Pregnant with a Cough: How to Cope

Pregnant Cough

Maybe you got a cold first, which is miserable in itself, but that turned into a cough that insists on lingering and now you are dealing with sore abdominals and not able to get good rest. Here, we will discuss causes of coughs during pregnancy and what you can do to feel better sooner.

Pregnant and coughing

Coughs—rapidly expelling air from the lungs, often with an accompanying sound—can be caused by any number of things. The most common causes are colds and allergies, but coughs also might be symptomatic of more serious conditions like pneumonia, pertussis, or flu. Because your immune system is working extra hard during pregnancy, you might be more prone to viral or bacteria infections that can cause coughs.

While a cough is never fun, getting a cough when you are pregnant is the worst. Some of the symptoms you might experience that are especially trying during pregnancy are the following:

  • Incontinence, which is the lack of control over urination, is already common in pregnancy due to the extra strain on your pelvic floor muscles. Add the stress of coughing, and your incontinence could increase. It is not uncommon to have accidents precipitated by coughing or sneezing.
  • Muscle soreness can be particularly trying when you are pregnant. Vigorous coughing engages your abdominal muscles, which are already under strain as your baby grows bigger. It is possible that your experience of muscle soreness might be worse if you get a cough during your pregnancy.
  • Worrying about your baby is likely something you have not thought about if you get a cough while you are not pregnant. But if you are coughing a lot, you might wonder if it can harm your baby. The good news is that your baby is very well cushioned by your body and amniotic fluid, and that coughing itself does not present much danger. It is important to pinpoint the cause of the cough, as some infections can be problematic for baby.
  • Lack of rest is another annoying cough symptom that is especially troublesome during pregnancy. Because of hormonal changes, bodily discomforts, and anxiety, it can already be a trial to get enough rest during pregnancy. Constant coughing can keep you up even more.

It is a good idea to call your care provider if you have a fever, you get a cough out of the blue, your cough lasts longer than 10 days or so, coughing is painful, or you cough up bloody or green mucus. You can always check in with your provider in the case of any cough if you want to, especially to ask about possible treatments.

In order to prevent future coughs, practice good hand washing technique, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, exercise, and get a flu shot.

Coping with your cough

So what to do about your cough? If you have ruled out a more serious issue, here are some things that you can try that might help lessen your symptoms. Unfortunately, sometimes a cough just has to run its course, but by following these suggestions, you might be less miserable.

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If your cough is caused or exacerbated by congestion or post-nasal drip, which can be increased in pregnancy already, making sure you are drinking enough water can help thin mucus, potentially helping your body to clear it faster.
  • A steamy shower or a humidifier running in your bedroom while you sleep can also help loosen mucus, but make sure the humidifier is clean as mold and mildew could make your cough worse.
  • Drinking warm water with honey and lemon can be soothing for the throat and help thin mucus. Gargling with warm salt water can also help soothe a sore throat.
  • Rest as much as possible. It is easier said than done, but the more rest you get, the easier time your body will have coping with infections.
  • Ask your care provider about safe medications to take during pregnancy. Some cough syrups are safe, as are some nasal sprays that could help alleviate congestion.
  • In order to prevent future coughs, practice good hand washing technique, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, exercise, and get a flu shot. If you have older children, try to teach them good cough hygiene—coughing or sneezing into a handkerchief or your sleeve and washing hands often—to minimize the spread of illness within your family. 
Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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