Flu-like symptoms can also be a sign of pregnancy.
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These Flu-Like Symptoms Can Also Be Signs Of Early Pregnancy

Here’s how to tell the difference.

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Everyone is hyper-aware of potential flu and Covid-19 symptoms these days — everything from worrying about small coughs to suddenly wondering if you have a headache from drinking too much coffee or because you have a cold coming on. Since flu symptoms can be so common to other changes — like, for example, pregnancy — it can be hard to tell what exactly is going on in your body. As it turns out, some flu-like symptoms and pregnancy symptoms can feel alike, making it hard to tell what is making you feel miserable, which doesn’t exactly bode well in this day and age of viruses aplenty.

There are three big overlaps when it comes to major symptoms of the flu and how they can be similar to early pregnancy: fatigue, nausea, and headaches. “Feeling exhausted and run-down are symptoms that can overlap in pregnancy and the flu,” Dr. Kameelah Phillips, M.D., board-certified OB/GYN and founder of Calla Women's Health, tells Romper.

You might feel like it's harder to get out of bed in the morning, or be desperate for naps throughout the day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that fatigue is definitely a symptom of the flu — it's not as common in typical colds — and people with the flu often feel like they can’t sit up. At the same time, feeling extremely tired is also one of the most common signs of early pregnancy. Your body is gearing up for a ton of changes, and all your extra calories are going to your uterus, leaving the rest of your body lacking in some much-needed energy.

Nausea and vomiting are stereotypically telltale signs of pregnancy, but they are also common flu symptoms. "Loss of appetite, which is also a symptom in influenza, can also be seen in pregnancy as a result of nausea and vomiting," Dr. Tami Prince, M.D., OB/GYN, tells Romper. The CDC notes that vomiting and diarrhea can be symptoms of the flu, too, but are more often seen in children rather than adults.

Aches and pains are notorious flu symptoms, as are headaches, according to the CDC. Head discomfort can also be common in early pregnancy, as mild but frequent headaches can be a result of your body's increasing blood volume.

Overall, if you're feeling sick, you should look for other signs of influenza like muscle aches and fever before jumping to conclusions. And before you start thinking about how to handle a pregnancy, you need to figure out if you're pregnant in the first place (or simply just under the weather). For more on what differentiates flu, early pregnancy, and Covid symptoms, read on.

How to know it’s just the flu


While fatigue, nausea, and headaches can be symptoms of both the flu and early pregnancy, there are also symptoms that are exclusive to the flu and can help you distinguish between them.

As the CDC notes, the flu comes on abruptly — one day you're feeling fine, and the next, you're down for the count. "Since influenza is a virus, women will likely have fever, chills, body aches, coughing, or [a] stuffy or runny nose, which would not be symptoms of pregnancy," Prince says.

Additionally, “periods typically do not change with the flu,” as Phillips explains — but they definitely will when it comes to pregnancy.

How to know you’re pregnant

In the early days of pregnancy, you might experience symptoms that make you feel totally awful. “People often feel run-down and exhausted,” says Phillips. “Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and vomiting are often more present than in [the flu and Covid], too. Food aversions are common, and obviously a missed period is a huge key!”

Other signs like "breast tenderness, areola darkening, rashes, and uterine enlargement accompany early signs of pregnancy," but wouldn't be common with the flu, Risa Klein, certified nurse midwife and licensed OB/GYN nurse practitioner, tells Romper.

When it comes to knowing if the symptoms you’re feeling are caused by pregnancy, there’s a simple solution: "Ultimately, if your period is late or missed, a home pregnancy test should be done,” Dr. Daniel Roshan, M.D., OB/GYN, tells Romper. This is the quickest, most accurate way to find out what’s going on.

Potential Covid-19 symptoms

The symptoms of coronavirus can often feel flu-like, but as Phillip explains, Covid-19 is also unique in that you might also feel absolutely nothing but still test positive for the virus. “Covid is interesting because you may have many or no symptoms at all,” Phillips says. “Typically we see upper respiratory symptoms, fever, and change in smelling or taste.”

According to the CDC, other Covid-19 symptoms can include chills, sore throat, muscle pain, headache, and fatigue, all of which sound a lot like the flu. But while symptoms of Covid can closely resemble the flu in many ways (and thus early pregnancy, too), unlike with influenza, you might also experience a loss of taste or smell — which is a huge indicator of Covid, as Phillips explains.

If you suspect you might have Covid or are concerned you’ve been exposed, find an at-home test or testing site near you.

Flu and Covid during pregnancy


It's definitely possible to have the flu and be pregnant, as it is to have Covid and be pregnant. In fact, as Phillips explains, pregnancy makes you more susceptible to both viruses. “Pregnancy is considered an immunosuppressive condition, so the likelihood for infections can be more common,” she says.

In addition to being easier to catch, influenza and Covid are often more severe in pregnant people for this reason. “Pregnant people are more likely to have more severe symptoms and face hospitalization,” Phillips says. “This is why we encourage annual flu and Covid vaccination in all pregnant people.” These viruses can also impact babies in the womb, as they could be at a higher risk of not growing normally.

It's worth noting that plenty of expecting parents get the flu and don't develop any complications. Still, even an uncomplicated case of the flu is pretty awful when you're pregnant, so getting your flu shot is a must.

A flu shot during pregnancy doesn't just reduce your odds of getting the flu — it also helps to prevent fetal health issues. This protection even extends beyond birth, because while infants are especially vulnerable to severe flu symptoms, childhood flu vaccines can't be administered until a baby reaches six months of age. However, a parent’s vaccination carries over immunity for the baby's first few months of life, according to the CDC.

And the Covid vaccine, which the CDC recommends for pregnant people, works similarly. Children under the age of 5 can’t receive the vaccine as of yet. However, a 2021 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Maternal Fetal Medicine found that babies born of a person who received a mNRA Covid-19 vaccine during pregnancy can develop and be born with antibodies that may offer protection against the virus.

All in all, the flu, Covid, and early pregnancy can present some overlapping symptoms, and it’s not always easy to distinguish between them. No matter what, getting your flu and Covid vaccines are incredibly important in protecting both you and your baby from viruses. And as with all potential illnesses, if you are feeling sick and have doubts about why exactly you’re feeling that way, talk to your physician — and maybe get some comforting soup ready!

Study referenced:

Trostle, M. E., Aguero-Rosenfeld, M. E., Roman, A. S., & Lighter, J. L. (2021). High antibody levels in cord blood from pregnant women vaccinated against COVID-19. American journal of obstetrics & gynecology MFM, 3(6), 100481.


Dr. Kameelah Phillips, M.D., board-certified OB/GYN and founder of Calla Women's Health

Dr. Tami Prince, M.D., OB/GYN

Dr. Daniel Roshan, M.D., OB/GYN

Risa Klein, certified nurse midwife and licensed OB/GYN nurse practitioner

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