Coughs in pregnancy - safe remedies and when to see the doctor
During pregnancy, your immune system is lowered, so it's not unusual to catch more coughs and colds than you usually do. Here's the lowdown from our expert family GP on what meds you can take – and when you'd need to see a doctor
There are lots of reasons why you might be coughing during pregnancy – from asthma to allergies – but this article is focused on coughing which is related to a upper respiratory tract viral cough or cold infection, which is by far the most common cause of cough.
These viral coughs and colds are – thankfully – likely to get better on their own without complications.
However, Covid is still circulating in our communities, so, if you're coughing, do get a Covid test if you can. It your test is positive, then please contact your antenatal team as – depending on your symptoms and their severity – you may be offered additional treatment (injections of low-molecular-weight heparin, for example).
If your Covid test is negative but your cough either doesn't improve or worsen,s then please see your GP.
Why am getting coughs a lot more in pregnancy?
You may get more coughs and colds during pregnancy than you did before you were pregnant – and that's because your immune system is changing.
Your growing baby has only half of your genetic make up, so, in order for your body not to reject the half that isn't 'yours', there are changes to your immune system and hormone levels. This means that you might get more infections. Pregnant women are also susceptible to more severe infections, or complications from infections.
Will my baby be affected by my coughing?
There are particular infections which can affect the developing baby but the action of coughing itself will not cause harm.
Your baby is cushioned in its bath of amniotic fluid, which acts as a shock absorber, so while your tummy moves up and down during coughing your baby should be perfectly OK.
However, if you are unwell with a cough, or if your cough is related to another condition such as asthma, it is important to get checked over as this underlying condition could cause problems.
Which symptoms mean I should see a doctor?
That depends! If you are well in yourself and only have a cough/cold symptoms for a few days then you don't generally need to see your doctor.
However you should seek medical advice if:
- You feel pretty unwell
- Your cough persists beyond a few day
- You just don't feel right/are unsure
You should seek urgent medical help if:
- You feel short of breath
- You have chest pain
What medicine can I take for coughs when I'm pregnant?
If you are feeling slightly under the weather or have aches and pains related to a viral infection, then some paracetamol may be helpful.
Saline nasal sprays or drops can help loosen nasal mucous and help relieve symptoms, too.
There are lots of other cough and cold remedies available over the counter at your pharmacist but they may not be safe for use in pregnancy – those that contain decongestants, for example, are generally not suitable.
Please always check with your pharmacist that a medication that it is safe in pregnancy before taking it.
What natural remedies can I take for coughs in pregnancy?
There are lots of things you can do at home to treat your symptoms, the most important of which are getting lots of rest and drinking lots of water.
There is evidence that traditional remedies, such as honey in a hot drink, can be helpful for a sore throat.
Some people swear by vapour rubs – but check the product you're thinking of using with a pharmacist first, as not all may be safe in pregnancy.
It is advised that you avoid traditional herbal remedies such as echinacea and elderberry during pregnancy.
How can I prevent getting another cough in pregnancy?
The pandemic has helped us all learn the importance of hand hygiene in helping to avoid infections! Handwashing and encouraging yourself and others to sneeze or cough into a tissue, then discard that tissue and wash your hands, can be helpful. If you or anyone else has a fever or symptoms of coronavirus, they should stay at home.
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Why is coughing making me wet my pants a little?
Incontinence – in this case stress incontinence – is common in pregnancy. So much, in fact, that many of my patients think that there's nothing that can be done about it. This is not the case!
The hormones of pregnancy, plus the weight of your baby bump can put extra strain on your pelvic floor – which is a hammock of muscles that supports the organs in your pelvis such as your bowel and bladder. When you cough or sneeze, there is additional downward pressure, which, in some people, can result in stress incontinence.
In order to prevent and treat this, it is important to regularly perform pelvic floor exercises. If you're not sure how to do them, ask your midwife – she should have lots of helpful information.
If you do have incontinence during your pregnancy, please see your GP, who can give advice and, if appropriate, refer you to a women's health physiotherapist or for additional treatment.
About our expert Dr Philippa Kaye
Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.
Last updated: 14 December 2022
Pic: Getty Images
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