Coughs in pregnancy – safe remedies and when to see the doctor

During pregnancy your immune system is lowered, so don’t be surprised if you catch a cough or two. What medicine can you take and how can you relieve your coughing?

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If you’re pregnant and you have a persistent cough, you probably have a common viral infection, which will get better with time and rest. Even if you’re coughing a lot, you’re very unlikely to harm the baby – they’re well protected in there.

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“If you’ve got a cough during pregnancy, it’s your body’s way of saying slow down and rest so take as much time out as you can,” says independent midwife, Karina Dyer, from Infant Affinity.

But if your cough won’t go away, and isn’t accompanied with typical cold symptoms, visit your GP to check you aren’t suffering from something like the flu, asthma, or an infection.

Why do you cough a lot more during pregnancy?

Pregnant women are more likely to get coughs because their body’s defense against illnesses – the immune system – is lower.

When you’re pregnant, says the NHS, “your body naturally weakens your immune system to ensure the pregnancy is successful”.

This means you’re more susceptible to all germs that cause not only coughs, but colds, too.

Tell me more about colds in pregnancy

Will your unborn baby be affected by your cough?

When you cough, your tummy moves up and down, which your baby may feel. But they won’t be physically affected by your coughing.

If you find that it’s uncomfortable when you cough, and you feel as if you’re straining your tummy muscles, use a hand to support your lower abdomen.

While your actual coughing won’t harm your baby – make sure you don’t have a fever. If you’re pregnant and have a raised temperature, you should contact your doctor try to reduce it to safe levels as quickly as possible.

Midwife Karina Dyer explains that a doctor will be looking for whether you have an infection – such as a chest or ear infection. “Colds are caused by a virus, but they can leave you open to catch bacterial infections, which need to be treated with antibiotics prescribed by your doctor,” she explains.

When should you see your doctor about your cough?

See you doctor if you have:

  • A persistent cough or you’re bringing up fluid when you cough
  • You also feel sick
  • You have a temperature that doesn’t come down after taking paracetamol
  • You have a temperature, are coughing up green mucus, finding it harder to breathe than normal and generally feel unwell

Together, these symptoms could indicate that you have a chest infection. Your doctor may be able to prescribe antibiotics. If your chest infection is left untreated, it may affect your unborn baby.

What medicine can you take for a cough in pregnancy?

Paracetamol is fine to take, but don’t take Ibuprofen or aspirin, unless specifically recommended by your doctor.

Head to your local pharmacist as he or she will be able to provide you with information about what’s safe and suitable.

“However, it’s best off going to your doctor, because you get free prescriptions when you’re pregnant,” says Lorraine Berry, registered midwife and Natal Hypnotherapist, from Birth Affinity.

Make sure you read the packet of any medication before you use it as some can be dangerous to take in the first three months of pregnancy but safe in the second and third trimester, or vice versa.

“There really isn’t enough information on decongestant products like Vics, Olbas Oil and menthol, so it’s best to avoid them, particularly before 12 weeks. If you do need to use it, use it sparingly with a couple of drops on a hanky that you whiff every now and again,” explains Lorraine.

“Lots of women get nasal congestion during pregnancy because of pregnancy hormones. Regardless of whether you have a cold or not, you may be stuffed up,” she says.

Paracetamol in pregnancy: is it safe?

Read more here about which medicines are safe to take in pregnancy

What are the natural remedies for coughs?

Midwife Karina’s top remedies to help relieve a persistent cough during pregnancy are:

  • Keep hydrated by drinking lots of fluids, preferably water but also orange juice, which contains lots of vitamin C
  • Up your intake of fruit and vegetables and maintain a healthy diet
  • Rest when you need to and make sure you have a good night’s sleep
  • Your doctor can prescribe you with simple linctus – cough syrup made from glycerine and sugar

And on our forum, MFMer ginger_wookey advises, “With my awful cough before Christmas I found that plain lemon juice with honey and boilng water was really good to sip at to reduce the couging spasms. Add a nice teaspoon of Manuka honey if you have any.”

Are there any ways you can prevent coughs in pregnancy?

On average, we catch around three colds a year. So you’re unlikely to be able to avoid it altogether – but there are ways you can try and minimise your chance of getting a cough:

  • Follow good hygiene by washing your hands regularly with soap and hot water or by using antibacterial hand drops, which are safe to use during pregnancy
  • Drink plenty of fresh orange juice for vitamin C
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Try to get sufficient sleep and rest
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes or nose when you’re out and about
  • Stay away from sharing platters or sharing glasses / cutlery

Coughing and your pelvic floor

Many women experience a weakened pelvic floor in pregnancy. The strain of coughing may consequently cause a  little leak or two. While this is entirely normal, it’s a reminder that you need to work hard on developing the strength of your pelvic floor muscles.

One MFMer found that coughing put an even bigger strain on her pelvic floor: “I have had a bad cough for about 2 weeks and I keep peeing myself a bit with every cough and I’m only 20 weeks!… I did do pelvic floor exercises last time but hardly ever remembered. I do try to do them now…” Wannanother

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Think you could do with more strength ‘down there’? Here’s more about pelvic floor exercises

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