Having a cough during pregnancy is absolutely miserable. Not only can you take les medication, you also have a baby taking up all your normal “air” space in your lungs. So, can it hurt the baby? Mostly, no. The baby should be fine from the actual motion of coughing (and I’ll explain why) but if you have a cough there’s also some things you need to watch out for — let’s get going!
The fun fact about pregnancy is that L&D sees ALL pregnant patients that come to the ER after about 20’ish weeks of pregnancy. SO everyone that came into the ER with coughs and cold comes to us, so I’ve seen a LOT of it and talked with a lot of providers about it. I’m an expert on this. In addition I’ve had my own coughs during pregnancy and so I have that added benefit as well.
If you like that expertise — let me join you for your pregnancy:
Can coughing hurt the baby?
If we’re talking about the actual mechanics of coughing — most likely not. Your baby is wrapped in:
- Layers of fat
- Layers of abdominal muscle, the uterus (which is muscle tissue)
- The amniotic sac (which is normally very strong)
- Amniotic fluid
- There’s also something called Wharton’s jelly that protects the cord from the baby squeezing it (think of it as a greased pig — it just slides out from pinching or getting caught somewhere).
All of those things work to protect baby from anything natural like COUGHING that could happen.
This is extra true early in your pregnancy. Your developing baby is WELL protected. I talk about that a big more on my post on going to Disneyland rides for pregnant people.
However, the illness causing the cough can be extra problematic in pregnancy.
Can Coughing Break my Water?
This is a bigger question, especially if you’re later in your pregnancy. Your uterus is thinner then, and your amniotic sac is not as strong as you’re closer to your due date. As far as I can tell most people say “no” but I know I’ve heard people cough or sneeze and their water breaks, so I guess it’s likely.
However, in that type of situation I think your water was going to break soon, and you may already be in labor. So I really wouldn’t worry about this. The best thing you can do is stay hydrated and keep eating the rainbow of foods (I have a nutrition class in here) so that you can give your baby all the nutrients they need.
Don’t “not cough” just to protect baby. You also need to get that mucus up to help get your lungs healthy again too!
BTW, if your cough is making your provider order extra testing I talk about it more in my free prenatal class.
Can a Cold/Flu Hurt Us in Pregnancy?
Yes! Something that might be really mild when you’re not pregnant can be problematic during pregnancy for a variety of reasons:
You have less lung space — so when it’s even more restricted it truly can be problematic. Normally as baby rises up into your diaphragm area, your ribs expand to allow more air into your lungs so you get enough oxygen. If the lungs collapse due to fluid or mucus in them, it can be more problematic.
Increased Oxygen Needs — You need enough oxygen for all the extra blood you have in your body for you and baby, so your oxygen needs are increased.
Increased fluid needs — it’s just REALLY easy to become dehydrated during pregnancy. If you’re not able to get up and drink and eat — doing the things you normally do, it can really be a problem (I’ve seen this first hand).
Decreased immune response — your immune response is tricky during pregnancy. In some ways/times it is heightened, and at other times it is decreased to allow baby to grow and thrive (and for your body to not see it as an invader). See my whole post on if pregnant women are immunocompromised.
For ALL of these reasons, if you have anything that is more than just a “mild” cold than I would at least let your provider know. They know your needs and circumstances and can help you know:
- Trouble signs to watch for to get more help
- What medications you can take
- If you should be seen by them
I have a whole post on home remedies during pregnancy that you might find helpful too! Remember even over-the-counter medications can be problematic during pregnancy, so be sure to ask them what is safe to take before taking something.
A few of my best tips are:
- Honey lemon tea (just truly some lemon juice and honey in hot water)
- Use some menthol on your chest or on your feet (I also like to smear some on the bottom of the shower and take a LONG shower with LOTS of deep breathing and that seems to help
- Drink TONS of water. Hydration is really your friend in getting rid of it.
- If you also have a sore throat doing a salt water gargle can help too!
Making sure you’re eating the right stuff is also extra important during pregnancy:
My Experience With Upper Respiratory Illnesses and Pregnancy
I’ve had my own experience and I’ve also seen a lot of other really bad cases.
For myself I just was MISERABLE, I couldn’t really get up and get going like I’d like to have. I THOUGHT I was hydrating well but I really wasn’t.
I went in for a regular check-up and saw my doctor who said, “Hilary — you look horrible” so she checked my urine tests. I had a ton of ketones in my urine and it was VERY concentrated showing I wasn’t eating well and I also wasn’t hydrated.
Because my provider was a rockstar she set me up with an IV in her office. I got 2 liters of fluid before my urine was in a regular spot. I can NOT believe how much better I felt afterwards. Honestly, I was so miserable, and tired before going into the office I couldn’t have drank those 2 liters on my own. After I got it I felt like a whole new woman. DO NOT DOWNPLAY THE GLORY OF AN IV in pregnancy. I learned that lesson, and I started to get better after I was well-hydrated. Thank goodness!
As far as Patients, I have seen how quickly you can have a big issue (including death) with a flu type virus (or Covid). It’s really important that you stay in touch with your provider. You may also want to to have things like a pulse oximeter and a blood pressure cuff at your home to make sure you and baby are safe as the illness progresses, and hopefully you begin to feel better.
It’s also SUPER important to keep doing your kick counts during an illness to make sure baby is OK. Grab my kick count cheat sheet right here (you don’t do these during your first trimester or second, only in your third trimester):
So, no — coughing is likely not going to hurt the baby, but you need to be really mindful of how your oxygen status is and how you’re feeling overall. If you feel REALLY sick you need to be seen. Even a cold during pregnancy can be problematic. You can be seen by your OB or a regular provider just be clear that you’re pregnant when you go (even if you’re in your first trimester).
AND, of course be sure to wash your hands so you’re not spreading it in your household. The nurse in me has to say that. 🙂
Here’s to feeling better soon!
BTW, when you’re not feeling great is a GREAT time to get your prenatal class in. You’re already on your couch, so why not prepare for delivery at the same time? The Online Prenatal Class for Couples is truly the EASY way to get prepared for birth. I can’t wait to see you in there!
And, if you’re not quite sure you’re ready for that whole thing, check out my free prenatal class. It’s your first step toward getting in the driver’s seat of your birth.
- About the Author
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A nurse since 1997, she has worked in various fields including pediatrics, geriatrics & hospice. She has 20 years of labor and delivery experience in the San Jose, CA and Phoenix, AZ areas.
As an evidence-based prenatal educator Hilary has delivered thousands of babies and has educated hundreds of thousands of parents from a diverse patient population to help them have a confident birth.