With morning sickness, fatigue and swollen ankles, pregnancy can really throw a body off. But when nausea turns into a full-blown stomach bug or exhaustion leads to the flu, it’s not just your health that you need to worry about—the well-being of your growing babe is at risk, too. Luckily, except for avoiding common over-the-counter remedies, illness during pregnancy is generally treated in much the same way it is at any other time—with rest and lots of fluids, say Michelle Berlin, MD, MPH, and Thomas Lloyd, CNM, of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Whatever your symptoms, Lloyd and Berlin always recommend checking in with your health care provider, who will be best equipped to help get you feeling back to normal. In the meantime, when illness strikes, here’s a look at what you need to know.
Immunity for two
Although the jury is still out on whether pregnancy weakens a mom-to-be’s immune system, “The general consensus is that the immune system of a pregnant woman is not significantly suppressed,” says Lloyd. Still, as your body adjusts to accommodate your growing babe, it’s wise to avoid being around anyone with a cold or the flu when possible and take preventative measures to lessen your odds of getting sick. Boosting your immunity is key to feeling the best you can over the next nine months. If you’re taking a daily prenatal, you are already helping to up your vitamin and mineral intake. Getting plenty of sleep and choosing fruits and vegetables over refined, sugar-laden products will also help. Ask your health care provider for other ideas for staying healthy.
The common cold
Unfortunately, even after taking precautions to stay well, coming down with a cold or sore throat isn’t out of the question —especially if you’re pregnant during colder months or flu season. Instead of over-the-counter medications, Lloyd says to remember your grandmother’s advice: Take the day off, get plenty of rest, and hydrate with feel-good chicken soup and hot tea. If that doesn’t help and you still want to take some medicine, consider a smaller dose. Look for the children’s version of antihistamines, for example, which won’t cause as much drowsiness or excessively dry out your mucus membranes, recommends Lloyd. Ask your health care provider about taking pseudoephedrine (such as Sudafed). A very small dose used briefly is generally considered pregnancy-safe. A sore throat can be dangerous during pregnancy and should always be evaluated by your doctor, especially if it’s accompanied by a fever or swollen lymph nodes. Hard candies and cough drops can help, but watch out for throat lozenges that contain phenols, which are considered dangerous for expectant moms.
More than just morning sickness
Throwing up and feeling nauseated are par for the course during pregnancy, at least in your first trimester. But a short-term viral or bacterial stomach illness will cause additional vomiting and diarrhea that can leave you feeling extra miserable. These bugs usually run their course and typically don’t require any intervention. Berlin says to treat your symptoms the same way you would treat morning sickness. “Try eating small amounts, but if you can’t eat, it’s OK,” she says. “However, if you can’t drink, that’s concerning, especially if your urine is dark.” Phone your doctor if eight hours have gone by and you haven’t kept any fluids down.
A real head case
When you come down with a headache, ibuprofen (i.e., Advil, Motrin) is off-limits, but acetaminophen (i.e., Tylenol) is safe—as long as it’s not misused or taken in a high dose for an extended period of time, Lloyd says. Still, try to rest and hydrate before resorting to medication. Migraine sufferers may actually find that their headaches decrease in frequency while pregnant. However, if you do come down with a migraine, it can be tricky to treat because many migraine medications are not advisable for moms-to-be. Ask your doctor to recommend an alternative treatment. Remember, Lloyd says, a headache is “not just a headache” after 20 weeks gestation. Any headache during this period that doesn’t improve after a few hours with rest, fluids and acetaminophen should be reported to your doctor.
Look out below
Yeast infections are common during pregnancy and can result in uncomfortable itching and burning during urination. Berlin notes that although there is always a healthy amount of yeast residing in the vagina, a yeast infection happens when normal levels of acid and yeast are out of balance. If you are experiencing symptoms that are bothering you, your doctor can recommend a treatment that should clear them up quickly. Urinary tract infections (UTI), the result of bacterial inflammation in the urinary tract, are a bit more of a concern, notes Lloyd. Symptoms of a UTI include burning or cramps in the lower back or abdomen, blood or mucus in your urine, the need to frequently urinate or pain during urination. If you have a history of frequent bladder or kidney infections, be sure to mention this at your first prenatal appointment; a simple bladder infection could ascend to your kidneys and cause a more serious illness, occasionally resulting in irreparable damage. If you are pregnant and worried you might have a UTI, make an appointment with your doctor right away.