Colds & Flus in Pregnancy

Pregnant woman illness

Well, its that time of year…with the cold weather comes the cold and flu season.  Unfortunately, pregnant women are not immune to these common illnesses.  The good news is that, so long as a pregnant woman stays nourished with foods and fluids, colds and flus do not generally pose any threat to mom or baby.

If you are experiencing severe symptoms such as:

  • A fever
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Persistent coughing

It is a good idea to contact your care provider.

 Preventing Colds and Flus

The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is the best approach to preventing illness during pregnancy.

Basic self-care to prevent illness includes:

  • Eating nutritious and whole foods
  • Getting enough rest and sleep
  • Reducing stress
  • Getting regular moderate exercise
  • Maintaining a positive attitude

Of course, situations and factors outside of our control can make maintaining all of these elements difficult.

 First signs of illness: Take a time out

Excusing ourselves from our daily responsibilities at the first sign of illness can go a long way in preventing or reducing the duration and severity of our illness.  If possible, step away from all that can be left for another time—turn off the phone, ask for help with other children, take a sick day at work, cancel social engagements and do what nurtures you.  That could be taking a warm bath, enjoying a warm cup of tea, snuggling into bed with a good book or movie, listening to soothing music, some gentle yoga poses, a long nap, or something else.

Eating and drinking during illness

For some of us, colds and flus wipe out our appetite.  While this may be a natural by-product of the body’s fight against illness, our babies still need nourishment!  For this reason, it is important to continue to eat even when you are feeling sick.  If food doesn’t sound the least bit interesting, try clear veggie or meat broths, soups or plain toast.  Miso, chicken noodle soup, and veggie soups can actually be healing during illness.

Same goes for drinking, it is paramount to the health of you and your baby that you continue to consume an adequate amount of fluids—your baby needs amniotic fluid and your kidneys need this nourishment.  In fact, your body may actually begin contractions under the stress of dehydration.  Aim for a full glass of water, tea or broth every 1-2 hours, more often if you have a fever.

 Herbal and Dietary Treatment of Illness in Pregnancy

  • Vitamin C: Take 250 mg every 2 hours, not to exceed 2,000 mg in the first trimester and 4,000 daily in the second and third.  Don’t take Vitamin C at these levels for longer than 5 days.
  • Echinacea: This herb, safe in pregnancy, boosts the body’s immune system very effectively, especially if taken at the first sign of illness.  You can purchase Echinacea tinctures at the co-op, natural health food store, and Whole Foods.  Take one drop for every 4 pounds of body weight (140 pounds / 4 pounds = 35 drops, for example) you can repeat this every 4 hours or more often for acute illness.
  • Garlic, lemon, ginger, green onions:  all of these foods can be consumed to boost the immune system during illness.  Garlic is a bactericide, good for treating many kinds of ailments.  Ginger tea is a great natural treatment of illness.
  • Kudzu Root: Sold in chunks or as a powder, this starchy root is good for reducing fever, relaxing the muscles, taming the tummy, and soothing inflamed nasal, throat, and lung tissues. You can make Kudzu root tea by boiling a cup of apple or pear juice, adding 1 teaspoon of root powder which has been diluted in 2 tablespoons of cold water.  You can add cinnamon or ginger for warmth.

 Natural Cold Tonics

Full of immune boosting goodness, these mixed can be sipped safely at the first sign of illness:

“Terrible Tonic”

  • 3 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup of purified water

Add all ingredients to a mason jar, shake and take 3 tablespoons 6 times a day.

Cold and Flu tea

In a pan, gently boil one quart of water, adding:

  • 4-6 cloves of chopped garlic
  • 2-3 chopped green onions
  • 1-2” of minced/grated/sliced fresh ginger

Let gently boil for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and add:

  • 2-3 tablespoons of honey, or to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice, or to taste
  • ¼ t cayenne pepper

 Over the Counter Medications Considered Safe in Pregnancy

When all else fails, over the counter medications may be desired.  As with herbs, many over the counter medications are not considered safe during pregnancy.  Talk with your provider about what over-the-counter medications are best for your situation.

Six Safe Herbs for Pregnant Mamas

Through the journey of pregnancy, most women experience some less-than-desirable (or downright awful) conditions, such as morning sickness, trouble sleeping, urinary tract infections and more.  While diet and lifestyle modifications can aid in easing many of these symptoms; often times, more is needed.  However, pharmaceutical solutions pose their own risks, especially during pregnancy.  Fortunately, Mother Nature—in her infinite wisdom—has supplied many natural remedies for common pregnancy ailments.

While not all herbs are safe during pregnancy and some have not been adequately tested, there are several with a proven track record as safe and effective treatments for expectant mamas.  Herbs have been used for thousands of years to treat the discomforts and problems arising during pregnancy.

Use of herbs in pregnancy

Because many herbs have not been extensively studied in pregnant women, and others are known to be unsafe, it is important to use herbs with caution and under the guidance of your care provider.

The prudent approach to herb use in pregnancy is to:

  • avoid herbs in the first trimester of pregnancy unless necessary (with the exception of ginger to aid with morning sickness)
  • use only those herbs with demonstrated safety in pregnancy
  • always consult with a knowledgeable care provider about safe herb use for pregnancy

Herbs consumed as tea infusions in moderate amounts and consumption of normal levels of cooking spices are generally considered safe when expecting.

Some herbs should be avoided during pregnancy. They include those listed here:

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Six Safe Herbs for Pregnant Mamas

Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)

gingerSpicy and warming, ginger root is an excellent treatment for nausea and vomiting during pregnancy (i.e. morning sickness).  Morning sickness can be a grueling experience in pregnancy, which most women would give anything to relieve.  Fortunately, there are natural treatments that can alleviate nausea and sickness in pregnancy.

Ginger can also help with colds, reducing chills, coughing, and aching muscles.

How to use:

While it is safe and easy to drink tea infusions (1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger per cup of boiling water, 1-3 cups daily) or take capsules of ginger, these may not agree with some women’s stomachs in the throes of morning sickness.  There are many ginger products on the market.  Ginger candies and crystallized ginger (available at Whole Foods, co-ops, and online) are easy to keep stashed in your purse or nightstand and you can nibble them in small amounts as needed throughout the day.  Reeds and Ginger People offer great ginger products.  Ginger ale or ginger beer can also help.  While drinking soda is not ideal in pregnancy, a little ale to relieve nausea may be a worthwhile temporary savior if it does the trick (many women are further aided by the carbonation in these drinks).

Recipe: Make-your-own Ginger Ale

1 tablespoon of grated ginger (Ginger People sells organic minced ginger and ginger juice, perfect for this application)

1 can or bottle of sparkling (carbonated) water, plain or lemon flavor

Sweetener: honey, maple syrup, simple syrup, agave, or stevia

1 teaspoon of lime juice (optional)

Squeeze the juice from the grated ginger into the sparkling water.  Add sweetener and lime juice to your liking.

Cranberry (Vaccinium Macrocarpon)

cranberryCranberry is an excellent and safe treatment for urinary tract infections (UTIs), which are very common during pregnancy. {Note: you should consult with your care provider if you believe you have a UTI.}

How to use:

Cranberry juice is excellent.  We recommend the real deal, not the super sugary types.  Trader Joes and the coop sell unsweetened 100% cranberry juice.  It packs a serious sour punch, but can be made much more palatable (and still healthy) by diluting with equal parts regular or sparkling water, and adding a sweetener such as stevia.  Cranberry capsules can also be effective.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

chamomileChamomile is a great herb for soothing frayed nerves, calming stomach upsets (i.e. indigestion, constipation and nausea), relieving heartburn, promoting better sleep, and more.  This herb is gentle on the stomach and has a pleasant taste.

How to use:

Chamomile tea can be taken as needed throughout the day or in the evening before bed.  You can use pre-prepared tea bags or steep 1 tablespoon of chamomile flowers in 1 cup of near-boiling water for 10 minutes, covered.  Chamomile baths can also promote relaxation (consider adding lavender to the bath as well).

Red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus)

red-raspberry-leafRed raspberry leaf is hailed as an excellent tonic for pregnancy.  It is rich in vitamins and minerals (including iron) and contains fragarine, a substance that tones the uterine muscles.  Some studies have found that red raspberry leaf tea can help expedite labor and reduce potential birth complications and interventions, such as hemorrhage.

How to use:

The recommended dose of red raspberry leaf is 1.5 to 5 grams daily in tea form (about 1-2 cups daily in the second and third trimesters).  Many women like to combine this herb with others (such as rose hips or chamomile) to improve on the flavor.

Recipe: Pregnancy Tea

2 tbsp red raspberry leaf

2 tsp spearmint leaf

2 tsp rose hips

1 tsp chamomile

1 tsp of alfalfa

Mix together and place into a reusable tea bag or French press. Steep in 8 oz of boiling water covered for 20 minutes, strain and drink 1-2 cups daily.

Echinacea (Echinacea spp)

EchinaceaPregnant women get colds like everyone else.  Echinacea has been shown to reduce the duration of colds and prevent them from recurring. As such, this herb can be safely used in pregnancy before the onset of a cold or during a bout of illness.

How to use:

The best way to echinacea is in tincture form.  Be sure not to get a tincture that also has goldenseal, as this herb is not safe for pregnant women.  The recommended dose of enchinacea tincture is 5mL (1 teaspoon) twice daily.  Capsules can also be used.

Nettles (urtica)


Photo by Greg Fewer

Some of us know nettles as that nasty plant you don’t want anywhere near your skin.  But believe it or not, this herb has many healing properties.  Nettles have high quantities of bio-available vitamins and minerals, nourish the kidneys (which are working hard in pregnancy), reduce the risk of anemia, and decrease the risk of hemorrhage at birth.

How to use:

The most effective way to use nettles is to make a tea infusion, eat them fresh chopped into a salad (careful when handling), or consume freeze-dried capsules.  You can also use in tincture form.

Morning Sickness

Morning sickness

Morning sickness (which can actually strike any time of day or night) is a common but challenging ailment of pregnancy. Seventy-five percent of all pregnant women experience some degree of morning sickness—aptly called Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy.  Many women experience a general feeling of nausea, while half of all pregnant women feel sick enough to vomit.

Morning sickness often develops at 4 to 6 weeks and resolves around 14 and 16 weeks, although few women experience intermittent or continuous symptoms throughout pregnancy.  Hyperemesis gravidarum is the name for such serious cases.

On a scale from one to five, most women rate their symptoms at about a 2 or 3, which is very uncomfortable but still tolerable. Morning sickness can drastically affect even the simplest daily tasks, as well as diet, professional life, sleep, relationships, and emotional health.

Though the causes of morning sickness are not entirely understood, some believe it actually serves a protective function for your baby.  Some evidence suggests women who experience nausea/vomiting have a lower risk of miscarriage (although lack of sickness doesn’t increase the risk).  That said, nausea and vomiting can be uncomfortable if not debilitating and should be discussed with your provider.

While any pregnant woman may experience morning sickness, the following are thought to increase a woman’s chances:

  • motion sickness, migraines, or birth control-related nausea/vomiting prior to pregnancy
  • morning sickness with a previous pregnancy
  • carrying twins or multiples
  • female family members experienced morning sickness
  • carrying a girl (one study found severe nausea to be 50% more common in women carrying girls)

Naturopaths believe that the severity of nausea is associated with maternal liver health.

Here’s how to cope:



  • Choose high-carb, high-protein, low-fat, easy-to-digest foods.
  • Salty foods can help some women
  • Avoid greasy, spicy and fatty foods if they aggravate your symptoms
  • Yeast supplements and products can aggravate morning sickness
  • Eat small, frequent meals and snack often—an empty stomach can aggravate sickness; eating small amounts often can help maintain blood sugar levels, thought to ease nausea. Dried and fresh fruits and nuts are good snacks to have on hand.
  • Some women swear by eating dry foods, like a few soda crackers, a piece of dry toast, whole grain ginger biscuits, or rolled oats upon waking in the morning
  • Eat slowly
  • Avoid “trigger” foods or smells—while nutrition is important in pregnancy, be kind to yourself, listen to your body, and stick to foods that appeal to you and don’t aggravate your symptoms.
  • Take prenatal vitamin with food or at night if it seems to upset your stomach, Health Foundations carries prenatal supplements that are generally well-tolerated



  • Sip water often, mostly between meals (especially if you have been vomiting)
  • Some women find lightly carbonated, electrolyte-containing, or sour drinks to be helpful
  • Water with lemon promotes a balanced alkaline system
  • Sip broths, barley water
  • Ginger tea and other forms of ginger can allay nausea
  •  Peppermint, chamomile, fennel and raspberry leaf tea can also reduce symptoms and provide nutrients (caution: peppermint can aggravate heartburn)
  • Avoid coffee and orange juice, they can aggravate symptoms and strain the liver



  • Get fresh air and exercise (even though it may be the last thing you want to do, even a short brisk walk can help)
  • Try not to lie down right after eating
  • Sleep or rest as much as you can, this can reduce symptoms
  • Determine and avoid your non-food related “triggers”: such as a warm room, strong odors, changing positions quickly, flickering lights, car rides, etc.
  • Aromatherapy—place a few drops of lemon, ginger, or peppermint essential oil on a cloth/tissue and inhale
  • Deep diaphragmatic breathing can improve liver and gall bladder functioning.  You can also massage under the base of the ribcage for pressure relief
  • Avoid stress as much as possible



  • Vitamin B6 supplements can help ease nausea and vomiting
  • Acupuncture/acupressure (sea bands) may help
  • Hypnosis has some proven benefit in alleviating nausea
  • PrimaBella: available at Health Foundations, this FDA-approved device, which is worn like a watch, has helped many women
  • Medications: if your symptoms are severe or persistent or your nutrition is greatly compromised by morning sickness, don’t be afraid to speak with the midwives about medication options that can help


When to call the midwives:

While you should definitely speak with the midwives about your nausea and vomiting, the following are cause for a more immediate call:

  • Nausea or vomiting is severe
  • You feel dizzy or faint when you stand up
  • You pass only a small amount of urine or it’s dark in color
  • Your heart races
  • You vomit blood
  • You can’t keep down liquids

Remember, as bad as morning sickness can be, this too will pass, sweet mama!