How to Manage a Cold During Pregnancy
One of the most annoying things that can happen to a woman when she’s pregnant is for her to catch a cold or flu. There is always concern over what a mother-to-be can take that won’t have a negative effect on her unborn child. The difference in research and results of certain medications has changed greatly over the last couple of decades. When I was pregnant with my 16-year-old, I caught a cold and the recommendations were still that I don’t take anything. With my 3.5-year-old, though, a lot more things had been deemed “safe”.
Pregnant women are very susceptible to colds and flus (the real flu, by the way, doesn’t usually involve any stomach issues) because the immune system is suppressed. Suppressing the immune system prevents the body from seeing the baby as an illness or foreign body and attacking him or her. Not only does this make it easier for a pregnant woman to catch a cold, but it also means cold symptoms can last longer.
Natural Baby-Safe Cold Remedies
There are always time-honored natural cold remedies that our mothers and grandmothers used to swear by that pose no harm to the baby at all.
1) Hot shower or bath – Not only with the shower or bath relax you, but the steam actually loosens mucus in the head and chest and instantly moisturizes nasal passages. The massaging spray or simply sinking into a warm bath can also soothe achy muscles. Add a little lavender or eucalyptus oil or tea tree oil for a little aromatherapy.
2) A hot mist vaporizer – Similar to the effects of having a shower or warm bath, the steam from the vaporizer alleviates congestion and cough symptoms. Some vaporizers come with a face mask. If not, you can get them from the cosmetic department or pharmacy in your local store. To avoid overheating, which can pose a risk to unborn babies, limit your steam sessions to 10 or 20 minutes.
3) Saline Nasal Wash – This simple mixture of salt and water thins and loosens mucus and sooth nasal tissue that can become inflamed. Combine this with proper placement of nasal strips to maximize the opening of your nasal passages. Make sure the primary ingredients in the saline nasal spray or drop product you use list water and salt. Avoid products that contain other active ingredients that you’re not sure of. Alternatively, “[d]issolve 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 20 minutes before gently blowing your nose. Repeat as needed.” (Babyzone.com)
4) Chicken soup – Yes, the infamous chicken soup. It has been used as a cold remedy since the 12th century. The steam relieves congestion in nasal passages and throat and provides essential fluid for fighting off infection. Research has suggested that there are actually properties in the chicken soup that slow the movement of white blood cells, and therefore act as an anti-inflammatory.
5) Sleep with your head elevated – “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.” Babyzone.com)
6) Garlic – One of the so-called “miracle” foods. Garlic is a natural decongestant and has been clinically proven to prevent colds and shorten the duration of symptoms. Raw garlic is best, but eating it mixed in some of your favorite foods will work too. Many drug stores have odor-less, taste-less garlic supplement options. Should be taken with caution for those who have acid reflux issues.
7) Zinc – Zinc is an immunity booster and is known to help your body actually fight off the cold rather than just treating the symptoms. Zinc can be found in nuts, seeds, beans, beef, milk and cheese. It can also be found in oysters and other shellfish, which pregnant women are usually told to avoid because of the potential for overexposure to mercury. Obviously, it is important not to use shellfish as your only source.
Green Tea – Green tea is another immunity booster that has been known to lessen the duration of a cold. Choose the decaffeinated variety though.
9) Elderberry Syrup – “[R]esearchers found that flu sufferers who took elderberry syrup recovered twice as fast…over 90 percent of the study’s participants noticed an improvement in their flu symptoms only after two days.” (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine via MyPregnancyBaby.com) Elderberry syrup should only be used for a short time because of it’s apparent strong effect on the immune system which the body naturally suppresses during pregnancy.
10) Honey – Honey has been used for centuries to soothe sore throats.
Avoid black licorice when you’re pregnant or nursing. While black licorice has amazing anti-congestive and other medicinal properties, it also affects estrogen levels (which is why it’s sometimes used to help treat PMS or heavy period issues), which can in turn result in miscarriage or pre-term labor.
Over-the-Counter Cold Remedies
There has been much debate even over the last 10 years which drugs are safe to use during pregnancy, which can be used as kind of a last resort, and which should be completely avoided.
Leading the list, of course, is acetaminophen or Tylenol. Especially when you’re dealing with a fever, it is important to get that fever down when you’re pregnant. So do not hesitate to take it.
The latest list of “okay” medications includes:
- Antihistamines – chlorpheniramine, loratadine (Claritin), doxylamine, brompheniramine, phenindamine, pheniramine, triprolidine, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- Decongestants – Pseudophedrine (the active ingredient in Sudafed and in many other cold remedies). Pseudophedrine should be used only during the day. Avoid the sustained action (SA) and multi-symptom form.
- Cough Suppressants – Dextramethorphan (DM) (the active ingredient in Robitussin DM). This should only be taken for short periods and at the smallest dose possible. Avoid cough suppressants that contain codeine during the third trimester.
- Cough Expectorants – Guaifenesin. Avoid expectorants with iodine.
Avoid ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and aspirin – basically any type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs).
The best thing to keep in mind when you’re choosing a home remedy is that less is more. Choose the remedy that treats only the symptoms you have. Stay away from remedies that treat every symptom if you don’t really need it.
The best remedy of all is rest. Use what you need to of the natural and over-the-counter cold remedies so that you’re able to sleep. It is better to take the medication (under the advice of your doctor) to give your body the chance to fight off the cold or flu than to let the cold or flu linger further depleting your immune system.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for Empowher.com.
Colds in Pregnancy – Natural Remedies and Safe Medication. Nguyen, DP. MyPregnancyBaby.com. Web. July 13, 2012.
Cold Medicine and Pregnancy. Rodriguez, Diana. EverydayHealth.com. Web. July 13, 2012.
Chicken soup and sickness. MedlinePlus. Web. July 13, 2012.
Over-the-counter medicines in pregnancy. Marshall, Helen. NetDoctor. Web. July 13, 2012.
Top 7 Foods to Fight the Cold and Flu Naturally. Nguyen, DP. MyPregnancyBaby.com. Web. July 13, 2012.
19 Pregnancy-Safe Cold and Flu Remedies. Tourville, Jacqueline. Babyzone.com. Web. July 13, 2012.
Feeling Sick? Reach for a Natural Cold Remedy. Serrano, Danielle.
Medications and Pregnancy. Caroll, Patricia RN, MS