Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and the Common Cold

The common cold does not feel so common if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. We often get calls from patients of the Teen and Pregnant Program (TaP) regarding which medications are safe to take for cold symptoms. Here are some things you need to know:

What causes the common cold?

Though there are more than 100 viruses that can cause the common cold, the rhinovirus is the most common cause, and it’s highly contagious. The virus enters your body through your mouth, eyes or nose and can spread through droplets in the air when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks. It also spreads by contact with someone who has a cold or by sharing contaminated objects, like utensils, towels, toys or telephones.

Handwashing is important in the prevention of spreading a cold. If you have not washed your hands after you touch a contaminated object and you then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you will be likely to catch a cold.

Symptoms of a common cold usually appear about 1-3 days after exposure and may include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy or sore throat
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Slight body aches or a mild headache
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mild fatigue

 Complications of the common cold

Ear pain could signal an ear infection and an evaluation by a provider is recommended. The common cold can also exacerbate asthma symptoms with wheezing and difficulty breathing, which should prompt a call and/or visit to your provider. Also, if you have a fever along with sinus pain, difficulty breathing or discomfort when taking a deep breath, this could signal a secondary infection like sinusitis or pneumonia. Throat pain with white patches can be a sign of strep throat and will require a visit to your provider. If you have a high fever of more than 103 degrees, dehydration, severe fatigue and/or body aches, see a doctor immediately, especially if you are pregnant.

There is no cure for the common cold, but there are some things that you can do to feel better. We recommend:

  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids (especially water)
  • Gargling with warm salt water
  • Using cough drops, lozenges or throat sprays

In addition, here are some safe over-the-counter cold medications that can help:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol): Take for body aches and headaches, mild pain and fever. If you are pregnant then you CANNOT take ibuprofen or naproxen but these medications are safe if you are breastfeeding.
  • Pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine (Sudafed): Use for congestion and runny nose. Medications that contain pseudoephedrine are kept behind the pharmacy counter and have restrictions on the quantity that you can purchase. You must show ID to prove you are older than 18.
  • Guaifenesin (Mucinex) or dextromethorphan (Robutussin): This medicine suppresses coughing and thins mucus so that coughs are more productive
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Loratidine (Claritin): Can relieve watery eyes and itchy throat. These can also make you sleepy, so it may be better to take at night to aid with rest.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and have questions about your health and/or what is safe to take, call your provider’s office and they will be more than happy to assist you and answer questions. The Teen and Pregnant Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital has a provider on call 24/7 to answer questions for our patients.

Kara Malone, MD
Kara L. Malone, MD is a board eligible obstetrician and gynecologist. She joined Nationwide Children’s Hospital as Medical Director of the Teen and Pregnant (TaP) Program. She completed medical school at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and did her residency at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Her clinical interests include the care of pregnant adolescents and providing culturally sensitive care to minorities, including the LGBTQAI population.

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