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Coping with illness during pregnancy

Catching a cold or flu virus during pregnancy can be tough. Here we talk about how to cope with illness when you’re pregnant.

A cough, cold or flu at any time can be miserable, but it can be even more challenging when you’re pregnant (NHS, 2018a). Particularly as it’s difficult to know which medications are safe to take.

The NHS advises women to avoid taking medicines when they are pregnant, ideally. Particularly in the first three months. And often, colds or minor aches and pains do not require treatment with medicines. Check with your pharmacist, midwife or GP before taking any medicine when you are pregnant (NHS, 2018b).

Taking medicine during pregnancy

  • Paracetamol: It is usually safe to take paracetamol for fever or pain, and there is no clear evidence it has any harmful effects on an unborn baby. Yet, as with any medicine taken when you’re pregnant, use the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.
  • Paracetamol plus caffeine: Tablets that have combined paracetamol and caffeine are not recommended. Too much caffeine can result in low birth weight and has been associated with miscarriage. You do not need to cut out caffeine completely but do not have more than 200mg of caffeine a day.
  • Ibuprofen: You should avoid taking ibuprofen, especially if you are more than 30 weeks pregnant, unless advised to by a doctor. This is because it raises your risk of complications.
  • Decongestants: Watch out for cold and flu remedies as these often also have decongestant ingredients. It is not clear whether it’s safe to take decongestants if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

(NHS, 2018c,d)

Rest up

To help you get better quicker, try to make sure you get plenty of rest and sleep. Keep warm and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (NHS, 2018e). You could try gargling with salt water if you need to soothe a sore throat (NHS, 2018e).

You might have enjoyed taking a hot bath when you had a cold or the flu before your pregnancy. But now you’re pregnant it’s important to avoid making the bath too hot. Keep the water below 35°C as raising your core body temperature could be harmful for the baby (NHS, 2018f).

Winter sickness bugs

Pregnant women may also be susceptible to the winter vomiting bug or norovirus. The main symptoms of this include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea or an upset stomach. Some people might also have a fever, headache, stomach cramps and aching limbs (Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 2017).

Norovirus does not directly affect the unborn baby but diarrhoea and vomiting can cause dehydration, so drink plenty of water. If you’re experiencing norovirus symptoms, call your GP and tell them you’re pregnant. They will advise you on what to do. Don’t visit your GP unless advised to do so as it’s important not to spread norovirus, especially to the elderly (Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 2017).

Your immune system

During pregnancy the immune system is weakened, so you may feel like you’ve been hit harder or that a bug lasts longer than usual (NHS, 2018a). If you’re worried an illness is lingering, speak to your GP. They can make sure it isn’t anything serious or turning into a chest infection or pneumonia.

This page was last reviewed in April 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing whatNCT activities are happening nearby.


Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. (2017) Noro virus. Available from: [Accessed 1st April 2018]

NHS. (2018a) Why are pregnant women at higher risk of flu complications? Available from:… [Accessed 1st April 2018]


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