Colds are never fun—least of all when you’re already fatigued from growing a baby inside of you. And now, new research finds another downside to having the sniffles when you’re pregnant: Colds during pregnancy are linked to an increased risk of your baby developing asthma, says a study in Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
Researchers followed more than 500 children from birth to age five, interviewing their parents during pregnancy and each year after birth. Kids whose mothers contracted more than three colds during pregnancy were twice as likely to develop asthma by five-years-old.
Experts aren’t quite sure what may be responsible for this link, but there may be a larger genetic factor involved. (Some moms may have a gene that increases their risk of upper respiratory tract infections, and asthma in their children.)
So, contracting a cold during pregnancy isn’t cause for crisis-mode, but it does raise a few questions. Here are some cold-hard facts, courtesy of Marjorie Greenfield, M.D., division chief of General Obstetrics and Gynecology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.
You’re more susceptible to colds during pregnancy
Your immune system doesn’t work quite as well when you’re pregnant to keep your body from fighting off the baby, so you may experience more colds than usual.
Consider it another reason to stay physically active: Regular exercise reduces the chances you’ll get sick by about 29 percent, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (People in the study did moderate intensity cardio—like cycling—for 45 minutes most days of the week.)
Related: 33 Reasons to Exercise Now
And become even more vigilant about washing your hands with warm soap and water, especially after touching doorknobs, railings, or elevator buttons. Be sure to avoid touching your face— you can transfer viruses to a mucus membrane in your eyes, nose, or mouth.
You can (probably) take an OTC drug
But the general rule is to try to alleviate symptoms with non-medical things first. Use a humidifier or take a warm shower to help loosen secretions. If those approaches don’t help, many over-the-counter cold medications are safe to take during pregnancy, but always check with your physician or midwife first. Then, read labels and choose medications that target the specific symptoms you’re having. Otherwise, you could end up taking ingredients you don’t really need.
Don’t fool around with fevers
This is the one exception to the rule above about trying non-medical approaches first. A fever at any point in your pregnancy, and especially during the first trimester, can put your baby at a higher risk of birth defects. Take Tylenol, and call your doctor or midwife immediately. If you’re diagnosed with the flu, ask your health care provider about Tamiflu, an antiviral that's usually safe for pregnant women.
Related: The First Trimester Fever Risk