January 18, 2020

Handle with Care: Managing Cold and Flu Season for Mothers-to-be

pregnant woman with doctorBy Trisha McBride Ferguson

Winter weather means cooler temperatures and an increase in the occurrence of colds and influenza (the flu). For pregnant women and those breastfeeding, these common ailments bring special considerations. Knowing what to do if you catch a cold or the flu is important to keeping both mother and baby healthy.

Safety First

Unlike some other viruses, the viruses that cause the cold and flu are not expected to be harmful to a developing baby during pregnancy, explained Lorrie Harris-Sagaribay, MPH, Coordinator of MotherToBaby North Carolina. “However, a high fever in early pregnancy can increase the chance of certain birth defects. Pregnant women have a higher chance of complications from the flu than nonpregnant people do, and being very sick from the flu may increase the chance of pregnancy loss or preterm delivery,” said Harris-Sagaribay.

Check with Your Doctor

Pregnant women who suspect they have the flu should contact their healthcare provider as soon as possible, suggested Harris-Sagaribay. “If caught early, antiviral medications, which require a prescription, can reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms,” she said.

And, most women can continue to breastfeed when they have a cold or flu. “Breast milk contains remarkable antibodies that strengthen a baby’s own immune system,” said Harris-Sagaribay.


When deciding whether to use an over-the-counter medicine for cold or flu while pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s best to consult your physician. “Some medications have been well-studied for use during pregnancy and lactation, and are not expected to increase risks, while others have less data or can increase the chances of problems for the baby,” said Harris-Sagaribay.

Handwashing Is Key

Just as handwashing is important to stop the spread of the cold and flu between adults, it’s also a critical measure for breastfeeding moms to avoid passing cold or flu germs to their baby. “Handwashing is a simple yet effective way to avoid cold germs,” said Harris-Sagaribay. “Getting the flu vaccine each year is the best way to decrease the chance of getting the flu, and the flu vaccine is recommended for most women during pregnancy.”

Lorrie Harris-Sagaribay, MPH, is Coordinator of MotherToBaby North Carolina.

For more information about medications and their use in pregnancy or breastfeeding, ask your healthcare provider or contact MotherToBaby free of charge by phone (800-532-6302), text (855-999-3525) or via email or live chat at mothertobaby.org.