What Do I Do If I Get Sick While I’m Pregnant?

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Getting sick is never fun, but getting sick while you’re pregnant is even worse. Not only are you more tired and have more aches and pains as your body adjusts to carrying a growing baby, but your immune system is weakened. This is actually a good thing since it keeps your body from fighting off the baby (a “foreigner” to your body). The downside, though, is that your body can’t fight off illnesses like it normally does, making you more vulnerable to a cold, fever, stuffy nose, sore throat, flu or stomach bug.

If you do get sick, the good news is that your baby does not. The womb keeps him/her sheltered from your illness.

Here at Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’ve got years and years of experience helping moms-to-be stay well, which is just one of the many ways we help expecting parents have healthy pregnancies and deliveries. To learn about all the services we offer expecting parents, click here.

Best way to avoid getting sick while pregnant? Wash your hands.

Dennis McGroary, MD, FACOG

One of the best things you can do to avoid getting sick while you’re expecting is washing your hands. Also, make it a habit to use anti-bacterial wipes on commonly touched surfaces, such as grocery shopping carts, and always keep alcohol gel handy for quick sanitizing on the go.

Ways to feel better if you do get sick

Although many cold-relieving medications are typically off-limits during pregnancy, here are some things you can do to help you feel better faster, from the American Pregnancy Association:

  • Rest. It may be hard, but really try.
  • Drink plenty of water or other clear, decaffeinated liquids such as teas and broths.
  • Drink orange juice or other juices with vitamin C (tangerines, grapefruit, strawberries, melon, kiwi, mango, tomatoes, bell peppers, papaya, broccoli, red cabbage and spinach).
  • Take your prenatal vitamin, which contains vitamin C to boost your immune system and zinc to help fight off germs. And be sure to eat foods rich in nutrients.
  • Eat fresh garlic, known to have virus-fighting compounds.
  • Use a warm mist humidifier to keep the air around you moist.
  • Try saltwater gargles to relieve sore throat pain.
  • Use saline sprays to moisten your nasal passages.
  • For a fever, body aches or headaches, it’s generally considered safe to take acetaminophen (Tylenol). Products containing aspirin or ibuprofen (such as Motrin or Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) are not recommended because they can interfere with your baby’s development in the early months and create problems during labor later on.
  • Always check with your doctor before taking any medication (prescription, over the counter or homeopathic).
  • Stay active. If you’re not running a fever or coughing and you feel up to it, light to moderate pregnancy-safe exercise may actually help you feel better faster.
  • Keep eating. A healthy diet can help with cold symptoms.
  • Take more zinc which may boost the immune system
  • Elevate your head with pillows. Nasal strips may help too.
  • Saltwater gargles. Gargling with warm salt water (1/4 teaspoon of salt to 8 ounces of warm water) can ease a scratchy or sore throat, wash away post nasal drip and help control a cough.
  • Honey to suppress a dry cough.

When to see a doctor

According to whattoexpect.com, you should call your doctor if:

  • You have a fever over 100 °F
  • Your cold is severe enough to interfere with eating or sleeping
  • You’re coughing up greenish or yellowish mucus
  • You have a cough with chest pain or wheezing
  • Your sinuses are throbbing
  • If symptoms last more than 10-14 days, it’s possible that your cold has progressed to a secondary infection and you may need a prescription medication

Medicines that are ok to take while pregnant

Always double-check with your doctor before taking any medications which might contain ingredients that aren’t safe during pregnancy. The following are generally considered safe to take while you’re expecting:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Cough medications. Expectorants (Mucinex), cough suppressants (Robitussin or Vicks44), vapor rubs (Vicks) and most cough drops.
  • Some nasal sprays. Most steroid-containing nasal sprays are fine to use during pregnancy but check with your doctor about brands and dosing.
  • Some antihistamines. Benadryl and Claritin are usually deemed safe but be sure to check with your practitioner before taking them (some doctors advise staying away from them in the first trimester).

Medicines to avoid while pregnant

Some medications that could help with cold symptoms are off-limits for moms-to-be because they could complicate pregnancy and cause harm to the unborn baby, although further research needs to be done. Don’t panic if you happen to take one of the following medications—it’s probably fine, but just let your doctor know.

  • Some pain relievers and fever reducers. Studies suggest an association between analgesics such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) and pregnancy complications, including low birth weight and preterm delivery.
  • Most decongestants. Steer clear of decongestants such as Claritin-D, Sudafed or DayQuil.
  • Some nasal sprays. Avoid non-steroidal nasal decongestant sprays containing ozymetazoline (Afrin).
  • Alternative or homeopathic remedies. Don’t take Echinacea, supplemental vitamins (esp. zinc supplements) or other over-the-counter herbal remedies without medical approval.

Count on us for all kinds of information and advice to help you have a safe, healthy pregnancy and delivery

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Whether this is your first baby or you’ve been through pregnancy, delivery and baby care before, rest assured. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we’ve been helping expecting parents figure out the ins and outs of having a baby for a long time, and we’re ready to help you with yours.

Helpful articles you might want to read:

Questions about sickness during your pregnancy? Come see us.

If you’d like more information about what to do if you get sick while pregnant, or if you have questions related to any aspect of your pregnancy, please make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians or a Westchester Health OB/GYN. Our #1 goal is for you to have a safe pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Dennis McGroary, MD, FACOG, Department of OB/GYN, Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball