A fever during pregnancy may occur in any trimester and may not usually cause any problems. However, high fever along with other signs of illness may raise concerns for maternal and fetal health. In such cases, timely treatment is essential to avoid potential complications, including congenital malformations and even a miscarriage. Thankfully, most expecting mothers may usually recover with timely treatment with no adverse effect on their baby’s health.
Read on to know more about fever during pregnancy, its causes, and the signs to note.
What Is Considered A Fever During Pregnancy?
A fever is a temporary increase in body temperature. It is not a disease but is a symptom of an underlying illness. The normal body temperature of a human is 98.6°F (37°C). If the temperature increases above 100.4°F (38°C), it is a fever (1).
What Can Cause A Fever During Pregnancy?
The causes of fevers during pregnancy are the same as those during any other period of life. However, a woman’s immune system is weaker during pregnancy due to the dual load of protecting the mother and the fetus. This makes a pregnant woman more susceptible to regular infections that can cause fever in pregnancy.
- Common cold: The common cold is caused mostly by viruses that affect the respiratory system. A cold is a mild infection that may last for a week. The common symptoms include fever, runny or blocked nose, sore throat, cough, and sneezing. Since it is a sign of viral infection, consult your healthcare provider within 48 hours after the onset of symptoms (2).
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs): Nearly eight percent of pregnant women are affected by a urinary tract infection during pregnancy (3). A UTI occurs when the causative organism (mostly bacteria) travels to the bladder, usually through the urethra. The signs of UTI include a stinging sensation while passing urine, an uncontrollable urge to urinate, incontinence in peeing, and smelly, bloody, or foul-smelling urine (4).
- Chorioamnionitis: It is a condition in which the amniotic fluid (surrounding the fetus) gets infected with bacteria. It usually follows a UTI. A tender uterus, excessive sweat, increased heart rate, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, and fever are the signs of chorioamnionitis (5).
- Influenza: The compromised immunity puts pregnant women and the fetus at risk of influenza. A fever accompanied by chills, body aches, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, headache, sore throat, diarrhea, or vomiting could be due to the flu (6).
- Listeriosis: It is a severe food-borne infection that may cause irreversible complications in the fetus. Fortunately, it is a rare illness in most parts of the world due to better regulation by food regulatory bodies to prevent food contamination (7). The symptoms appear two months after the infection. Diarrhea, upset stomach, fever with chills, stiff neck, loss of balance, confusion, and headache are a few symptoms of listeriosis (8).
- COVID-19: Pregnant women are at an increased risk of becoming severely ill on catching the novel coronavirus. The disease may remain asymptomatic in a few; hence caution is advised if you have come in contact with an affected individual. COVID-19 manifests itself through the regular flu-like symptoms (9).
- Fifth disease: The fifth disease is caused by parvovirus B19 and seldom occurs in adults. The illness may be asymptomatic in a few and cause a rash on the face, joint pains, diarrhea, red eyes, runny nose, swollen glands, diarrhea, fever, or headache in others (10).
How Can Fever Affect Pregnancy?
Since fever indicates an underlying illness, its effect on pregnancy is mainly dependent on the cause. A high-grade fever, if unattended, might be fatal to the baby. Fever and infections during pregnancy may lead to the following complications in the baby.
- Cardiovascular malformations: A fever during the first trimester of pregnancy increases the chances of a congenital heart defect (11).
- Miscarriage: Fever and bacterial infections during pregnancy could cause miscarriages in some cases (12).
- Neural tube defects: Women who develop a fever during the early stages of pregnancy are more likely to have babies with neural tube defects. This is because the neural tube forms during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Folic acid intake may reduce the incidence in such cases (13).
- Oral cleft: There is strong evidence that fever in pregnancies could cause oral clefts in babies (14).
Running a fever early in pregnancy may usually cause more harm to the baby (13). Therefore, the intake of antipyretics (pills that reduce the body temperature) during this phase could be helpful. Consult your doctor before taking any medications during pregnancy.
Is Fever A Sign Of Pregnancy?
Fever is not a sign of pregnancy. Hot flashes and feeling warm are common complaints in pregnant women, but it is not to be confused with fever. The best way to confirm pregnancy is to do a home pregnancy test followed by a visit to your doctor.
How To Reduce Fever With Natural Remedies?
Here are a few natural home remedies to cool the body during a fever in pregnancy.
- Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids, such as fresh homemade juices and coconut water, to help the body manage the fever better. You may also drink warm water if you have a fever with congestion.
- Dress comfortably: Wear loose clothing made from light and breathable fabrics. It will provide adequate ventilation to your body.
- Rest well: Exhaustion often accompanies fever; hence rest well. Good rest helps in recouping the body’s strength.
- Stay in a cool area: Stay in a cool and well-ventilated room. Avoid using an air conditioner as it may make you feel cold. Instead, keep the room airy with the help of a table or ceiling fan.
- Gargle: If you have the flu, gargling with warm salty water could feel soothing to the irritated throat. It may also make you feel better and make it easier to tolerate the fever.
- Eat healthily: Consume foods with immune-boosting power. Eat a hygienically prepared, balanced diet. Have small frequent meals instead of eating large portions at once.
- Sponge the body: Soak a washcloth in water at room temperature and place it on your forehead. You may also rub the wet washcloth on your hands and legs. This can help reduce the body temperature through water evaporation.
What Are The Medications Prescribed?
Your doctor may prescribe pregnancy-safe medications, such as acetaminophen (paracetamol), to reduce the body temperature. The doctor may also prescribe other medicines, such as antibiotics, to treat the underlying cause of fever. Women with fever in the third trimester may be given non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as Ibuprofen. Do not self-medicate, and only have medicines if prescribed by the doctor. Always check the expiration date of the medicine before having it (2).
How To Prevent Fever During Pregnancy?
You may prevent fever during pregnancy through some precautions and preventive measures. Most of these measures involve avoiding pathogens and infections that lead to fever in the first place.
- Wash your hands frequently with a hand wash.
- Get your vaccinations against seasonal flu and H1N1 influenza on time.
- Maintain distance from ill people.
- Avoid eating foods outside.
- Eat hygienically prepared homemade food.
- Avoid consuming unpasteurized milk. Purchase food products approved by food regulatory bodies.
- Do not visit hot tubs, saunas, or tanning beds that increase your body temperature and may cause a temporary fever.
When To Call A Doctor?
Call your doctor if your body temperature rises above normal. You must also see a doctor if you experience the following.
- Shortness of breath
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Persistent cough
- Back or abdominal pain
- Chest pain
- Vaginal bleeding
- Dizziness or blurred vision
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Does fever in pregnancy increase the risk of autism, attention deficits, or developmental delays in my baby?
A fever during pregnancy may cause neurodevelopmental delays in babies, especially during the early stages. These disorders may include autism spectrum disorder and developmental delays. It does pose a risk factor and hence requires medical attention (15) (16).
2. How long can a fever last during pregnancy?
Fever in pregnancy lasts as long as the underlying maternal infection does. Therefore, consult your doctor to examine the cause and resolve the fever sooner.
If you develop a fever when pregnant, do not panic. Mild fever with no debilitating symptoms seldom causes any problems to you or your baby. Nevertheless, it is always good to consult the doctor, and it is even more essential if you have other severe symptoms. Timely diagnosis of the underlying cause can help resolve fever early, preventing the risk of potential complications in the baby.
- Cold And Flu During Pregnancy.
- Urinary Tract Infections During Pregnancy.
- Urinary Tract Infections (Uti’s) In Pregnancy.
- Influenza (flu) And Pregnancy.
- Vanitha Janakirama; (2008); Listeriosis In Pregnancy: Diagnosis, Treatment, And Prevention.
- Listeria And Pregnancy.
- Coronavirus Infection And Pregnancy.
- Fifth Disease And Pregnancy.
- Lorenzo D. Botto, et al.; (2014); Congenital Heart Defects After Maternal Fever.
- C. Egloff, et al.; (2020); Causes And Consequences Of Fever During Pregnancy: A Retrospective Study In A Gynaecological Emergency Department
- Maternal Fever During Early Pregnancy May Be Linked To Birth Defects.
- Dorothy Kim Waller, et al.; (2017); Maternal Report Of Fever From Cold Or Flu During Early Pregnancy And The Risk For Noncardiac Birth Defects, National Birth Defects Prevention Study, 1997–2011.
- Ousseny Zerbo, et al.; (2013); Is Maternal Influenza Or Fever During Pregnancy Associated With Autism Or Developmental Delays? Results From The Charge (Childhood Autism Risks From Genetics And Environment) Study.
- Sevi Giakoumelou, et al.; (2015); The Role Of Infection In Miscarriage.