How to handle a cold when you’re pregnant

Caught a cold while you’re pregnant? Read our guide to find out which medications are safe to take, plus get natural remedies that will help ease your symptoms

How to handle a cold when you're pregnant

Source: Web exclusive: February 2010

As if the tender breasts and nightly heartburn weren’t enough to contend with, now midway through your second trimester you’re welcoming the first cold of your pregnancy. But what to take? With an army of cold and flu medications standing shoulder-to-shoulder on pharmacy shelves, the many options can be intimidating when you’re not pregnant. And when you are expecting, that choice can be outright scary.

While you should always check with your obstetrician/gynecologist or physician before taking any medication in pregnancy, here’s a guide on what to consider taking’and avoiding’when you’re hit with the coughs and sniffles.

First off’pregnant or not’when you’re suffering from a cold and/or flu, always look towards a single medication to best treat your predominant symptom, such as a plugged nose or sinus pain. Otherwise you may take more medication than you actually intended.

Pain relievers

Sometimes colds are accompanied by painful aches and fevers. If so, reach for acetaminophen (such as Tylenol). ‘Clearly, women who have fever and the bad body feeling of a severe cold should be treated,’ says Dr. Gideon Koren, senior scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and director of the Motherisk program, which advises pregnant women on medications and substances and safety in pregnancy.

However, it’s best to avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA, such as Aspirin) because it’s been linked to delivery complications. Also pass on other NSAIDs, including ibuprofen (e.g., Advil), particularly in your last trimester. ‘Some of these compounds late in pregnancy may be a problem because some of them may close in the fetus a blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus,’ says Dr. Koren.


These medications help loosen and get rid of the phlegm that comes with a cold, says Anne Marie Picone Ford, a pharmacist in Moncton, N.B. ‘Look for a medication with Guaifenesin in it and that’s fine,’ she notes.

Cough suppressants

The other way to handle coughs is to choose a suppressant, which literally tries to stop the coughing from happening. ‘Coughs can be powerful and affect women’s ability to sleep and function,’ notes Dr. Koren. And while Dextromethorphan (DM), the active ingredient in a lot of cough syrups is safe in pregnancy, sometimes cough suppressants are coupled with other medications. ‘For this you should see your doctor, especially if it’s a very stubborn or prolonged cough,’ says Dr. Koren.


These medications, which come in a variety of forms (i.e., oral medications, nasal sprays or drops, etc.) are designed to relieve stuffy noses and heads. But use these cautiously and only when absolutely necessary, suggests Dr. Koren. ‘We suggest women to consider the nose drops or sprays (such as Otrivin), but you should not overdo them. So during the severe bout of the cold, take them before you go to sleep so it will free up your airway during sleep,’ he says. ‘And the reason to give it in nasal spray is because very little is absorbed systematically in Mom’s circulation. So the risk to babies is marginal to non-existing.’

Looking for natural ways to ease those miserable symptoms? How about’


Humidifiers pump up the room’s moisture level, making it easier for you to breathe, so pick one up to use especially at night. (Tip: choose a cool mist humidifier to avoid burns’especially since you’ll likely use these with your infants as well because humidifiers are commonly recommended to help ease children’s cold symptoms.) You can also prop your pillows up to help ease your cough since this stops the postnasal drip that often triggers night coughing.

Hot tea

Sipping a mug of tea can help ease congestion and pain. ‘But check first what’s in your tea, because more teas are coming as mixtures,’ suggests Dr. Koren. Make sure there are no unhealthy or contraindicated ingredients.


‘While there’s still controversy as to how effective echinacea is, we conducted a big study in pregnancy because many of our callers use it and we couldn’t show safety issues,’ says Dr. Koren. ‘It was safe and many women reported it helped them.’

Vitamin C

‘Vitamin C is safe too, but don’t overdo it with too many grams,’ says Dr. Koren. (For pregnant women, approximately 85 milligrams daily is advised.)

** Check out more trustworthy treatments in 1,801 Home Remedies (Reader’s Digest), available in the Best Health Shop now!

Don’t miss out! Sign up for our free weekly newsletters and get nutritious recipes, healthy weight-loss tips, easy ways to stay in shape and all the health news you need, delivered straight to your inbox.