As winter nears so does the peak of the cold and flu season. For pregnant women catching a cold or flu while often already feeling rundown can be extra exhausting. Here are some tips to help you prevent and manage a cold or flu during pregnancy.

Do I have a cold or the flu?

A cold and the flu are caused by different viruses however they have some similar symptoms. A cold is generally milder with no or only a mild temperature. People with a flu may have fever/chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, headaches and feel tired. People with a cold may have a mild fever, runny nose, sneezing and sore throat.  A flu generally has a fast onset and a cold is often more gradual. The only way to confirm if someone has a cold or flu is for your doctor to run a test.

If you are pregnant and think you have the flu you should contact your doctor immediately

The flu can lead to life threatening conditions such as pneumonia. Pregnant women and their unborn baby are at an increased risk of severe complications of the flu. If your baby develops the flu while under 6 months old they are 10 times more likely than older children to go to hospital and are at a much higher risk of complications.1

Prevent the flu

The most effective way to prevent getting the flu is immunisation.  This is effective to protect both mother and their unborn child.

Other ways to reduce your risk of catching the flu include cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, use disposable tissues, wash your hands regularly, especially when coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose and keep away from people you know who have the flu.

Immunisation against the flu

Influenza vaccination is recommended under the National Immunisation Program for all pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy, this is the best way to protect yourself and your unborn child against the flu. The flu shot is available for FREE for pregnant women in Australia.

Flu vaccination is required every year, as a new vaccination is developed to protect against the most common flu of that season.

Side effects of the flu vaccination are mild and the same in pregnant and non-pregnant women. One in 10 adults will have mild side effects such as a low grade fever, tiredness and muscle aches.  Redness and swelling around where you are injected is common. There is no evidence that flu vaccination will harm a developing baby and it has been shown to be safe in pregnancy.1

Colds during pregnancy

There are many over the counter medications available for treating a cold, however during pregnancy it is important to discuss any medications with your doctor or pharmacist and weigh up the benefits to you and the risks to you and baby. Here is a general guide to which medications are safe for managing a cold during pregnancy.

Non drug options

Rest, drinking plenty of water, having soothing drinks, avoid cigarette smoke and saline sprays can provide relief during a cold and are all safe options during pregnancy.

Saline solutions such as a nasal spray or steam inhalations may help to clear mucus and relieve sinus pressure. Saline is safe in pregnancy.

Which cold and flu medications are safe during pregnancy?

All medication should be taken as directed and for the shortest period necessary.

Paracetamol

For relieving pain and fever this is a safe option in pregnancy.2

Coughs

A dry cough can be relieved with a cough suppressants. Both pholcodine and dextromethorphan are safe in pregnancy. 2

For a chesty cough an expectorant such as guaifenesin or a mucolytic such as bromhexine can be safely used in pregnancy.2

Congestion

Saline nasal sprays are the safest option in pregnancy. There is limited information available on use of decongestant nasal sprays in pregnancy, however they are considered safe for short term.  Oxymetazoline or xylometazoline may be used for 3 to a maximum of 5 days.2

Sore throats

Throat lozenges for a sore throat with anaesthetic and antiseptic may be used in pregnancy. Salt water gargles or lemon and honey drinks may also help to ease a sore throat. 2

Avoid Iodine based throat gargles as these may affect the thyroid function of you and your baby.2

For more information call The Pregnancy, Birth and Baby Helpline on 1800 882 436

References:

  1. https://beta.health.gov.au/topics/immunisation/immunisation-throughout-life/immunisation-for-pregnancy
  2. The Royal Women’s Hospital Pregnancy and Breastfeeding guide
  3. The Royal Women’s Hospital