How to protect yourself from getting the flu this winter if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding

Every year, millions of South Africans contract seasonal influenza. Typical symptoms of flu include the sudden onset of high fever, chills and sweats, muscle pain and a dry cough.

“It’s important to remember that the run-of-the-mill seasonal flu can be a serious condition,” says Dettol representative member of The Global Hygiene Council, Dr Kgosi Letlape.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, risk groups for severe flu include pregnant women, people who have chronic illnesses like diabetes or asthma, people over the age of 65, infants and children under the age of two years.

Here’s how to protect yourself from getting the flu this winter if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding:

It’s safe to get a flu vaccine

Influenza is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than women who are not expecting, which is why it’s important for pregnant and breastfeeding women to be immunised against flu.

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

“The influenza vaccine will protect pregnant women as well as their babies before and after birth,” says Dr Liesl Zulke, speaking on behalf of Dettol. “Flu shots have not been shown to cause harm to pregnant women or their babies. Breastfeeding is also fully compatible with the flu vaccination, and preventing flu in mothers can reduce your baby’s chances of catching it,” says Dr Zulke. “This is especially important for babies younger than six months old, as they are too young to be vaccinated against the flu.”

What can pregnant and breastfeeding women take for a cough and fever?

Cough and cold remedies are generally not recommended while you’re breastfeeding. Dr Zulke says most colds will improve on their own, but you can use the following measures for relief:

  • Rest
  • Drink enough fluids
  • Steam inhalations
  • Paracetamol or brufen, never aspirin
  • Also consult with your GP

“Many illnesses can be treated with medicines while you’re breastfeeding without harming your baby. However, small amounts of the medicine will pass through your breast milk to your baby, so always tell your GP or pharmacist that you’re breastfeeding,” advises Dr Zulke.

Cough and cold remedies are often ‘polypharmacy’ so read the patients leaflet information carefully or consult your GP or pharmacist before taking over-the-counter medicines if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

The following should not be taken while breastfeeding:

  • Aspirin (a painkiller)
  • Codeine (induces sleep, also found in painkillers)
  • Phenylephrine (a decongestant – for blocked nose – found in some cold medicines)
  • Guaifenesin (an expectorant – to bring up phlegm – found in some cough medicines)

What can pregnant and breastfeeding women use for a blocked nose?

“The safest is a simple saline based nose drop. If your blocked nose is persistent, consult your GP to ensure that it’s not being caused by something more complicated,” says Dr Zulke.