Cough in pregnancy can be more intense and long-lasting than usual. Cough, in general, is a self-limiting condition. However, it can be more uncomfortable during pregnancy, when the body undergoes various physical, emotional, and hormonal changes and changes to the immune system.
The America Pregnancy Association states that pregnancy-associated immune system changes can increase a pregnant woman’s susceptibility to various infections and allergens and lead to cough during pregnancy (1) (2). Moreover, one may develop a cough if they contract influenza (flu) or the common cold during pregnancy.
In this post, you can read about the causes of cough, its impact on the fetus, and management and preventive strategies.
What Causes Cough During Pregnancy?
Cough can be a presenting symptom of the following conditions during pregnancy:
- Common cold or mild upper respiratory illness: Caused by numerous viruses and contracted due to immunogenic changes in pregnancy (3)
- Influenza or flu: It can be severe in pregnancy and harmful for the developing baby.
- Pregnancy rhinitis (or hormonal rhinitis): A symptom or side effect of pregnancy that includes a stuffy (nasal congestion) and runny nose, sneezing, and a post-nasal drip, which can cause coughing (5)
- SARS-CoV-2 infection: Responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic (6)
Other conditions that can cause cough in pregnancy are (7)
- Asthma or bronchial asthma
- Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) or heartburn
- Allergic rhinitis
How Is Cough Treated In Pregnancy?
Since several factors are responsible for cough in pregnancy, the treatment depends on the type of cough and underlying cause. The following are some methods to treat cough in pregnancy (1):
- Coughs due to nasal congestion can be relieved with nasal strips, saline nasal drops, keeping your head elevated while sleeping, or using a humidifier.
- Adequate rest, sleep, water intake, and a healthy diet could improve immunity, helping your body recover from illnesses and mild cough.
- Certain over-the-counter (OTC) drugs may also help treat cough and cold in pregnancy. However, avoid self-medication and consult your health care provider before taking any medications.
The following are some medications that are safe for treating cough in pregnancy (1):
- Acetaminophen (paracetamol) can relieve fever, cough, and cold.
- Cough suppressants, including dextromethorphan at a maximum dose of 120mg per day, help treat dry cough in pregnancy (8) (9).
- Anesthetic sore throat lozenges can ease throat pain or irritation, which causes cough.
- Decongestants may be harmful to the baby if overused. Consult your doctor before using them (3) (10)
- OTC antihistamine drugs such as cetirizine are relatively safe and help relief flu symptoms. They, however, may cause a sleepiness.
What Are The Natural Remedies For Cough In Pregnancy?
Since cough medicines are often contraindicated in pregnancy, natural remedies are suggested to treat cough, including (1)
- Drinking warm water
- Gargling with salty warm water
- Honey (9)
- Green tea or herbal tea
Herbs such as sage, chamomile, thyme, aniseed, fenugreek, peppermint, eucalyptus, cumin, garlic, and ginger are useful in treating cough in pregnancy. However, consult your doctor before taking these herbs (11) (12).
How Can Cough In Pregnancy Be Prevented?
To avoid falling sick or contracting a cold or cough during pregnancy, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is of prime importance. Your daily routine should include (1):
- Rest: Adequate rest and sleep are critical and give the body enough time to replenish.
- Drink plenty of fluids: Drink lots of water, juice, or healthy soups to help restore the necessary fluids in the body.
- Diet: Eat balanced, healthy, and nutritious food.
- Routine exercise: Do exercises regularly, including aerobic and strength-conditioning exercises. However, contact your health care provider or physiotherapist before exercising (13)
- Have covid-appropriate behavior by wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing.
Other methods to prevent contracting a cough when pregnant are (1)
- Regular hand washing
- Avoiding allergen exposure (10)
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands (14)
- Avoiding physical contact with sick people and sharing cutlery or towels with them
- Avoiding smoking and second-hand smoke, which cause respiratory irritation (15).
- Taking your prenatal vitamins and probiotics on time
- Getting your flu shots, covid vaccinations and Tdap vaccine (2) (4)
Does Coughing During Pregnancy Harm The Baby?
Although contracting an ordinary cough during pregnancy may cause fatigue, it is usually not harmful to the baby. However, the CDC states that colds and flu with high grade fever right before or in the early weeks of pregnancy may cause congenital impairments, including (16):
- Cleft lip with or without cleft palate
- Limb reduction
- Spina bifida
- Colonic atresia/stenosis
- Bilateral renal agenesis/hypoplasia
When Should You See A Doctor?
- If your cough does not improve and persists for more than seven days
- If you have difficulty sleeping and eating
- If your cough produces greenish/yellow sputum
- If you develop chest pain, breathing difficulty, or wheezing along with the cough
- If you have a fever (over 100.2°F) with the cough
Frequently Asked Questions
- Why does coughing make me leak in my pants?
During pregnancy, you may use the bathroom more frequently and have urine leakage (urinary incontinence) because of the pressure added by the uterus on your bladder. This causes the bladder to compress, leaving less space for urine and leading to stress urinary incontinence (SUI). Hence, extra pressure or stress is added when you cough or laugh, causing urine leakage or SUI (15).
Pregnant women are susceptible to cough and respiratory infections due to weaker immunity during pregnancy. Coughs in pregnancy can be treated using a humidifier, gargling with warm salt water, and OTC drugs such as acetaminophen and dextromethorphan. Typically, cough in pregnancy is not harmful to the baby; however, consult a doctor if you have a cough with fever, breathing difficulty or a persistent cough.
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- Aida Erebara et al.; (2008); Treating the common cold during pregnancy.
- Get the Whooping Cough Vaccine During Each Pregnancy.
- If your nose is itching it may be allergic rhinitis.
- Dominik Wolff et al.; (2021); Risk factors for Covid-19 severity and fatality: a structured literature review.
- M A Ryabova et al.; (2016); Differential diagnostics of the causes responsible for a cough in the pregnant women.
- Medicines in pregnancy.
- Which over-the-counter cold medications are safe during pregnancy?
- Coughs and Colds in Pregnancy.
- Lisha J. John and Nisha Shantakumari; (2015); Herbal Medicines Use During Pregnancy: A Review from the Middle East.
- Common cold.
- Pregnancy and exercise.
- Colds and pregnancy.
- Tips to prevent involuntary urine leakage (incontinence) during and after pregnancy.
- Maternal Cold or Flu with Fever During Pregnancy May Be Linked to Birth Defects.