1. Health

Your suggestion is on its way!

An email with a link to:


was emailed to:

Thanks for sharing About.com with others!

Most Emailed Articles

Low-Carb Snacks

Can I Take Over-the-Counter Medications During Pregnancy?

By Maureen Salamon

Updated February 26, 2009

(LifeWire) - Pregnancy can be wrought with physical discomforts, ranging from nausea to heartburn to swollen ankles and more. Add everyday nuisances, such as headaches or cold and allergy symptoms, and pregnant women can feel they're serving a 9-month sentence with no chance of relief.

However, a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) medications have been deemed safe during pregnancy, offering potential respite from at least some bothersome symptoms. Pregnant women have taken notice. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), more than 92% of women indicated in one study that they self-treat with OTC drugs while pregnant.

Although these drugs are readily available without a prescription, pregnant women should always check with their doctor before taking any medication, whether OTC or prescription. Complete information on the safe use of medications during pregnancy is necessarily narrowed by the ethical considerations of testing on pregnant women. (Some drugs are tested on pregnant animals instead.)

Which OTC medications are considered safe? Which should be avoided? Much depends on the type of drug and for what it's being used, and also which stage of pregnancy a woman is in. Of the four main types of OTC drugs -- pain relievers, decongestants, antihistamines and cough medicines -- each includes ingredients that are either harmless to a developing baby or could possibly result in birth defects or complications during labor and delivery.

Therefore, typically the active ingredients of a drug are provided on the label -- indicating how it is to be used, who should use it, how much should be taken and how often -- to be read, which is paramount to safety. Here's what to know:

Pain Relievers

Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is widely considered safe during pregnancy. Used primarily for headaches, fever reduction, sore throat, and aches and pains, it can be used during all three trimesters.

Aspirin, whose active ingredient is salicylic acid, should not be taken by pregnant women unless otherwise recommended by a doctor (low doses are sometimes prescribed for some pregnant women with special medical conditions). Its blood-thinning properties (the reason many patients with heart disease take it) can cause problems in the fetus, and if it is taken in the day or so before delivery, aspirin can lead to heavy bleeding by both mother and baby.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, better known as NSAIDs, comprise aspirin as well as Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen). Ibuprofen and naproxen should be used with caution during pregnancy. They are believed to be safe in the first two trimesters, but pregnant women are ill-advised to use these medications in the third trimester because they can increase bleeding during childbirth as well as cause changes in the fetal circulation.


Used to ease symptoms of colds or allergies, decongestants such as Sudafed and AllerMed contain pseudoephedrine and are deemed safe during pregnancy, although some studies suggest an increased risk of a certain type of hernia occurring in babies when this is used during the first trimester.


Two active ingredients comprise most OTC antihistamines, including Chlor-Trimeton or Aller-Chlor (chlorpheniramine) and Benadryl or Diphenhist (diphenhydramine). Chlorpheramine and diphenhydramine are both routinely used by pregnant women; the AAFP prefers chlorpheramine, as there is a risk that diphenhydramine can cause uterine contractions if taken in high doses. Antihistamines work against a variety of allergy and cold symptoms, including itching, sneezing and mucus production.

Cough Medicines

OTC cough remedies, such as Robitussin or Drixoral, typically contain either dextromethorphan, which is more effective for dry coughs, or guaifenesin, which works on moist, productive coughs.

Although both active ingredients are classified as safe during pregnancy, the AAFP states that guaifenesin is linked to the development of neural tube defects in the fetus, such as spina bifida. The AAFP advises pregnant women to use the alternative, dextromethorphan, in moderation if at all, because its effectiveness is uncertain.

Not sure of what your symptoms could mean? Try our Symptom Checker.


"Medication Exposures During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)." cdc.gov. 29 Oct. 2004. Centers for Disease Control. 3 Feb. 2009 <http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/meds/faqs.htm>.

"OTC Medicines and How They Work." familydoctor.org. March 2008. American Academy of Family Physicians. 3 Feb. 2009 <http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/otc-center/basics/otc.html>.

"OTC Products and Certain Patient Groups." aafp.org. 2009. American Academy of Family Physicians. 3 Feb. 2009 <http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home/publications/otherpubs/afpmonographs/otc/objectives/products.html>.

"Over-the-Counter Medicines: What's Right for You?" fda.gov. 7 Mar. 2006. US Food and Drug Administration. 3 Feb. 2009 <http://www.fda.gov/cder/consumerinfo/WhatsRightForYou.htm>.

"Pregnancy and Newborn Health Education Center: Drugs, Herbs and Dietary Supplements." marchofdimes.com. April 2008. March of Dimes. 3 Feb. 2009 <http://www.marchofdimes.com/pnhec/159_529.asp>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Maureen Salamon is a New Jersey-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications.

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.