Fever During Pregnancy
When it comes to fever, the numbers on your thermometer indicate the severity of your symptoms. Generally, the rule is the same for fever during pregnancy: A temperature of 100 or 101 degrees Fahrenheit is considered a fever.
When you’re pregnant, it can be hard to tell whether you’re running a fever or just running a little hot. Like most expectant moms, you may be feeling flushed or extra toasty, and you might even experience the occasional hot flash, thanks to hormonal swings and your baby-to-be radiating heat as she grows.
There are five areas of the body that a person can take a temperature measurement from:
• Armpit or forehead: Doctors consider 99.3°F (37.4°C) and above a fever.
• Mouth: Doctors consider 100.4°F (38°C) and above a fever.
• Rectum or ear: Doctors consider 101°F (38.3°C) and above a fever.
Other symptoms of a fever include:
• feeling very cold
• alternating between feeling cold and feeling hot
Expecting mothers should pay attention to and tell their doctors about symptoms accompanying a fever. These include:
• shortness of breath
• back pain
• abdominal pain
• neck stiffness
You can develop a fever during pregnancy for many of the same reasons you would when you’re not expecting. Some possible causes of a fever during pregnancy may include:
• The common cold.
You’re probably more likely to suffer from common viral infections like colds while you’re pregnant. That’s because your immune system undergoes changes during pregnancy in order to protect your fetus, which your body considers an outsider, from being rejected.
• The flu.
As with colds, immune system changes during pregnancy can increase your risk of catching the flu (one reason why it’s so important for expectant moms to get a flu shot).
Low-grade fevers may be the result of a benign viral infection like a cold, while higher fevers may be a symptom of the flu. Flu symptoms can include body aches and chills in addition to a fever.
• Bacterial infections.
Sometimes, a fever can be caused by a bacterial infection — like a urinary tract infection, kidney infection or strep throat, for example — that may require antibiotics.
Although the odds of being infected with listeriosis are very low, you’re at greater risk during pregnancy. Pregnant women should avoid eating raw meat, fish and unpasteurized cheese to avoid exposure to listeria bacteria during pregnancy, which can also cause a high fever.
Fever can also be a symptom of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. If you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, call your doctor immediately, as pregnant women are at increased risk for complications from the disease.
How will a fever affect my baby?
If an expectant mother’s body temperature goes from 98.6 degrees to a fever, it’s a sign that she is fighting an infection. That’s why it’s essential to seek treatment right away.
If you are in your first trimester and have a fever higher than 102 degrees, be sure to seek treatment right away. This may help prevent short- and long-term complications for your developing baby.
A fever during pregnancy can be harmful to a baby, but it usually isn’t. A fever is least worrisome if it’s low (below 101 degrees F) and if it’s short lived.
Research is ongoing, but some studies have shown links between fever in pregnancy and:
• Neural tube defects (NTDs)
• Congenital heart defects
• Abdominal wall defects
• Oral cleft
Some researchers suggest that risks are higher when the fever is untreated. Others conclude that taking the recommended daily dose of folic acid (400 mcg) before and during pregnancy lessens the risk of NTDs from fever during pregnancy.
The best medication to take to lower your fever when you’re pregnant is acetaminophen.
In addition to making you feel better, acetaminophen will lower your body temperature – which may reduce risks for your baby. It’s a good idea to take acetaminophen to bring down your fever as soon as possible.
However, before taking any medication while pregnant make sure to talk with your healthcare provider about safe medications during pregnancy. Taking too much acetaminophen can be bad for your liver and – later in pregnancy – your baby’s liver.
Other ways to treat a fever while pregnant
In addition to taking medication, here are some things that can help lower your fever:
• Lie down and place a cool, damp washcloth on your forehead.
• Take a lukewarm tub bath or sponge bath. Avoid using cold water, since it can cause you to shiver, leading to a spike in temperature.
• Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and help cool your body from the inside out.
• Turn on a fan. Don’t let it blow directly on you, because that could cause you to become chilled. Instead, put it on a low setting and let it circulate the air around you.
• Dress in one light layer of clothing. If you get chilled, wrap yourself in a light blanket until you’re warm enough to remove it.
• Stay indoors in a cool place.
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