Every woman goes through pregnancy in a different way. Some experience morning sickness for the entire duration of the pregnancy, while others feel great. While during pregnancy, the whole focus remains on the growing baby, but it may happen that sometimes the mom-to-be may also need some care, especially if she falls ill. However, it is essential to know that not all medications can be had if you are pregnant. Many over-the-counter and prescription medications are unsafe or risky to be consumed during pregnancy and even during the period of breastfeeding. Here are some safe over-the-counter medicines which pregnant women can consider having if the need arises.
Safe OTC Medicines Which Pregnant Women Can Consider
For most women, prenatal vitamins are the first medications that are available over the counter without a prescription and are safe to take when they are pregnant. However, it is always better to ask your doctor once about the safety of the vitamins and supplements you are taking during your pregnancy, especially about herbal remedies if you are using any. It is essential to be aware that most herbal remedies and supplements are not known to be safe during pregnancy. At the same time, it is best to not take any over-the-counter medications as well until unless absolutely necessary.(1, 2, 3)
Here are some over-the-counter medications and some home remedies that are proven to be safe during pregnancy, but only if taken as per the dosage prescribed on the package.
Antihistamine Medications for Allergy
OTC antihistamines are usually considered to be safe to use during pregnancy. Some of these include:(4)
- Diphenhydramine (brand name: Benadryl)
- Fexofenadine (brand name: Allegra)
- Cetrizine (brand name: Zyrtec)
- Chlorpheniramine (brand names: Efidac, Chlor-Trimeton, Teldrin)
- Loratadine (brand names: Allegra, Claritin, Loradamed, Tavist ND Allergy)
- Nasal spray oxymetazoline: Only to be used only after consulting the doctor first, and limit the use to just a few
- Steroid nasal sprays like Flonase, Nasacort, Rhinocort: Only to be used after consulting the doctor first. However, it is safer to use over-the-counter sprays instead of steroid ones.
OTC Medications for Cold, Cough, and Flu
Nobody knows when they will catch the flu or come down with a cold and cough. There are several OTC medications for cold, cough, and flu that are safe to be taken during your pregnancy. These include:(5, 6)
Medicines like Actifed, Dristan, Flonase, Nasocort, and Sudafed. If you want to take Neosynephrine, it is better to consult your doctor first. This medicine should not be used during the first trimester of pregnancy.
- Saline nasal drops or spray
- Robitussin: You should check first which type of Robitussin it is, as some types of Robitussin should not be taken in the first trimester. It is best to check with your doctor before taking it.
- Vicks Cough Syrup
- Tylenol (acetaminophen)
- Tylenol Cold
- For relief, do warm water or saltwater gargles
It is important to keep in mind that you should not use the SA (sustained action) form or the multi-symptom versions of any of these medications.
OTC Medications for Headache
Many women experience more than the usual number of headaches when they are pregnant. There is nothing to get alarmed over this as it is quite common to experience more frequent headaches during pregnancy.(7, 8)
For most pregnant women, it is safe to take acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol and others) to treat a headache during pregnancy. If you are allergic to acetaminophen, your doctor will recommend some other medication. Many women resort to taking herbal remedies to treat headaches. However, you should never take any herbal remedy before consulting your doctor.
However, if you experience a severe headache, you should call your doctor. There can be many causes of headaches, especially during pregnancy when the hormones in the body are rapidly fluctuating, but one cause of headaches can also be related to high blood pressure, which can be dangerous during pregnancy. This is why a severe headache or a headache that refuses to go away should never be ignored at this time.(9, 10)
OTC Medications for Heartburn
The burning feeling of heartburn felt in the chest is uncomfortable and frustrating. While everyone experiences heartburn at some point or the other, it increases manifolds during pregnancy. During pregnancy, the changes in hormones allow the muscles in your esophagus to relax more frequently, which causes more stomach acids to seep back up, especially if you are lying down or after a meal. This causes burning and pain in the chest area. Even the growth of the fetus and the expanding uterus puts more pressure on the stomach, which also causes the acid and food to push back into the esophagus.(11, 12)
In the majority of the cases, taking OTC antacids such as Tums, Maalox, and Rolaids is sufficient to help you deal with the heartburn symptoms. Try to opt for those antacids that are made up of magnesium or calcium carbonate. However, if you are in the last trimester of your pregnancy, it is best to avoid magnesium as it can interfere with contractions when you are in labor. It is also best to avoid those antacids that are high in sodium levels, as this can cause a buildup of fluid in the tissues.
Some of the OTC medications for heartburn during pregnancy include:(13)
OTC Medications for Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are very common during pregnancy. If you are feeling nauseated, then rest assured that you are not alone. According to research, nearly 50 percent of all pregnant people or more experience nausea and/or vomiting during their pregnancy.(14) It is most common during the first trimester, and though it is known as morning sickness, the term is misleading as you can experience nausea at any time of the day. Feeling nauseated makes it difficult to keep your food down and also to take your vitamins. In some rare cases, vomiting can cause dehydration and weight loss even.(15, 16)
Here are some of the OTC medications that are safe for nausea and vomiting during pregnancy:
- Sea bands
- Doxylamine, it should be taken together with pyridoxine
- Emetrol not for diabetics
- Vitamin B6 (only take the 100 mg tablet)
OTC Medications for Other Conditions
Some OTC medications that are safe to take during pregnancy in the other conditions include:
- Milk of Magnesia
- Preparation H
- Witch hazel
- Caladryl or Calamine lotion or cream
- Benadryl cream
- Oatmeal bath (Aveeno)
- Hydrocortisone cream or ointment
There are many over-the-counter medications that can be taken safely during pregnancy. However, it is always best to consult your doctor before taking even OTC medications in your pregnancy. Even if you are not able to reach your doctor, most obstetrics offices have a helpline where a healthcare professional can answer your questions regarding medications that are safe for you to take at this time.
Remember that if you are not feeling well, and you find that the OTC medicines are not making a difference, you should not delay seeking medical help. In case you are not able to reach your doctor, you should go to the nearest emergency room to get medical help at the earliest.
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- Nordeng, H., Ystrøm, E. and Einarson, A., 2010. Perception of risk regarding the use of medications and other exposures during pregnancy. European journal of clinical pharmacology, 66(2), pp.207-214.
- Umans, J.G., 2007. Medications during pregnancy: antihypertensives and immunosuppressives. Advances in chronic kidney disease, 14(2), pp.191-198.
- Gonzalez-Estrada, A. and Geraci, S.A., 2016. Allergy medications during pregnancy. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 352(3), pp.326-331.
- Erebara, A., Bozzo, P., Einarson, A. and Koren, G., 2008. Treating the common cold during pregnancy. Canadian Family Physician, 54(5), pp.687-689.
- COLD, C., 2006. Pregnancy and OTC cough, cold, and analgesic preparations. US Pharm, 3, pp.33-47.
- Digre, K.B., 2013. Headaches during pregnancy. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 56(2), pp.317-329.
- Silberstein, S.D., 2004. Headaches in pregnancy. Neurologic clinics, 22(4), pp.727-756.
- Arca, K.N. and Halker Singh, R.B., 2019. The hypertensive headache: a review. Current pain and headache reports, 23(5), pp.1-8.
- Sandoe, C.H. and Lay, C., 2019. Secondary headaches during pregnancy: when to worry. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, 19(6), pp.1-8.
- Richter, J.E., 2005. The management of heartburn in pregnancy. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 22(9), pp.749-757.
- Van Thiel, D.H., Gavaler, J.S., Joshi, S.N., Sara, R.K. and Stremple, J., 1977. Heartburn of pregnancy. Gastroenterology, 72(4), pp.666-668.
- Neilson, J.P., 2008. Interventions for heartburn in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (4).
- Matthews, A., Haas, D.M., O’Mathúna, D.P. and Dowswell, T., 2015. Interventions for nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (9).
- Niebyl, J.R., 2010. Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. New England Journal of Medicine, 363(16), pp.1544-1550.
- Lee, N.M. and Saha, S., 2011. Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Gastroenterology Clinics, 40(2), pp.309-334.