cough cold and flu in pregnancy

Cough Colds and Flu During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, it is harder for a woman’s immune system to fight infections. This makes them more likely to get the cold, flu and other diseases. Pregnant women are more likely than others to become very ill if they get the flu.

What is difference between flu and cold?

Flu is not a “bad cold”. Each year, thousands of people die of complications after catching the flu. Flu and cold share some of the same symptoms, but are caused by different viruses. Flu can be much more serious than a cold.

Symptoms of cold and flu are also similar but in case of flu symptoms tends to be more severe. Colds cause more nasal problems than flu. Fever, fatigue and muscle aches are more likely and more severe with flu.

Symptoms of colds and flu can include:

  • blocked or runny nose.
  • sore throat.
  • cough.
  • sneezing.
  • headaches.
  • a high temperature or fever.
  • pressure in your ears and face
  • loss of taste and smell
  • muscle aches and pains
  • feeling exhausted and desire to lie down

A cold develops gradually over period of one or two days and you are most contagious during the early stages when you have sore throat and a runny nose. You should begin to feel better after a few days but some colds can prolong and last up to two weeks.

Flu usually comes on much more quickly than a cold, and symptoms appear one to three days after infection. You should begin to feel better within a week or so, but you may feel tired and exhausted for much longer.

How to prevent cough or cold in pregnancy ?

In order to prevent a cold or cough, the most important step to take is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Make sure you are eating nutritiously (see Healthy eating in pregnancy), getting the necessary amount of sleep, and exercising on a regular basis (see Exercise during pregnancy) . In addition to this, it is important that you take your prenatal vitamins. (see Vitamin Supplements in Pregnancy)

Wash your hands regularly. If you you are around someone who is having a cold, avoid touching their hands or eating after them. Take extra effort to wash your hands more frequently when you are around those who have a cold or cough.

How to treat a cold or cough in pregnancy ?

If you have cough or cold, it will usually be possible for you to treat yourself effectively at home.

  • Get ample rest. Take naps, sleep through the night, and sit down to relax.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Drink water, juice, or broth to add necessary fluids back into your body.
  • Eat well. Even if you cannot stomach larger meals, try eating small portions often. For your own comfort, it is important that you treat the symptoms associated with your cold or a cough.

These natural remedies can help reduce most bothersome symptoms:

  • Reduce congestion – Place a humidifier in your room, keep your head elevated on your pillow while resting, or use nasal strips.
  • Alleviate your sore throat – Drink warm tea, or gargle with warm salt water.

When to consult doctor ?

Whether it’s a cold or flu, contact your doctor if you:

  • Have a chronic condition (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease).
  • Have a very high fever.
  • An unusually severe headache or abdominal or chest pain.

Cough and cold medication during pregnancy

Ideally, you should avoid taking medicines when you’re pregnant, particularly during the first three months. Conditions such as colds or minor aches and pains often don’t need treating with medicines. However, if you’re pregnant and feel you need to take medicine, paracetamol is usually safe to take. Before taking any medicine when you’re pregnant, you should get advice from your gynecologist.

Paracetamol during pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, paracetamol is the preferred choice to treat:

  • Mild or moderate pain.
  • High temperature (fever).

Paracetamol has been used routinely during all stages of pregnancy to reduce a high temperature and for pain relief. There is no clear evidence of any harmful effects of  paracetamol on the unborn baby.

However, as with any medicine taken during pregnancy, use paracetamol at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time. If the recommended dose of paracetamol doesn’t control your symptoms or you’re still in pain, consult your doctor.

Ibuprofen during pregnancy

Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (NSAID). If you are pregnant, or planning a pregnancy, talk to your doctor before taking ibuprofen or any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

It is not known for sure whether or not taking NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or aspirin in the early stages of pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage. NSAIDs should not be taken in the last three months of your pregnancy when use can lead to bleeding before and after childbirth, delayed labour and birth, and heart or kidney problems for your unborn baby.

Paracetamol, which is not an NSAID, is the preferred medicine for pain relief and temperature control during pregnancy.

Flu vaccine in pregnancy

If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, you should get the flu vaccine. Pregnant women who get the flu vaccine get sick less often. They are also very unlikely to get a bad case of the flu that can harm them or their baby.

Getting a mild case of the flu is often not harmful to mother or child. However, the flu vaccine can prevent the rare, severe cases of the flu that can harm mother and baby.

Flu vaccines are available at most clinics. There are two types of flu vaccines: the flu shot and a nose-spray vaccine. The flu shot is recommended for pregnant women. It contains killed (inactive) viruses. You cannot get the flu from this vaccine. The nasal spray-type flu vaccine is not approved for pregnant women.
It is OK for a pregnant woman to be around somebody who has received the nasal flu vaccine.

Will the vaccine harm my baby ?

A small amount of mercury (called thimerosal) is a common preservative in multidose vaccines. Despite concerns, vaccines that contain this substance have NOT been shown to cause autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

If you have concerns about mercury, ask your doctor about a preservative-free vaccine. All routine vaccines are also available without added thimerosal. The CDC says pregnant women may get flu vaccines either with or without thimerosal.

Are there any side effects of the vaccine ?

Common side effects of the flu vaccine are mild, but can include:

  • Redness or tenderness where the shot was given
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting

If side effects occur, they most often begin soon after the shot. They may last as long as 1 to 2 days. If you have side effects that last longer than 2 days, you should contact your doctor.


Dr Sobia Mohyuddin

MCPS, FCPS, MRCOG, Consultant Obstetrics & Gynaecology

Doctor Sobia Mohyuddin is a highly skilled and experienced Obstetrician and Gynecologist, with 25 years of training and experience in renowned, large institutions. She holds the position of Associate Professor and Fellow at the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan. She is also a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (UK).