Cold weather and pregnancy

Winter pregnancy means you are more likely to catch a cold and flu. Here we talk about common complaints during a winter pregnancy and how to avoid them.

In the winter months, the air is cold and dry, and we tend to spend more time indoors in close proximity to other people. This provides an ideal situation for cold and flu viruses to spread.

During pregnancy the immune system – the body’s defense against infections – is weakened. This makes pregnant women more susceptible to infections (NHS Choices, 2018a).

Colds and viruses during pregnancy

Pregnant women are at a higher risk of complications from the flu, such as pneumonia (NHS Choices, 2016). Viral infections, including seasonal flu, can cause harm to a mother and baby during pregnancy (RCOG, 2015).

It can also be serious for new-born babies if they catch the infection from their mothers (RCOG, 2015). In very rare cases, getting flu during pregnancy can also lead to an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth or having a low weight baby (RCOG, 2015).

To help avoid catching the flu:

  • Make sure you wash your hands regularly.
  • Clean surfaces like your keyboard, telephone, and door handles regularly to get rid of germs.
  • Try to keep your distance from people with coughs or colds.
  • Get vaccinated.

(RCOG, 2015; NHS Choices, 2018a)

Flu vaccination

The NHS recommends that all pregnant women should get the flu vaccine (NHS Choices, 2018a). The flu vaccine is safe any time during your pregnancy, whether it’s your the first few weeks or your expected due date (NHS Choices, 2016). The risk of flu increases in the later stages of pregnancy and it’s never too late to get vaccinated.

The best time to have a flu vaccine is from the beginning of October to November (RCOG, 2015). Don’t worry if you have missed it, you can have the vaccine at any time during the flu season and at any point in your pregnancy. The vaccine is usually available between September and January or February (NHS Choices, 2016).

Winter snow and ice

If you are pregnant during winter it’s important to wrap up warm and minimise your expose to extreme cold. That’s especially true in weather conditions like snow and ice, where there is more chance of slipping in icy conditions.

Dry and itchy skin

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can lead to dry and itchy skin (NHS Choices, 2018b). And changes in temperature, like when you switch between chilly winter air and warm central heating, can make the skin worse.

As your bump grows the stretching of the skin over your tummy might cause itching. Wearing loose clothes may help prevent it, as your clothes are less likely to rub against your skin and cause irritation. You may also want to avoid synthetic materials and opt for natural ones, such as cotton, instead. These are ‘breathable’ and allow the air to circulate close to your skin.

A cool bath or applying lotion or moisturiser can help soothe itchy skin. Some women find that products with strong perfumes irritate their skin, so you could try using unperfumed lotion or soap.

Warning signs

Mild itching is not usually harmful to you or your baby. But it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious liver condition intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP), also known as obstetric cholestasis (OC). Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy needs medical attention (NHS Choices, 2018b).

Let your midwife or doctor know if you are experiencing itching, particularly if you notice it more in the evenings or at night (NHS Choices, 2018b). They can decide whether you need to have any further investigations.

Vitamin D

It’s recommended that all adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, consider taking a supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day.

Vitamin D helps maintain a healthy body and immune system. It forms in our skin in response to sunlight, and as a result vitamin D deficiency is common in northern Europe in the winter months.

Women with pigmented skin and pregnant women are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. A dose of at least 25 micrograms of vitamin D a day is recommended in women who might be at high risk of vitamin D deficiency (RCOG, 2014). This includes women with darker skin tones or those who have less sunlight getting to their skin (RCOG, 2014).

Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a risk of gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, small for gestational age and low birth weight infants (Wei et al, 2013; NHS, 2016). Vitamin D is found in foods such as oily fish, eggs, fortified margarines, and some breakfast cereals (NHS Choices, 2010). But as vitamin D is found only in a small number of foods, whether naturally or added, it might be difficult to get enough from foods alone.

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 what NCT activities are happening nearby.

NHS Choices. (2010) Vitamin D immune system boost? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/vitamin-d-immune-system-… [Accessed 8th April 2018]

NHS Choices. (2016) The flu jab in pregnancy. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/flu-jab-vaccine-pregna… [Accessed 8th April 2018]

NHS Choices. (2018a) Why are pregnant women at higher risk of flu complications? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/3096.aspx?CategoryID=5 [Accessed 8th April 2018]

NHS Choices. (2018b) Itching and intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/itching-obstetric-chol… [Accessed 8th April 2018]

RCOG. (2014) Vitamin D in pregnancy. Available from:  https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/scientific-im… [Accessed 8th April 2018]

RCOG. (2015) Flu vaccination in pregnancy protests both mothers and babies say doctors and midwives. Available from: https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/news/flu-vaccination-in-pregnancy-protects-b… [Accessed 8th April 2018]

Wei SQ, Qi HP, Luo ZC, Fraser WD. (2013) Maternal vitamin D status and adverse pregnancy outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Maternal-fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 26(9:889-899. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23311886 [Accessed 8th April 2018]

Further reading

Hampshire Hospitals (2017). Noro virus. Available from: https://www.hampshirehospitals.nhs.uk/media/234101/norovirus.pdf [Accessed 8th April 2018]

NHS Choices. (2016) Which oral vitamin D dosing regimens correct deficiency in pregnancy? Available from: https://www.sps.nhs.uk/articles/which-oral-vitamin-d-dosing-regimens-co… [Accessed 8th April 2018]

NHS Choices. (2018b) Can I take paracetamol when I am pregnant? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/2397.aspx?CategoryID=54&SubCategoryID=129 [Accessed 8th April 2018]

NHS Choices. (2018c) Can I take ibuprofen when I am pregnant? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/2398.aspx?CategoryID=73&SubCategoryID=107 [Accessed 8th April 2018]

NHS Choices. (2018d) Decongestants. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/decongestants/ [Accessed 8th April 2018]

NHS Choices. (2018e) Common cold. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/common-cold/ [Accessed 8th April 2018]

NHS Choices. (2018f) Is it safe to use a sauna or Jacuzzi if I’m pregnant? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/2402.aspx?CategoryID=54 [Accessed 8th April 2018]

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