Childhood Illnesses During Pregnancy

How five common childhood infections can affect pregnancy.

Not Just for Kids

Would you pass up the chance to hug your friend's toddler or hold her baby? Unlikely. No one can resist cuteness, but those chubby little hands could be carrying more than teething biscuits. Their fingers are often in their mouth, nose, and, yes, their diapers -- creating perfect living conditions for germs. Fortunately, most illnesses won't harm your unborn baby, although there are a few you should look out for. Here's a rundown of common viruses kids are exposed to and what you need to know about them.

The Common Cold

Got the sniffles? A cold isn't dangerous, although it is uncomfortable, starting with a runny nose, followed by nasal stuffiness and often a sore throat, headache, mild body aches, and a low fever.

What to do: For the one to two weeks that colds last, rest and drink lots of fluids. Hot liquids can ease congestion, as may a saline nasal spray.

If you have a temperature that is over 100 degrees, contact your healthcare provider. You may have an illness other than a cold, such as the flu or strep throat. Or he might recommend acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) to bring down your fever. If your cold is interfering with your ability to eat or sleep, your doctor may recommend the safest medication (a decongestant or antihistamine, for example) to give you some relief. Many physicians believe that chlorpheniramine (the antihistamine found in medications like Chlor-Trimeton) is among the safest because pregnant women have used it for many years and it doesn't appear to cause birth defects or other complications. If you need a decongestant, some doctors recommend oxymetazoline, which comes in nasal-spray or drop form (such as Afrin and Dristan Long Lasting), because only a small amount of it is absorbed into your system.

Always use a cold medicine that contains only the ingredient your provider recommends (many are made with more than one drug). Also, avoid cold medications that contain iodine, which can cause serious thyroid problems in your baby, as well as herbal remedies, because most have not been tested for safety in pregnancy.

The Flu

Unlike a cold, the flu comes on quickly with fever (as high as 103 degrees), headaches, muscle aches, chills, sore throat, and cough. You'll start to feel better after about four days, but the cough and fatigue can linger for two weeks or more.

What to do: A high fever during pregnancy may be harmful, so contact your physician if you suspect the flu. Moms-to-be are at increased risk for complications, such as pneumonia, so call your doctor again if you don't feel better after several days, your cough worsens, or you're having trouble breathing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women who will be pregnant from October through mid-May -- the flu season -- get vaccinated. (Expectant moms, however, shouldn't get Flumist, the nasal spray vaccine.)

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