Although spring may be just a flower blossom away, the threat of colds and the flu still looms large. If you happen to be pregnant right now, doctors say you should be doubly careful, since even a simple virus can leave you feeling more stuffy, as well as achier and crankier than usual. One reason is because the high estrogen levels present in pregnancy cause mucous membranes to dry out, and swell, making any congestion from a cold or even an allergy feel much worse.

Colette Bouchez

 

As your pregnancy progresses and your baby pushes harder against your diaphragm, lung capacity is also reduced, making it harder to breathe. So, even a slight respiratory infection can seem disastrous. Although pregnancy doesn't increase your susceptibility to the flu, if you do get sick you are up to five times more likely to develop a serious complication, including pneumonia or bronchitis.

 

If you're like most women you may feel a bit hesitant about using any medication while you are pregnant, since even doctors prefer to stick with natural treatments, particularly during the first trimester. However, in the event that you doneed more help, don't hesitate to check with your obstetrician, since there are a number of safe and effective medications you can try.

Your pregnancy medicine chest: What's safe, what's not
If a hacking cough or chest congestion is getting you down, talk to your healthcare provider about over-the-counter products and what is safe to take. Some medicines are considered relatively safe to use during pregnancy, and most will offer at least some relief.

If you are running a temperature -- particularly 101 degrees or more -- the March of Dimes says acetaminophen (like Tylenol) is your best defense. And, it might also be crucial to ensure the health of your baby. Studies show that letting a high fever languish during pregnancy increases baby's risk of neural tube defects, a life threatening malformation of the brain or spine. Sustaining a temperature of 102 degrees or more during your first trimester might also increase your risk of miscarriage.

Check with your healthcare provider to determine what dosage of acetaminophen is right for you. Also important: Keep taking your prenatal vitamins, especially while you are sick. A study of some 2,000 pregnancies conducted at the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities in England found that women who took a multi-vitamin high in folic acid during pregnancy were able to reduce their baby's risk of birth defects, even if they ran a fever.

If your flu or cold is complicated by diarrhea, don't be surprised if your healthcare provider doesn't prescribe anything for the first 24 to 48 hours. As long as you drink plenty of fluids to reduce your risk of dehydration, it's usually safe to wait it out. Always check with your healthcare provider before taking ANYTHING for diarrhea. He or she will know what is safe.

The one diarrhea medicine you might want to avoid during pregnancy is Pepto Bismol, or any similar drugs containing the active ingredient bismuth subsalicylate. Although occasional use may not prove harmful, animal studies have shown that salicylate -- a drug that is related to bismuth subsalicylate -- may increase the risk of birth defects.

Likewise, you should skip any of the newer anti-viral medications now available to treat the flu -- most have not been tested in pregnancy -- and, take a pass on most decongestants as well, unless specifically prescribed by your obstetrician.

Going natural
If you want to travel the natural route, get lots of pampering bed rest, drink plenty of fluids and in particular, have yourself a bowl or two of chicken soup. Not only is this a great comfort food, studies have documented that the enzymes in the soup stop the movement of immune system cells to the site of inflammation -- which in turn helps reduce symptoms like coughing and sneezing. You can also try hot caffeine-free teas with honey, particularly if you have a sore throat. The steam from the hot liquid will decrease your congestion, while the tea can act as a mild anti-inflammatory. Studies have also shown honey has mild antiseptic qualities and could help control the local growth of bacteria.

Pregnancy cold and flu alerts
While in most instances you can ride out a cold or even the flu on your own, do make certain to call your healthcare provider immediately if:

 

  • Your cold produces green or yellow nasal mucous, or if it lasts more than seven days -- you could have a sinus infection requires an antibiotic.

     

  • You are running fever, even if other symptoms seem mild.

     

  • Diarrhea or vomiting (not commonly associated with cold and flu but can sometimes occur) continues for more than 36 hours, if cramps are severe; if diarrhea or vomit contains blood; if you exhibit any of the signs of food poisoning including fever, chills, and other flu- like symptoms like body aches. PregnancyAndBaby.com

 

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