According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90% of American women take some medication during their pregnancy.3 It is always best to seek advice about pregnancy-safe medications from your OBGYN. Common over-the-counter medicines can cause harm, placing you and your unborn child at risk for premature birth, developmental delays, birth defects, and even fetal death.3,5,11
While you may not feel like calling your doctor for every ache and pain during pregnancy, a recent study concluded that YouTube videos did not provide adequate drug information to keep you and your child safe.7 If you conduct online research, use only credible, evidence-based sources since following the wrong advice can be devastating. Finding credible, scientific information is essential to empower you with information and resources to enjoy a happy, healthy pregnancy. We’ve done the research for you and are sharing what we’ve found.
Aches and pains are not unusual during pregnancy.1,5,8 Your body is taking on the monumental task of growing a little human, but your growing bump can add pressure to your back, legs, joints, and vaginal area. Headaches are common, and you may wonder what safe medications are during pregnancy.20
The term “painkillers” is a broad brush and can be broken down further into acetaminophen-based products, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, and opioids. NSAIDs like ibuprofen, aspirin, and Excedrin are not recommended during pregnancy unless specifically prescribed by your doctor.2,5,14,15 Some research has linked the use of NSAIDs during early pregnancy to miscarriage, while later in pregnancy, it can affect your baby’s heart and kidneys.2,5,21
Opioids are prescription medications. If you are prescribed opioids before becoming pregnant, seek medical advice as soon as you know you are expecting. Babies exposed to opioids in utero can be born addicted, and these medications increase the risk of serious complications such as placental abruption.14
Can You Take Tylenol While Pregnant?
Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, is the most frequently used painkiller during pregnancy. It has a long history and is considered a pregnancy-safe medication.22 Yet the recommendation is to use it sparingly and by the directions. Recently, some parents have filed lawsuits claiming Tylenol use during pregnancy contributed to their children having ADHD or autism.12,15,17
During pregnancy, women are not immune to allergies such as hay fever. Women with a history of allergies pre-pregnancy are more likely to experience symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes. However, others will develop allergies for the first time during pregnancy.9,13
Your provider will consider any drug’s overall benefits and risks when deciding what medicine you can take while pregnant. Try avoiding triggers and limiting exposure to allergens. Your doctor may also recommend non-pharmacological management, such as nasal irrigation with a neti pot or saline nasal sprays.
Can You Take Benadryl While Pregnant?
Benadryl has been used for a long time and is generally considered safe during pregnancy when recommended by your doctor.9,13,17
Pregnancy-safe allergy medications while under physician care may include:
- Claritin (loratadine)
- Zyrtec (cetirizine)
- Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine)9,13
Nasal sprays have different drug makeups, and your physician may recommend limiting exposure, mainly if the nasal spray contains a decongestant. Pregnant women should avoid taking any oral allergy medications containing a decongestant.9,13 Always check with your OBGYN first before starting any allergy medications.
Pregnancy can affect your immune system, and many women experience a cough or cold at least once during their pregnancy. However, many usually safe over-the-counter medications can pose risks during pregnancy.3,5,11
Acetaminophen is generally considered safe if you have a cold or fever.15 However, you should always consult your OBGYN because symptoms like headaches may be related to other complications like high blood pressure.16
Can You Take Robitussin While Pregnant?
There are several Robitussin products on the market. Robitussin DM cough syrup contains two ingredients considered relatively safe in pregnancy when used for a short time and taken by directions. Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant, and guaifenesin, an expectorant, loosens mucus. Yet, some information indicates that guaifenesin may be unsafe during the first trimester.
Always consult your doctor before starting a medication.6,17
Pregnancy-safe medications for colds typically include:
- Over-the-counter cough syrups containing dextromethorphan, like Delsym and Robitussin DM
- Throat lozenges (cough drops) without alcohol, like Ricola17
Avoid cough medicines containing alcohol and ibuprofen during pregnancy.2,13
Before pregnancy, you may not have given it a second thought to reach for a decongestant when dealing with a troublesome, irritating stuffy nose. Decongestants are often used for common colds, flu, allergies, and sinusitis symptoms.
Decongestants are problematic during pregnancy and have been linked to birth defects, especially in the first trimester. If you have a stuffy nose, using nasal irrigation techniques like a neti pot or adding humidified moisture to the air may help alleviate symptoms.10,13
Can You Take Mucinex While Pregnant?
According to the drug fact sheet published by MotherToBaby, a leading authority compiling evidence-based information on substance exposure during pregnancy, the active ingredient in Mucinex, guaifenesin, has a low chance of causing birth defects. It is unknown if Mucinex increases the risk of miscarriage. Guaifenesin is an expectorant and is also in Robitussin DM.
Consult with your OBGYN or midwife before taking Mucinex.6
Pseudoephedrine is the active ingredient in Sudafed and some other decongestants. According to the MotherToBaby website, a few small studies suggest a correlation between this drug and birth defects.10
Consult your doctor for risks versus benefits. Some medicines may be safe at different times in pregnancy. Pregnancy-safe medications for congestion include:
- Vicks VapoRub23
Antacids and Digestive Relief
Heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux are common during pregnancy, especially as your baby grows and puts pressure on your stomach. Treating heartburn follows the same risk-versus-benefit approach. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and how much your quality of life is affected, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to avoid taking unnecessary drugs. Decreasing caffeine intake, limiting spicy foods, eating frequent small meals instead of fewer larger ones, and avoiding lying down flat after eating may be enough to improve heartburn symptoms without medication.17,18
However, if you need medications, TUMS (calcium carbonate) is generally considered safe during pregnancy. Other antacids like Maalox, Mylanta, and Rolaids are probably safe but have additional additives like aluminum and sodium bicarbonate. Aluminum is not good for your baby, and sodium can also increase fluid retention, leading to swelling.17,18
Can You Take Pepto While Pregnant?
Pepto-Bismol, the pink drink everyone knows is for upset stomach, diarrhea, indigestion, and nausea, is not a pregnancy-safe medication. The active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol, bismuth subsalicylate, is closely related to aspirin and could cause bleeding irregularities.19
Talk with your health provider if you struggle with gastric problems like indigestion, nausea, or constipation during your pregnancy.
Prescription Drugs While Pregnant: Talk to Your Doctor
Many women have pre-pregnancy health conditions requiring ongoing treatment and management. Conditions such as seizures, mental health conditions, heart conditions, or diabetes are some of these. Finding a definitive list of medications you can take while pregnant is challenging, especially when balancing chronic conditions with pregnancy.4
If you are taking prescription medications, let your OBGYN know as soon as you think you may be pregnant. If you plan on becoming pregnant, talk with your OBGYN about ways to limit any potential drug exposure risks.4
Always read medication labels and take them as directed. Throughout your pregnancy, ask questions, research reliable, trusted websites, and consult closely with your OBGYN to ensure you manage any health concerns in the best and safest way possible with pregnancy-safe medications.