Treating colds and flu during pregnancy

By: Dec 13, 2010

Pregnancy often means a ban on cold and flu meds. Here’s your guide to feeling better safely.

Considering there could be at least one of about 100 highly contagious cold viruses lurking on every door handle and elevator button you encounter (not to mention a handful of nasty flu viruses as well), you’re probably going to get sick at some point in your pregnancy. Here’s what you can do to feel better, symptom by symptom:

Coughs and sore throat

As a general rule, you should get the green light from your healthcare practitioner before taking any over-the-counter medication, but there are other ways to relieve your symptoms in the meantime. For instance, to soothe a sore throat or nagging cough, try gargling with warm salt water, sucking on a zinc lozenge or making yourself a hot mug of honey and lemon.

Another safe option to try is a “warming socks” treatment, says Dr. Sara Celik, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto. This classic hydrotherapy technique helps boost your body’s circulation and immune response, relieving everything from a sore throat to chest congestion. “Your symptoms may resolve in as little as 30 minutes,” says Dr. Celik. Here’s what to do:

1. Soak your feet in warm water before bed, then dry them thoroughly.
2. Place thin cotton socks in ice-cold water, wring them out and put them on your feet.
2. Add a pair of thick wool socks over top and jump into bed, covering yourself with a warm blanket.
3. Repeat for as many nights as necessary until you feel better.

Fever, aches and pains

“A fever is a sign that your body is fighting an infection,” says Dr. Celik.  “But if your temperature reaches 101F (38.3C), you need to visit your MD or ND, especially in early pregnancy because there is a small risk that having a fever can harm your baby.” To help bring down a fever (and relieve the achy chills that can accompany it) acetaminophen (Tylenol) is generally safe to take during pregnancy.

Nasal congestion and sinus pain

“To treat cold and flu symptoms, such as nasal congestion, I commonly prescribe acupuncture,” says Dr. Celik. On the home front, saline nasal drops or spray can help you breathe better. You can also try using a steamer to clear your nasal passages, or sit with a towel draped over your head and a pot of steaming water. To relieve sinus pain, try applying a warm compress over your nose and across your cheekbones.

Bottom line

“There is a long list of herbal medicines that should be avoided in pregnancy, so contact a naturopathic physician before taking any botanical formulas,” says Dr. Celik. That said, there are many safe naturopathic remedies you can try. “I commonly prescribe Oscillococcinum to my pregnant patients–it quickly reduces symptoms without any side effects.” She also recommends taking a good-quality probiotic supplement (with 15 billion cells per capsule) to reduce the duration of symptoms and, of course, remembering to get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids.