Are you pregnant and down with a fever? Before you take any medicine, call up the doctor immediately and discuss the symptoms and course of treatment with him. A fever, in general, isn’t harmful. But when it’s during pregnancy, it might affect the fetus, and thus on-time treatment is inevitable.
What are the symptoms?
The average body temperature of an adult is generally around 98.6oF (37oC). However, it does keep fluctuating throughout the day. And minor increases in temperature does not necessarily mean that a person has a fever. Fever causes a spike in the body’s temperature.
You can measure the following parts of your body:
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- Armpit or forehead: Doctors consider 99.3oF (37.4oC) and above as a fever.
- Mouth: Doctors consider 100.4oF (38oC) and above as a fever.
- Rectum or ear: Doctors consider 101oF (38.3oC) and above as a fever.
Along with a rise in temperature, the other symptoms include tiredness, giddiness, nausea, feeling very cold or hot, backpains, chills, shortness of breath, etc. Some people also feel a pain in the abdomen, or stiffness in neck – make sure to inform your doctor about all the symptoms.
Why does a pregnant woman get a fever?
In most of the cases, the fever is a cause of urinary tract infections and respiratory viruses. But other infections can also cause fever during pregnancy, including influenza, pneumonia, tonsillitis, viral gastroenteritis (stomach virus), and pyelonephritis (kidney infection).
How can a fever affect the baby?
According to a study done by the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women who reported having a fever before or during the first trimester were more likely to have a baby with congenital disabilities as compared to women who had not reported having a fever. However, consuming 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day could mitigate the risk of having a baby born with a neural tube defect.
Though evidence has been there to prove that women who complained of having fever in the early pregnancy were more likely to give birth to babies with heart defects and facial deformities such as cleft lip or palate, exactly how this happens is unclear. There have been debates on whether fever or the infections causing fever, impact the fetus.
A research done by at UC Berkeley has helped find an indication that’s the fever itself, not its cause, is what obstructs the development of the heart and jaw of the fetus during the first three to eight weeks of pregnancy.
This research was done on animal embryos, and further research needs to be done to establish the impact of fever on the growing fetus of a human. However, according to senior author Chunlei Liu, an associate professor of neuroscience and electrical engineering and computer sciences at Berkeley, congenital heart and cranial facial defects are common in live births, but most of the time, the causes are not known. Chunlei Liu adds, “Our study identified a specific molecular pathway that links maternal fever directly to some of those defects.”
Co-senior author Eric Benner, senior author of the study, a neonatologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke, further added that as per the results of their study, a portion of congenital disabilities could be prevented if fevers are treated through the judicious use of acetaminophen during the first trimester.
According to the CDC, congenital anomalies affect around 3% of the babies born in the US.
In 2014, a review of 46 previous researchers deduced that suffering from a fever during the first trimester may increase the risk of the baby being born with oral clefts, congenital heart defects, and neural tube defects by around 1.5 to 3 times. However, another research conducted in 2017, claims that there is very little proof to support the effect of maternal fever on the congenital irregularities found in the baby.
A study done in 2018 found evidence to support that maternal fevers can be a probable cause of autism in babies, mainly if the fever had occurred during the second trimester. In the same study, it was also found that more frequent fevers further elevated the likelihood. Nevertheless, the chances of autism in fetuses exposed to fever could be lowered if the pregnant lady took antifever medication.
How can a pregnant woman protect herself from fever?
Although preventing a fever is not always possible, a pregnant woman can reduce the risk of getting sick by taking some precautionary actions. For instance, by getting the flu shot on time, washing hands often, and staying away from sick people whenever possible can protect you from catching a cold, a probable cause of fever.
While you are waiting to speak to your doctor, take acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce your fever. Do not take aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) during pregnancy, unless your practitioner recommends explicitly the same to you. You can also take a lukewarm bath or shower, and keep the clothes and covers light. Drinking a lot of water and other cold beverages also help to cool down your body temperatures and prevent dehydration.
When to call a doctor?
While scientists are trying to find the intensity at which fever impacts a fetus, it’s vital that an expecting woman take proper care of herself – she should remember that along with herself, she’s responsible for another life!
Dr. Eric Benner said, “We need to increase public awareness regarding fevers and birth defects. Women are often hesitant to take medication during pregnancy.” Benner also added, “Doctors should counsel women about the risk of fever and remind them that Tylenol (acetaminophen or paracetomol) is one of the most well-studied drugs in pregnancy and is thought to be safe.”
However, he doesn’t advise pregnant women to take any medicine without discussing all the risks and benefits of it with their doctors.
So, as mentioned earlier, during pregnancy, people should call up a doctor, even if there’s a mild rise in the body temperature.