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A cold or a cough is never a welcome ailment, but it is especially uncomfortable in pregnancy when you cannot safely take the usual over-the-counter (OTC) medications to relieve the symptoms.
To make matters worse, the infection-associated discomfort seems far more taxing when you are already in such a vulnerable state than it would otherwise.
During pregnancy, when your protective maternal instincts kick in full throttle, it’s quite natural to stress about every minor inconvenience and health hiccup that you may face in terms of its repercussions on your unborn baby’s growth and well-being.
However, expecting mothers can heave a sigh of relief after knowing that the case of their sniffles will have no bearing on fetal development as the baby is cocooned inside the womb, which is beyond the reach of the virus.
Causes of Cold and Cough During Pregnancy
Colds and coughs are common viral infections of the upper respiratory tract that affect your nose, throat, sinuses, and upper airways. There are over 200 viruses that can give rise to cold symptoms, of which the rhinovirus is perhaps the most usual suspect.
This infection is easily transmitted from person to person, and the symptoms usually persist for a week, although an accompanying cough can go on for about 3 weeks.
Symptoms of Cold and Cough During Pregnancy
The first sign of a cold and cough is typically a scratchy or sore throat. Other signs include:
- Runny nose that may later turn stuffy
- Continuous sneezing
- Feeling of tiredness
- Dry cough
- Slight fever (less than 100°F)
While you are suffering through fatigue and symptoms of a common cold, it is important to know that it is not typically dangerous to your baby. (1)
Caution: Do not take any OTC cold medicine without prior approval from your healthcare provider.
Treating Cold and Cough in Pregnancy
Here are the top home remedies to get relief from a cold and cough during pregnancy.
1. Take a cool bath
To reduce your fever when suffering from a cold and cough, you can take a cool or lukewarm sponge bath. This is one of the safest, easiest, and all-natural ways to bring down and normalize a high body temperature. (2)
How to do:
- Take a sponge bath two or three times a day. Soak a washcloth in room-temperature tap water, wring out the excess water, and then sponge your armpits, feet, hands, and groin to reduce your body temperature.
- Take a cool bath or shower.
- Another option is to place a cold, damp washcloth on your forehead and change it every few minutes.
Caution: Avoid using very cold water and alcohol rubs or stop if you start to shiver. Shivering makes the body temperature rise even higher.
2. Use salt water to relieve congestion
Blocked nasal passages easily take the cake when it comes to the discomforts that come in the wake of a cold and cough, particularly so during pregnancy. One remedy for this symptom that rarely misses its mark is salt water.
Salt water acts as a nasal decongestant by moistening your nasal passages, clearing the built-up mucus from your nostrils, and soothing your inflamed nasal tissue. This, in turn, helps make your breathing easier and more comfortable.
Experts agree that a saline nasal irrigation can be safely used to relieve nasal congestion in pregnancy as they are completely unmedicated. (3)
How to use:
- Mix ½ teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm distilled, sterile, or previously boiled tap water. Use a dropper to put a few drops of the solution into your nostrils, one at a time, with your head tilted back. Then, gently blow your nose to remove excess mucus and solution. Use this remedy up to no more than three times a day.
- You may also gargle with this solution two or three times a day for sore throat relief.
3. Consume homemade chicken soup
Sipping on a hot bowl of chicken soup is one of the tastiest and most comforting ways to treat a cold during pregnancy. Homemade chicken soup is rich in anti-inflammatory properties as well as nutrients and vitamins that help fight the infection from within.
Aromatic seasonings enhance the opening of upper airway passages, facilitating removal of the mucus trapped there. Along with hot tea, chicken soup helps improve the functioning of protective cilia in nasal passages, further protecting the body from unwanted viruses and bacteria. (4)
Researchers have found that traditional chicken soup contains a number of substances with beneficial medicinal activity, supporting faster healing for upper respiratory tract infections. (5)
The ideal homemade recipe includes organic chicken combined with celery, onions, carrots, parsley, mushrooms, and parsnips for their medicinal and antioxidant properties.
Adding spices such as sage, thyme, salt, and pepper strengthens the body’s ability to inhibit neutrophils; neutrophil’s chemotaxic activities are associated with your body’s response to viral infections. (4)
4. Try using ginger
Ginger is another time-tested remedy for colds and coughs during pregnancy.
Ginger soup, comprising hot water with dried ginger powder or grated raw ginger, works as the perfect comfort food for people in the throes of a cold attack, as it helps them keep warm. (6)
What makes ginger all the more preferable for pregnant women is that it poses no health risks to them or their child and offers the added bonus of relieving their morning sickness to some extent. (7)
Some have even found ginger helpful for alleviating mild heartburn, a digestive distress that expecting mothers are quite familiar with.
How to use:
- Add 1 tablespoon of grated ginger to 1½ cups of water. Boil and then let it simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and add honey and lemon juice. Drink this herbal tea no more than three times per day.
- Alternatively, you can chew a small piece of ginger sprinkled with sea salt two to three times per day.
Caution: Discuss with your healthcare provider if you have a history or risk of vaginal bleeding disorders during pregnancy before using ginger as a remedy. (8)
5. Consume turmeric
Turmeric has long been used to soothe the common cold (9) and cough and is another safe alternative during pregnancy.
The properties found in turmeric can boost your immunity and can be effective at easing sore throat and nasal inflammation.
How to use:
- Add 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder and a little crushed black pepper to 1 glass of warm milk. Drink this twice daily.
- Add ½ teaspoon each of turmeric powder and salt to a glass of warm water and mix them well. Use this mixture to gargle twice daily to get relief from a sore throat.
Caution: Turmeric is safe for a pregnant woman so long as it is consumed as a spice to season foods. Turmeric supplements or using the spice as a type of alternative medicine during pregnancy is completely off-limits.
Furthermore, in case of any pre-existing allergies to turmeric, it’s best that pregnant women steer clear of using this remedy.
6. Increase your fluid intake
When dealing with a cold or a cough, many people don’t drink enough water. Keeping the body adequately hydrated is especially important during pregnancy, for the health of both the mother and the baby.
This necessity becomes all the more profound when the mother’s immune system is busy fighting an infection such as a common cold. Staying well hydrated helps to thin the body’s secretions, making it easier to expel mucus and reduce congestion.
- Drink lukewarm water at regular intervals. You must drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water a day to maintain proper hydration.
- You can also drink decaffeinated tea mixed with raw honey.
- Fruit juices, vegetable soup, clear broths, or any other liquid diet help maintain hydration and soothe your symptoms.
- Avoid caffeine, as its diuretic properties can have a dehydrating effect on the body.
7. Up your intake of vitamin C
Vitamin C enhances the body’s natural immune response to infection by supplying the body with a heavy dose of disease-fighting antioxidants. A daily intake of vitamin C may help keep the common cold away, but the evidence is unclear if it reduces the duration or severity of a cold. (10)
You can increase your vitamin C intake by eating foods such as Indian gooseberries, cantaloupes, oranges, grapefruit, limes, lemons, kiwis, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and bell peppers.
Vitamin C is also available over the counter in the form of a supplement.
8. Use a humidifier
It is important to get enough rest during pregnancy, which can be particularly difficult when you are grappling with respiratory congestion.
Try using a humidifier, which adds moisture to the air to ease stuffiness and helps thin your mucus secretions to facilitate their smooth elimination from the nasal passages.
- Use a commercial humidifier and put it in your bedroom to use while you rest. (1)
- You may also add a few drops of essential oil, such as peppermint, menthol, or tea tree oil, to enhance the humidifier’s soothing effects.
- Alternatively, place a bowl of hot water on your bedroom floor at a safe distance to increase the moisture in the air.
Caution: Be sure to clean the humidifier regularly, and use distilled water to prevent the growth of microbes and mold.
9. Get adequate rest
Rest is crucial when you are pregnant, and more so when suffering from an illness while pregnant. It is the best way to give your body the time and energy to fight off the infection.
Napping two or three times a day is a good habit of providing your body with a good amount of rest and recuperation. Getting the much-needed shut-eye also helps keep your blood pressure and stress levels in check.
- Attempt to go to bed earlier than usual to allow more time to sleep.
- Elevate your head with pillows to help you breathe easily and reduce nasal drip.
Prevention Against Cold and Cough During Pregnancy
- Keep your distance from anyone who has a cold or a cough.
- Wash your hands often with warm soapy water, especially after you’ve been around someone who has a cold.
- Avoid touching your nose or eyes, especially while out.
- Avoid sharing cutlery, cups, or plates with someone who has a cold.
- Consume high-quality probiotics, as they support general health and a good immune response.
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, protein, and healthy fats. Avoid white sugar and limit grains.
- Lowering or reducing stress can help support your immune system, which is especially important in pregnancy.
- Drink lots of herbal tea and hot liquids, at least one cup every 3 hours. However, certain herbal concoctions might be detrimental to your or your baby’s health. Thus, it is essential that you consult your doctor to know your best options.
- Make sure that those around you also follow the necessary precaution to avoid spreading the infection to you. When someone in the immediate family catches a cold, it is important that the person uses a tissue to catch coughs and sneezes, dispose it right away, and wash his/her hand thereafter.
Additional Tips to Relieve Cold and Cough During Pregnancy
- Certain OTC medications are safe to take after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Ask your healthcare provider before taking any medications.
- Medications such as ibuprofen, codeine, aspirin, and naproxen should be avoided unless recommended by your doctor.
- Tylenol®, or acetaminophen, is considered safe in pregnancy at recommended doses. Use this option to control your fever to avoid complications for the baby.
- You may not have the appetite for large meals, but try eating small portions often to maintain good nutrition.
- You can take a throat lozenge or cough mixture that contains glycerin to ease congestion and soothe your throat.
- Vapor rubs can help ease the discomfort of a cold. Rub a little on your chest before going to sleep or whenever needed for comfort.
When to See a Doctor
The cold symptoms tend to persist for 10–14 days, and the downside is that just as you are on your way to full recovery, the viral infection might make a comeback. If your symptoms persist or get progressively worse even after 2 weeks, you might want to fill your doctor in about your condition.
Flu-like symptoms, on the other, should be reported to your healthcare provider right away. The worrisome symptoms include:
- Fever (temperature more than 100.4°F)
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe vomiting
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that every pregnant mother receive a preventative flu shot and be treated immediately with prescription antiviral medication if flu is suspected.
These actions could prevent serious complications to the baby, the most serious of which is related to the mother’s fever. Fever in pregnancy may be associated with neural tube defects and other congenital abnormalities in the unborn child. (11)
If your cold is severe enough to disrupt your regular sleeping and eating patterns, your doctor’s help is warranted. The same stands true if you experience symptoms such as throbbing sinuses, vaginal bleeding, and chest pain while coughing or wheezing.
The standard antibiotics used for treating bacterial infections don’t work against viral infections like common cold which currently has no established cure or antidote. Instead, this infection tends to resolve on its own after running its full course, but you can use certain OTC meds and home remedies to relieve your symptoms.
During pregnancy, the woman’s immune system functions at a slower pace. This diminished immune response is a natural and necessary body mechanism to prevent the immune system from targeting the growing fetus with antibodies, as it would any other foreign entity.
However, the mother carrying the fetus ends up bearing the brunt of this compromised immunity as it makes it easier for a gestating woman to contract a cold or a cough, which may last longer than if she were not pregnant. (1) These changes in the immune system can also affect the woman’s heart and lungs, making her more susceptible to severe illness arising from the flu.
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