While moms expect an expanding belly, most don’t consider that housing a munchkin also packs a punch to the respiratory system. Jackie Eghrari-Sabet, MD, founder of Family Allergy & Asthma Care in Gaithersburg, Maryland, explains, “You can’t think of pregnancy as happening only in the uterus—it happens all through the body!” And, unfortunately, that includes your upper respiratory system. Keep the handkerchiefs handy as you wait for delivery day and know that there are baby-safe ways to cope with the congestion.
The cause of the effect
If your daily Kleenex count is nothing to sneeze at, there are likely two potential causes of your suffering. The first is seasonal allergies, which result from breathing offending particles in the air. Most of what we inhale is harmless, but sometimes the body mistakes floaters as foes. In response, the immune system ramps up the snot and slime production, expelling the irritants and gifting you with a Rudolph-red complexion.
If not allergies, rhinitis of pregnancy could account for your belabored breathing. (Although shortness of breath could simply be a result of that baby bump encroaching on your lungs’ real estate.) Heightened estrogen production increases a mom-to-be’s blood flow, which can result in a sensitive snout. Swollen vessels constrict the nasal passages and cause a stuffed-up feeling similar to allergies.
Whether allergies or rhinitis, there’s no need to fret. Both aggravations are treatable.
Mum’s the word
If you suffered through the sneezes before adding baby to your belly, don’t assume you’ll be down for the count for the next nine months. “There’s no simple rule of thumb,” counsels William Miller, Jr., MD, author of The Microcosm Within: Evolution and Extinction in the Hologenome. “Some women who have had a prior pattern of allergy symptoms feel better during pregnancy, some worse. Others experience no change in their underlying allergic status.”
Genes play an important role in how strong your symptoms appear or whether you’ll notice them at all. Consider giving your own mom a call for more clues on what your baby journey might bring.
The nose knows
Much like your prebaby days, indoor and outdoor sources alike can trigger that pervasive phlegm. By identifying the culprits, you can make some simple swaps to keep a runny nose from ruining the day.
Pollen: The best way to beat mother nature’s allergy power is to decrease your exposure. Avoid adventuring outdoors when the pollen count is high, and keep your windows closed, especially at night, advises Miller. Wear wraparound sunglasses to protect your eyes, and shower soon after you return from the backyard to keep the bothersome bits at bay.
Smoke: Secondhand smoke is a surefire way to trigger your already sensitive sniffer. Avoid it for the duration of your pregnancy to skip out on the tissues, as well as spare your developing baby from its harmful toxins.
Animals: If cats or dogs are your allergy pet peeve, make at least one room in your house creature-free, and bathe your furry friends every other week to cut down on dander.
Dust: If it’s dust mites that displease, consider yourself lucky. Here’s the perfect chance to pass off the dustpan to your partner and curb your complaints. When you can’t delegate the dirty work, use a wet mop and a vacuum with a HEPA filter to attack the achoos.
Although decongestants with pseudo-ephedrine are off-limits for expectant women, not all over-the-counter meds are discouraged. “Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) have been used for many years during pregnancy and are not known to be associated with any complications,” says Miller. Claritin, Zyrtec and Chlor-Trimeton are also safe choices, but be warned that popping these pills might have you reaching for your pillow.
For a blast of refreshment, some moms swear by saline streams or neti pots. Squirt-ing the salty solution into your nostrils moisturizes the passages and makes it easier to wash away the sludge. Nasal sprays can also deliver respiratory relief, but ask your practioner before using to confirm the benefits outweigh any risks.
If you’re still timid about taking something, Miller assures that the best dictum for pregnant women is this: Take meds sparingly, but don’t be afraid to use them when necessary. Talk with your doctor for suggestions suited to your medical history, so she can put any reservations you might have to rest.
Take a breather
If you can’t seem to cut out the cough, take heart. After giving birth, your hormones will return to your normal baseline, says Eghrari-Sabet. So while baby might leave you breathless for now, you’ll hopefully snuff out the sniffs soon enough.
Even after baby, though, Eghrari-Sabet encourages mamas to keep their allergist’s number handy. “Learn to love your allergist because she will take you through breastfeeding and postpartum.” And she’ll even be around if your wee one has issues. There’s no need to wait with bated breath; your lungs and your little one’s will be in good hands for years to come.