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 on what meds you can take – and when you'd need to see a doctor

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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 your baby – he or she is well protected inside you.

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“If you’ve got a cough during pregnancy,”  says midwife and health visitor Karina Dyer, “it could well be your body’s way of saying slow down and rest – so take as much time out as you can.”

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

Why am I coughing a lot more during pregnancy?

Pregnant women are more likely to get coughs because, as US researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have found, our body’s defense against illnesses – our immune system – is altered, and sometimes lowered.

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

Will my unborn baby be affected by my coughs in pregnancy?

No. When you cough, your tummy moves up and down, which your baby may feel. But he or she 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 the muscles around your bump, you can use a hand to support your lower abdomen when you feel a cough coming on.

So, is there any need to see a doctor about my coughs in pregnancy?

While the actual act of coughing won’t harm your baby, it’s worth making sure you don’t have a fever, or anything more serious, along with that cough.

For that reason, you should see your GP 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. And if that’s the case, your doctor may want to prescribe antibiotics, as a chest infection left untreated may affect your unborn baby.

What medicine can I take for a coughs in pregnancy?

Paracetamol is fine to take in pregnancy but it’s best not to take ibuprofen or aspirin, unless they are specifically recommended by your doctor.

Make sure you read the packet of any other medication or over-the-counter cough remedy before you use it as some can be dangerous to take in the first 3 months of pregnancy but safe in the 2nd and 3rd trimester, or vice versa. Your local pharmacist as he or she will be able to provide you with information about what’s safe and suitable.

“There really isn’t enough information on decongestant products like  Olbas Oil and menthol, so it’s best to avoid them, particularly before 12 weeks. After that, use them sparingly with a couple of drops on a hanky that you whiff every now and again,” says Lorraine Berry, registered midwife and natal hypnotherapist.

What are the natural remedies for coughs in pregnancy?

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

  • Drink lots of fluids, preferably water but also orange juice, which contains lots of vitamin C
  • Increase 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
  • See if your GP can can prescribe you some simple linctus (a 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 coughing 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 all catch around 3 colds a year, even when we’re not pregnant. 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…

  • Wash 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

Why is coughing making me wet my pants a little?

The strain of coughing may consequently cause a little leak or two – because pregnancy can weaken your pelvic floor (the muscles supporting your bladder and vulva) – as forum mum-to-be Wannanother found that: “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!”

While this is entirely normal and nothing to be over-worried about it, it’s a reminder that it’s worth doing pelvic-floor exercises throughout your pregnancy.

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