Getting the cold or flu when you are pregnant can affect your unborn baby. If you are considering pregnancy or are already pregnant, it is highly recommended that you have the flu vaccination to help protect you and your baby.
Dealing with a cold while pregnant
A cold is a very common mild viral infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways. It can cause a blocked nose followed by a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat and a cough. The cold will usually last for about a week as the body fights off the infection.
There is no cure for a cold, although you can usually relieve the symptoms of a cold at home by taking over-the-counter medication, such as paracetamol, and drinking plenty of fluids.
Dealing with the flu while pregnant
Flu is an infectious viral illness spread by coughs and sneezes. It's not the same as a cold. Flu is caused by a different group of viruses. Symptoms tend to be more severe and last longer.
You can catch flu — short for influenza — all year round, but it is especially common in winter.
If you are pregnant and think you have the flu, see your doctor as soon as possible. It is recommended that pregnant women who have the flu are treated with antiviral medicines because they are at much higher risk of complications. Antiviral medicines work best when started within 48 hours of symptoms starting.
Antivirals will not cure flu, but they will help to:
- reduce the length of time you are ill by around one day
- relieve some of the symptoms
- reduce the potential for serious complications
If this is the case, you should also:
- keep warm
- drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
You can take paracetamol to help lower your high temperature and relieve aches.
Medication during pregnancy
Ideally, you should avoid taking medicines when you're pregnant, particularly during the first three months. Conditions such as colds or minor aches and pains often don’t need treating with medicines. However, if you’re pregnant and feel you need to take medicine, paracetamol is safe to take.
Before taking any medicine when you're pregnant, you should get advice from your midwife or doctor.
Paracetamol during pregnancy
When you're pregnant, paracetamol is the preferred choice to treat:
- mild or moderate pain
- high temperature (fever)
Paracetamol has been used routinely during all stages of pregnancy to reduce a high temperature and for pain relief. There is no clear evidence that it has any harmful effects on the unborn baby.
However, as with any medicine taken during pregnancy, use paracetamol at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time. If the recommended dose of paracetamol doesn't control your symptoms or you're in pain, get more advice from your midwife or doctor.
Ibuprofen during pregnancy
Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (NSAID). Talk to your doctor before taking ibuprofen or any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) if you are pregnant, or planning a pregnancy.
It is not known for sure whether or not taking NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or aspirin in the early stages of pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage. NSAIDs should not be taken in the last three months of your pregnancy when use can lead to bleeding before and after childbirth, delayed labour and birth, and heart or kidney problems for your unborn baby.
Paracetamol, which is not an NSAID, is the preferred medicine for pain relief and temperature control during pregnancy.
Flu vaccination during pregnancy
The flu jab will protect both you and your baby.
Pregnant women have a much higher chance of developing complications (including life threatening complications) if they get flu, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy. One of the most common complications of flu is bronchitis, a chest infection that can become serious and develop into pneumonia. Other complications are not common, but include:
- middle ear infection (otitis media)
- blood infection that causes a severe drop in blood pressure (septic shock)
- infection of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)
- inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)
- Inflammation of the heart muscle (endocarditis)
If you have flu while you're pregnant, it could mean your baby is born prematurely or has a low birthweight, and can even lead to stillbirth or death in the first week of life.
Getting the flu vaccine is safe during any stage of pregnancy, from the first few weeks up to your expected due date. The vaccine doesn’t carry risks for either you or your baby.
Women who have had the flu vaccine while pregnant also pass some protection on to their babies, which lasts for the first 6 months of their lives.
The vaccine also poses no risk to women who are breastfeeding, or to their babies.
The flu vaccine is free for pregnant women as part of the National Immunisation Program.
Read more about what vaccinations are safe during pregnancy.
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Last reviewed: September 2020