How to treat colds and flu during pregnancy (2024)

A cold can make you feel pretty dreadful- you can’t breathe through your nose, the constant sneezing, a sore throat, broken sleep and tiredness - catching the fluis even worse.

These illnesses are bad enough at the best of times but if you catch them during pregnancy it’s doubly unpleasant. What makes it worse is that certain medicines commonly used to help manage the symptoms must be avoided in pregnancy, so treatment isn’t that simple. Also catching the flu while pregnant can be very serious for both mother and baby.

Learning how to protect yourself and treat these conditions is important, so here’s the lowdown on colds and flu in pregnancy - as well as advice on cold sores too.

Treating a cold when pregnant

Because your immune system is weaker during pregnancy, you may be more susceptible to colds – and, if you do get one, it could last for longer than normal - although a typical cold is not dangerous to your baby.

In some respects, treating a cold when pregnant is much the same as at any other time. You should try and get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, keep warm, and gargle salt water if you have a sore throat. Herbal supplements or high doses of vitamins, which some people take to try to prevent or speed recovery from a cold, are not recommended during pregnancy as they may be harmful to your baby.

You can take paracetamol for a few days if needed to relieve aches and pains and reduce your temperature. Paracetamol is considered a safe drug for pregnant women but always take the correct dose as per the packet instructions. But treating a cold when pregnant by using specialist cold medicines is not advised – as they usually contain other drugs along with paracetamol - some of which may be harmful to pregnant women. Always check with the pharmacist before you buy any medicine that it is safe to take in pregnancy.

How to treat a cold sore when pregnant

If you are unlucky enough to get a cold sore while you’re pregnant it is unlikely to affect your pregnancy or your baby. If you get a cold sore, it is important to wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your cold sore and then touching other areas of your body, especially your genital area. This is to prevent the rare spread of a cold sore herpes infection to the vulva and perineum where it could be transmitted to the baby during delivery.

After birth if you have a cold sore be very careful not to kiss your baby as the infection can be spread in your saliva until the skin lesions are completely healed. Your health care professional will advise you on the appropriate treatment for your cold sore.

Flu in pregnancy

Treating a cold when pregnant is relatively easy, as long as you make sure to take a pharmacist’s advice on medicines, but dealing with flu is more complicated.

The main differences between a cold and flu, are that flu comes on more quickly - often within a few hours and affects more than just your nose and throat. Flu often causes a high fever, aching muscles and fatigue, headache, a dry cough, loss of appetite and sickness. With flu, the symptoms make you feel exhausted and too unwell to carry on as normal.

Having the flu during pregnancy means a much higher chance of you developing complications such as bronchitisor pneumonia which can lead to you being hospitalised.

Also, flu can be dangerous to your unborn baby as it can lead to premature birth, a low birth weight and even stillbirth. Flu is also dangerous for newborn babies, as it can lead to serious conditions such as pneumonia, meningitis and blood infections.

This is why the NHS recommends that all pregnant women have the flu vaccine during the flu season. Your midwife will recommend that you get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, usually in September, so that you are given maximum protection against the flu viruses which circulate during the winter months. However, it’s safeduring any stage of pregnancy, from the first few weeks’ right up to your due date. When you have the flu vaccine while pregnant, you also pass some protection on to your baby, which will last for the first few months of their life.

However, the flu jab does not completely protect you from the threat of developing flu, so you should do all you can to avoid getting it. So, follow simple precautions, such as avoiding contact with those suffering from the flu, washing your hands regularly, and cleaning surfaces that you touch often - like keyboards, door handles and telephones - to help eradicate germs.

If you develop symptoms of the flu do seek medical advice as soon as possible. Medication can be prescribed which might help reduce symptoms and your chance of developing complications but it does need to be started soon after symptoms develop. You will be advised to get lots of rest, drink plenty of water and take paracetamol to reduce your fever.

How to treat colds and flu during pregnancy (2024)
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