Pregnant women have a lot of concerns about their pregnancy. Coughing can really FEEL like you’re going to induce, labor. So, let’s talk about coughs in general in pregnancy and then also if they will put you into labor.
Can Coughing Induce Labor?
The short answer is no, not really. However, some of the things that happen along with coughing (fever, dehydration etc) can make you contract.
But, coughing can be really complicated during pregnancy…. so let’s keep reading!
But first, how do I know all of this? Hi — I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse 👩⚕️. I have been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of OB nursing experience, I am also the curly head behind Pulling Curls and The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. 🩺 I have seen THOUSANDS of sick women in labor and delivery triage and I am aware of when it’s OK to treat at home, or when it’s best to see a provider.
I’d love it if you’d join me in my Free Beginning Prenatal Class:
Pregnant & Coughing
Coughing is most often a symptom of an upper respiratory infection. Most often those are a viral infection, but can definitely cause a bad cough! Other symptoms can be a runny nose, sore throat or sometimes an increased heart rate due to the fever (however, if your heart feels funny I would definitely consult your provider for medical advice or medical treatment).
Symptoms like a bad cough or a high fever are something you should contact your provider about. We’re going to talk more about why a bit more in this article.
Of course, with a cough comes the importance of disease control and keeping those that you are in close contact with disease-free. Make sure you are covering your mouth when you cough, using tissue and washing your hands frequently to keep family members safe.
They really recommend all pregnant women get their flu vaccine, so talk with your provider about when that is important for you.
Bad Cough in Pregnancy
Large amounts of coughing can certainly be super annoying during pregnancy, especially with your growing belly. You need to consult with your health care provider about what/if you can take anything. As you head into your second trimester, there may be more medications you can take than in your first trimester (see my post on Sudafed in pregnancy). Cold medicines can be really tricky, especially if you have high blood pressure. I also have a post on cough medicines in pregnancy.
Also, if a cough lingers it could be a bacterial infection, and they may want to give you antibiotics for it.
Why Coughs Can be Problematic for Pregnant People
Pregnant women can have more severe upper respiratory issues due to their already decreased lung capacity, plus the blood flow of keeping two people alive vs the general population (meaning you have greater oxygen consumption). Make sure that you talk with medical professionals if you have a severe illness, shortness of breath or chest pain. They will want to monitor you in case you have a dangerous complication.
In fancy medical terms, during pregnancy your functional residual capacity (how much air is in the lungs after your exhale) is decreased by 20% — most often due to changes to your thorax during pregnancy (baby pushing up). Your ribs do expand a BIT to help alleviate this, but it doesn’t quite make up for it. it’s why, especially during your later months of pregnancy you’ll feel out of breath frequently.
Please note that it isn’t unusual to have a persistent cough after a viral infection. Staying hydrated and rest are two of the most important things you can do in that situation.
Coughing can also come with an allergic reaction, so it would be important to know what YOU think is causing it (does it come with itchy, watery eyes as well? — that could be a sign of allergies).
All of this means that if you’re having a bad cough you should definitely contact your provider so they can make sure that you’re doing OK. Your risk of complications can be higher than other’s.
Coughing & Peeing
Sometimes when you cough, you may feel small amounts of urine come out, or you might think it’s amniotic fluid. It is not unusual to have a bit of urine leakage while pregnant and coughing a lot. Talk with your provider about it at your next visit. If you do think your water broke, contact them immediately.
A pregnant woman who has this issue might want to see a physical therapist to strengthen these urine preventing muscles. The hormonal changes of pregnancy can really be hard on your pelvic floor.
Premature birth is considered anything before 37 weeks of pregnancy and can happen for a variety of reasons, and there are specific risk factors that can cause it, including severe illness (like strong cold or flu).
Preterm birth can often be prevented by staying well hydrated and staying in close contact with your healthcare provider during a hard illness. Most often premature birth happens due to your body just going into labor, not a cough though.
Coughing can sometimes cause Braxton Hicks contractions, which are just basically “practice” contractions that aren’t actually putting you in labor (it’s just your uterine contractions that aren’t pushing the baby through the cerivx). Some people also call this false labor.
These types of labor can be disconcerting, especially if it is your first time. Imagine all the pressure that goes on your uterus when you cough — it’s not surprising that it might contract a few times after that.
Even if you are towards the end of pregnancy, if you are ill — they sometimes prefer that you NOT have the baby while you are ill (less chance of the baby catching it).
Coughing After Baby is Born
Many pregnant women end up having their baby while they are sick. I have a few tips for those patients:
If you have had a cesarean section, be sure to “splint” your wound by using a pillow to push over it as you cough. It puts less stress on it (ask your nurse to help you if you have questions).
You might worried about getting baby sick, and while you may want to wear a mask when you’re around baby with a bad cough, your breast milk should also have antibodies that your immune system is helping you to feel better with.
While this study is about Covid 19 it does show that most often babies didn’t get Covid even mom did have it. That’s a some good news in recent studies!
Coughing While Pregnant is Painful
It can be really painful to cough while you are pregnant. The best way is to make sure that your belly and your round ligament area (that’s the area to the sides of your belly are supported when you’re coughing. Often people can use a pillow to “splint” this area and support it when you’re coughing frequently.
So, ultimately no — coughing can’t make the baby descend into the birth canal, but coughing during pregnancy can definitely be annoying and some of the side effects can put you or your baby at risk, so be sure to stay in close contact with your provider.
If you’re not sure if you’re in labor I have a whole post on my sister side about how to know you’re in true labor? That might help you out in that area.
Ok, now that we’ve talked ALL about coughing during pregnancy, I just want to ask you if you’ve taken a preantal class. Did you know people who have taken a class are 10% less likely to have a cesarean section? It’s crazy results from knowing what’s going to HAPPEN and what to DO from labor.
And, now is a GREAT time to get prepared for your upcoming birth. Save 10% on The Online Prenatal Class for Couples with code PREGNURSE. Can’t wait to see you inside!
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.