When you’re pregnant, your body changes in more ways than you may realize. Your heart rate increases and lung capacity decreases. This puts more stress on these vital organs. Being pregnant also suppresses your immune system, which puts you at greater risk of coming down with illnesses like influenza.
This is why pregnant women are more likely to experience serious flu illness and are at greater risk for hospitalization due to flu symptoms. A severe flu illness can have serious effects on a developing baby, too. Complications include preterm labor and birth defects like neural tube defects.
Staying safe during flu season does more than keep away the sniffles. It protects you and your baby from dealing with unpleasant, and sometimes even dangerous, symptoms.
How to reduce your risk
Getting a flu shot is the first step you should take to reduce your risk of contracting flu. The flu shot can cut your chance of getting flu in half. It also lowers your risk of hospitalization for flu, which keeps you and your baby healthier. This protection carries over to newborns as well.
In addition to getting a flu shot, you should practice other preventive behaviors.
- Eat healthy foods.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get enough sleep.
- Limit stress.
- Stay away from people who are sick.
- Wash your hands regularly.
Flu vs. COVID-19
COVID-19 is an additional concern for pregnant women. Pregnancy increases the risk of developing complications from COVID-19 as well as hospitalization for severe symptoms.
A flu shot doesn’t protect you from a COVID-19 infection. It reduces your risk of flu and helps conserve medical resources for those who need them most. It can lower the chances of you getting both illnesses and keep you out of the hospital.
Many of the same precautions you take to avoid the flu protect you from COVID-19, such as handwashing. You should also wear a face mask when out in public and practice social distancing. You can safely continue to receive medical check-ups. Work with your provider’s office to know when to have a virtual appointment or come into the provider’s office with safety measures in place.
What to do if you get sick
If you do get sick, call your doctor. Many flu symptoms are similar to symptoms of other conditions, including colds. Your doctor can determine whether you’re dealing with a cold or flu infection and then recommend proper treatment. This may include antiviral medication that can shorten the amount of time you’re sick.
Speak to your doctor before taking over-the-counter medicine for flu symptoms. Avoid the following medications:
The best option is to avoid all medications during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Some doctors caution against taking medicine after 28 weeks. However, your doctor may approve these common flu medications:
- Cough drops
- Cough syrup
- Menthol rub
- Nasal strips
Home remedies for treating the flu during pregnancy
In most cases, you can treat flu symptoms at home. Get plenty of rest to give your body time to heal. Drink lots of fluids. Sip on chicken soup to reduce inflammation. You may try these treatments for more specific symptoms:
- Nasal congestion: breathe warm, humid air from a hot shower, facial steamer or vaporizer
- Nasal inflammation: saline drops and sprays
- Sinus pressure and pain: apply hot and cold packs to your face
- Sore throat: gargle with warm saltwater or drink hot tea with lemon or honey
When to call the doctor
Call your doctor and get medical help immediately if you are pregnant and notice the following symptoms:
- Chest pain or pressure in the abdomen
- Decreased movement of the baby
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Dizziness or confusion
- Fever or cough that gets worse
- High fever
- No movement of the baby
- No urination
- Severe muscle pain
- Severe weakness
- Vaginal bleeding
If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, which may include fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat or body aches, you should call your primary care provider’s office. You may be encouraged to complete a virtual visit.