nasal strips gently pull your nasal passages open. Originally designed to prevent snoring, nasal strips enable you to breathe a little easier through a stuffy nose and get some sleep.
Making It Work: Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions to ensure that you’re putting the nasal strip on the correct way. For added comfort, combine with head elevation or mentholated chest rub for even greater relief from stuffy nose and sinus congestion.
Be sure you’re getting enough water and other beneficial fluids (go for watered-down juices, water with lemon, or sparkling mineral water— skip soda or caffeinated teas and coffee).
How It Helps: Fluid intake is important during pregnancy because it helps maintain your body’s dramatically increased blood volume. Unfortunately, many common cold and flu symptoms—such as sneezing, runny nose, vomiting, and fever—can cause mild to severe fluid loss.
Making It Work: At the first sign of a cold or flu, increase your liquid intake by drinking a few more cups of water, broth, juice, or tea each day. (Note: certain herbal teas aren’t safe during pregnancy; and watch out for caffienated tea. Speak wth your doctor to find out which choices are best for you). Drinking plenty of fluids when you are sick also thins mucus secretions, makes coughs more productive, and allows your sinuses to more easily drain. If stomach flu makes it difficult for you to keep water down, juice or broth might be more tolerable. Contact your doctor if you are unable to keep down any liquids.
Fever should be brought down promptly during pregnancy. A rise in the body’s core temperature can pose risk to a developing baby.
How It Helps: “If you have a fever, this is one case where you should not avoid medications, thinking you are saving the baby from exposure,” says Dr. Greenfield. Tylenol (or acetaminophen) can bring down your fever and decrease aches and pains. (Acetaminophen is a Class B drug during pregnancy.)
Making It Work: Take the full dose as directed on the bottle and call your doctor or midwife if your temperature does not come down with treatment. For fevers reaching 102° F, contact your prenatal care provider right away.
Hot water mixed with honey and lemon is a traditional remedy that offers lots of comfort and real symptom relief.
How It Helps: Steam from your fragrant drink helps open clogged nasal passageways, and honey soothes an irritated throat. Plus vitamin C-rich lemon provides a boost to the body’s immune system.
Making It Work: In a cup of hot water, simply stir together one tablespoon of honey and two teaspoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice (add more honey and lemon to taste). For best results, use a mug that you can safely cradle in your hands. For added flavor and zest, add a few slices of sliced ginger to the hot water—ginger is great for alleviating nausea as well.
When you have a cough that just won’t quit, talk to your doctor or midwife about trying Robitussin (active ingredient: guaifenesin) for relief from hacking or wheezing cough.
How It Helps: Guaifenesin is an expectorant, which means it helps to clear your airways of mucus. It is also a Class B drug during pregnancy, making it safe to take. (Note: Some practices are OK with you taking Robitussin DM during pregnancy as well; be sure to speak to your doctor to find out which is right formula for you.)
Making It Work: Speak with your doctor before using Robitussin, and be sure to follow the package directions carefully. Use this medication only as directed (and avoid cough formulas that contain alcohol).
If a hacking, congested cough is keeping you awake at night, invest in a room-size vaporizer to moisten the air and help you breathe a little easier
How It Helps: Running a humidifier in your bedroom clears nasal passageways and loosens mucus in your lungs—allowing you to get more rest. “Humid air is a great natural decongestant,” says Dr. Greenfield.
Making It Work: Steam vaporizers are low in price and most come equipped with a device to add menthol vapors to the warm mist. They’re great to have on hand once Baby arrives, too. Set up the vaporizer so the steam will comfortably reach your face while you rest. (Consider buying a cool-mist humidifier to avoid any burn risk.)
According to Beth Iovinelli, RN, Sudafed and other store brand decongestants made with the active ingredient pseudoephedrine are generally viewed as OK to use after the first trimester of pregnancy. Sudafed is listed as a Class C medication during pregnancy, meaning there are no adequate or well-controlled studies done on pregnant women and that this drug should be administered only if the potential benefit outweighs the risk to your baby.
How It Helps: Pseudoephedrine relieves nasal congestion commonly associated with colds or allergies. It can also offer relief from other allergic symptoms, such as itchy and/or watery eyes.
Making It Work: Check with your doctor or midwife before using this remedy and always try medicine-free symptom relievers first. If you get the green light to use Sudafed, follow the package directions carefully. Treatment with pseudoephedrine should be reserved for severe congestion that significantly impacts sleep and quality of life. (Caution: Pregnant women with high blood pressure should not use pseudoephedrine.)
A good idea, whether you are sick or not, is to stay far away from smoke.
How It Helps: Cigarette smoke and smoke- or pollution-filled air when you’re battling a hacking cough or bronchitis (irritation of the bronchial tubes causes by cold viruses) will just make symptoms worse and prolong your misery. Fresh air can help free up irritations.
Making It Work: Even if you aren’t exposed to cigarette smoke, open the windows and let in some fresh air. If you live near the ocean, take a trip to the beach and find relief by breathing in the naturally salty, humid air.
Eat Nourishing Foods
Starve a cold? Not when you’re pregnant!
How It Helps: A healthy prenatal diet plays an important role in providing your growing baby with beneficial nutrients. Eating nourishing meals and snacks when you are sick gives you a needed energy boost and powers your immune system in its fight against illness.
Making It Work: If sickness has dulled your appetite (or you still suffer from bouts of morning sickness), choose foods that appeal to you. Try to include several servings of citrus fruits and juices as well as other vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables. Keep taking your prenatal vitamin as directed to make up for any nutritional shortfalls
Chicken soup’s reputation is so well known, there are even teams of medical researchers devoted to unraveling its mysterious healing powers!
How It Helps: Whether it’s the steam and soothing aroma of warm soup, the added fluids, or the nutritious combination of chicken, veggies, and broth, chicken soup is surprisingly effective in relieving congestion caused by the common cold.
Making It Work: Put your mind at ease if cooking is the last thing you want to do when you are sick— homemade and canned chicken soup work equally well to ease cold symptoms. Warm up a cup and enjoy!
Hot or Cold Packs
In addition to sinus congestion from a cold, you may also develop sinusitis (painful swelling and tenderness in the sinus membranes accompanied by thickened mucus discharge).
How It Helps: Heat and moisture from the water help your sinuses drain and ease congestion.
Making It Work: Treat sinus pain with a hot and cold combination. Wet a washcloth with hot water and apply to your face for all-over relief from sinus pain. Use cold packs to ease swelling or relieve a sinus-related headache. If symptoms persist, contact your doctor or midwife.
Sweet relief from a scratchy, irritated throat, lozenges offer a safe and easy cure during pregnancy.
How It Helps: The menthol or eucalyptus found in cough drops feels good on the throat can can help unclog head congestion.
Making It Work: Beth Iovenilli, RN, recommends using cough drops that are sugar or honey-based. Menthol or eucalyptus-flavored cough drops are fine in a pinch (the lower level of menthol, the better; if you have any questions speak with your doctor or pharmacist). And a hard mint candy can work just as well!
The ultimate remedy for cold and flu symptoms? “Get plenty of rest,” advises Dr. Greenfield.
How It Helps: By slowing down and taking time out to rest, your body can concentrate its efforts on fighting off illness. Resting for a few hours during the day also helps your body better handle pregnancy’s physical strain.
Making It Work: Crank up the humidifier, keep your cough drops and tissues handy, and snuggle under a warm blanket for a few hours. At least when you’re asleep, you can’t think about how miserable you are!
Water is often the best medicine when you are sick with a cold or flu
How It Helps: A warm shower or bath isn’t just relaxing, it provides instant moisture for dried out nasal passageways; steam from the shower spray especially loosens mucus in both the head and chest.
Making It Work: For relief from the aches and pains that often accompany the flu, sinking into a warm bath might be just what the doctor ordered! Let the shower run a bit before dipping into a tub, to add more moisture to the bathroom. Also, since sickness has probably left you feeling somewhat weak, make sure a bath mat is installed to prevent slips and falls. If you are well into your third trimester and not moving around like you used to, have someone available in case you need assistance getting out of the tub.
Coughs, colds and flu in pregnancy
Why am I getting lots of coughs and colds now that I'm pregnant?
During pregnancy, your immune system changes so that its main purpose is to protect your developing baby. This means that you can be more susceptible to the germs that cause coughs, colds and flu.
How can I protect myself against colds and flu?
You can't protect yourself from every cold and flu virus, but you can give your immune system a helping hand by doing the following:
- Eat healthy balanced meals including plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. A variety of these will give you minerals and antioxidant vitamins, which will help you to fight infections.
- Drink plenty of fluids such as water, herbal teas or fruit juice to flush out your system and boost your levels of vitamins and minerals. Try to limit how many caffeinated or sugary drinks you have.
- Rest when you feel you need to, and try to keep stress levels to a minimum.
- Do some exercise. It can improve your circulation and help you to fight infectionsIf you smoke, give it up. It's harmful to your baby and also damages your immune system.
If you eat a variety of healthy foods you will get all the vitamins you need. If you're thinking about taking a pregnancy multivitamin, talk to your doctor or midwife first.
How can I treat a cold during pregnancy?
Colds can make you feel miserable. You may have the following symptoms:
Take it easy, rest when you feel tired, and drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated.
You could also try these remedies to ease your cold, depending on what symptoms you have:
You could also try these remedies to ease your cold, depending on what symptoms you have:
- Stuffy nose: add two or three drops of eucalyptus oil to a bowl of hot water. Lean over the bowl with a towel over your head and inhale the steam to help clear your congestion. You could also turn on the shower to hot, and sit in the bathroom for 10 minutes.
- Instant relief: at night, or when you're out and about, put a couple of drops of eucalyptus oil on a tissue, and sniff. You could also try menthol sweets.
- Sore throat or cough: try honey and lemon mixed in hot water, or try a linctus or cough medicine containing glycerine and honey. Throat lozenges may help, too.
- Headache or fever: you may want to take paracetamol. Follow the dosage instructions on the packet and take it for the shortest amount of time possible.
Check with your pharmacist or doctor before taking cough and cold remedies in pregnancy, as many are not suitable during pregnancy. If you do take any over-the-counter cough and cold remedies, use as little medicine as possible for the shortest time possible. If you're really bunged up, and you've tried everything else, ask your GP or pharmacist to suggest nasal sprays containing oxymetazoline or xylometazoline. Or if you have a cough that won't go away, talk to your GP or pharmacist about a suitable cough medicine.
I have flu. How can I treat it?
Flu can really lay you low when you're pregnant, so take it easy. If you have flu you may have:
If you're worried about your flu symptoms, see you GP. Get plenty of bed rest and stay away from work until you are fully recovered.
You can also try the following treatments:
You can also try the following treatments:
- Drink plenty of water, especially if you have a fever, so you don't get dehydrated.
- Take paracetamol to bring down your fever and soothe any aches and pains. Follow the dosage instructions on the packet or ask your GP or pharmacist if you're unsure how much you should take.
- Stay in bed if you feel very unwell, but don't get too hot and sweaty under the duvet. It's best not to get overheated when you're pregnant.
- Though you won't feel like eating at first, when you do, try to eat something nutritious. Have some fruit, wholegrain toast, or a warm, milky drink.
When should I see my GP?
If your cold or flu symptoms don't seem to be lifting after a few days, or if you develop breathing difficulties, see your GP. You may have a secondary infection, such as a chest infection, which will need treatment. Your immune system isn't working in quite the same way during pregnancy, so a cold can turn into something worse.
If you have any worries about your health, always talk to your GP or midwife. They will be happy to answer any questions, however minor you may feel they are.
Will flu harm my baby?
No, however uncomfortable you may feel when you have flu, your baby is well protected against the virus. But if you have a high temperature, see your GP to get it checked out.
My GP says I need antibiotics. Will these harm my baby?
There are many antibiotics which are safe to take during pregnancy, but some aren't. Make sure your GP knows you are pregnant, and how many weeks along you are. Your GP will prescribe one that is safe for pregnancy. You'll need to finish the whole course of antibiotics to make a full recovery.
Is it safe to have the seasonal flu jab during pregnancy?
Yes, it is perfectly safe. There is no evidence that the seasonal flu jab will harm you or your baby. The vaccine contains an inactivated virus which means you can't become infected from it. The seasonal flu jab is recommended to all pregnant women, so talk to your GP about having it.
Cold or Flu Treatment When Pregnant
When you become pregnant, everything changes. Suddenly you realize that whatever you do affects not only your body, but that of your unborn child as well.
That realization can make having a cold or flu more complicated than usual. You may have taken an over-the-counter decongestant in the past, but now wonder: Is it safe? You may worry that if you catch the flu virus it may adversely affect your baby. And what if you suffer from a fever, or diarrhea? Could those symptoms hurt your child?
"Pregnant moms who have a cold or the flu are always worried about the infection getting to their baby," says Dr. Roseline Dauphin-Baptiste, practicing OB/GYN in Burbank, California. "If they have to take medication, they always ask if it is going to cause problems for the baby."
Fortunately, treating a cold or flu during pregnancy doesn't have to be a frightening experience. "There are definitely safe medications to take when pregnant," says Dr. Dauphin-Baptiste.
Pregnancy Increases Risk
Pregnant women are more susceptible to catching a cold or the flu. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the immune system is lowered during pregnancy. This helps stop the woman's body from rejecting the unborn baby. (Cleveland Clinic, 2011) However, it can also leave expecting moms more vulnerable to viral and bacterial infections.
Pregnant women are also more likely than non-pregnant women their age to experience complications of the flu, such as pneumonia or other bronchial infections. Therefore, getting vaccinated for the flu is very important.
"Every woman who is pregnant or is contemplating pregnancy should be up-to-date with her flu vaccine," says Ingrid Rodi, M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of OB/GYN at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "It is very dangerous to get the flu while pregnant."
According to health organization Kaiser Permanente, pregnant women who get a flu shot get the flu less often than those who don't. Their babies also get the flu less often (Kaiser Permanente, 2011). If you're concerned about trace amounts of mercury used as a preservative in most vaccines, ask your doctor about preservative-free vaccine.
In addition to getting vaccinated, you can do other things to reduce your risks of getting sick. Wash your hands often, get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and minimize stress to prevent illness.
Safe Treatment for a Cold or Flu During Pregnancy
Certain tried-and-true cold treatments can be trusted whether or not you’re pregnant. They include getting plenty of rest, drinking a lot of fluids, and gargling with warm salt-water for a sore throat or cough.
Saline nasal drops and spray are perfectly safe for loosening nasal mucus and soothing inflamed nasal tissue. Using warm, humid air is a natural way to help loosen congestion as well. Try a facial steamer, a hot-mist vaporizer, or even a hot shower. Chicken soup can also help relieve inflammation and soothe congestion.
Adding some honey or lemon to a warm cup of decaffeinated tea can help relieve a sore throat, and elevating your head may help you to get some rest. Additionally, hot and cold packs can help alleviate sinus pain.
What About Medications?
According to the University of Michigan Health System and most obstetricians, it's best to avoid all medications in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. That's a critical time for the development of your baby's organs. (University of Michigan)
Many doctors also recommend caution after 28 weeks as well. Be sure to ask your physician for recommendations. "You should always check with your doctor before taking any medication when you are attempting pregnancy or are pregnant," says Dr. Rodi.
After 12 weeks of pregnancy, several medications are considered safe.
"Some safe over-the-counter options would be regular Tylenol for a headache, Claritin for a nasal decongestant, or Robitussin for a cough," says Dr. Dauphin-Baptiste.
Use medications only as needed and according to the package directions:
- Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) for nasal congestion
- Robitussin (dextromethorphan) and Robitussin DM cough syrups
- Vicks plain cough syrup
- Vicks or other menthol rub on your chest, temples, and under the nose
- Nasal strips—sticky pads that open congested airways
- Hall's cough drops or Cepacol lozenges
- Tylenol (acetaminophen) for aches, pains, and fevers
- Cough suppressant at night
- Expectorant during the day
- Mylanta, Tums, or similar medications for heartburn, nausea or upset stomach
- Imodium or Kaopectate for diarrhea
Avoid "all-in-one" medications that combine drugs to tackle many symptoms. Instead, choose single medications only for those symptoms you're struggling with.
Also, avoid taking the following unless specifically recommended by your doctor. These can increase risks for some pregnancy problems.
- ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, and others)
- naproxen (Aleve)
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Though most colds do not present dangers to the unborn child, the flu should be taken more seriously.
The flu can put pregnant women at risk of complications like high fevers and pneumonia. These, in turn, put the unborn child at risk of premature delivery or birth defects. In addition, if you experience dizziness, difficulty breathing, chest pain/pressure, confusion, severe vomiting, high fever that isn't reduced by Tylenol, or a decreased movement of your baby, be sure to get medical help right away.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that pregnant women with flu-like symptoms be treated immediately with antiviral medications. (CDC, 2010)
If you have any questions, call your doctor's office—it's always better to be safe than sorry.