Month six Beat colds and flu
Struck down by the dreaded lurgy while pregnant? Here’s what you need to know about prevention and treatment of colds and flu, writes Tracey Hawthorne
IF YOU GET a cold or the flu while you’re pregnant, the good news is that even though you probably feel grim, the symptoms are typically not dangerous to your baby. And there are steps you can take to ease the symptoms and help you recover more quickly.
WHAT OVER-THE-COUNTER MEDICATION IS SAFE TO TAKE?
Don’t take any medication at all in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, as this is the crucial time when the baby’s organs are developing, says Cape Town obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Hetta van Zyl. “After 12 weeks, things get a bit easier, and there are several things you can take to relieve the symptoms of colds and flu, including Panado, Iliadin nasal spray (for short periods), plain cough syrups such as Expigen, steroid nasal sprays and zinc lozenges.” Try to target specific symptoms instead of opting for a one-size-fits-all approach, because, if you take a multisymptom medication, it will probably contain extra medicines that you don’t need. As important, adds Dr van Zyl, is knowing what to avoid. Do not take ibuprofen, aspirin, codeine or naproxen at any stage during your pregnancy for any ailment. Best yet, check in with your doctor and ask what you can take.
WHAT ABOUT ANTIBIOTICS?
Colds and flu are caused by viruses, not bacteria, so antibiotics won’t have any effect. In fact, says Dr Van Zyl, “Prescribing unnecessary antibiotics just adds to the resistance problem that we’re faced with in medicine today.” However, sometimes secondary bacterial infections set in, the most common being pneumonia (lung infection), sinusitis (sinus infection) or otitis (ear infection). “If the flu doesn’t subside or gets worse, or symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, earache or high fever unresponsive to Panado occur, it’s extremely important to see a GP or your obstetrician to establish if there’s any secondary infection,” says Dr van Zyl. She adds that the list of antibiotics contraindicated (not permitted) in pregnancy is long, so always remember to tell your doctor that you’re pregnant.
IS THE FLU VACCINE SAFE IN PREGNANCY?
“It’s completely safe after 14 weeks, and highly recommended,” says Dr van Zyl.
WHAT HOME REMEDIES FOR COLDS AND FLU ARE SAFE IN PREGNANCY?
“Safe home remedies that will help include adding honey, lemon juice or ginger to warm water or tea, taking lots of vitamin C and, of course, getting lots of rest and staying hydrated,” says Dr van Zyl. “Many people also believe in hot chicken soup.” Salt water used as a gargle or nasal rinse alleviates pain, kills germs, dries out mucus and flushes out the nasal passages. To reduce congestion, put a humidifier in your bedroom, and keep your head elevated on your pillow while resting or sleeping. To ease a sore throat, try sucking on ice chips.
PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE
The most important way to keep the bugs at bay during pregnancy is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eat nutrientrich meals, get plenty of sleep if you can, exercise regularly and take your recommended prenatal vitamins. Also, because you can catch a virus from an infectious person by touching an object or surface contaminated by infected droplets, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes, it’s vitally important to wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, especially if you have been around someone who has a cold or cough.