What over the counter medications can I take when I’m pregnant?

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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In my primary care practice, many of my female patients worry about taking over the counter medications when they are trying to conceive, afraid they may take something bad before knowing they are pregnant.

So it is important to know: what over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can you take while you are pregnant, or trying to get pregnant?

First, what are the common things you will need OTC meds for?

– Fever

– Cough and cold

– Allergies

– Skin rashes or hives

– Diarrhea or constipation

– Heartburn

Now, there are some grey areas where doctors aren’t sure if a medication is safe or not because that medicine hasn’t been studied well enough in pregnant women. It also may depend on how far along the pregnancy is. Most birth defects happen in the first few months of pregnancy. If you take an OTC medicine during that time, you can increase the chance that the medicine will harm your baby. Having said that, here we go:

1. What is the best pain reliever during pregnancy?
Use acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol) to treat pain. Check with your doctor before taking any other pain medicines especially aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). These are NSAIDS which may cause harm especially in the last 3 months of pregnancy. Taking a lot of NSAIDs in the last 3 months of pregnancy could harm your baby or cause problems during labor.

2. What can you take for constipation during pregnancy?
To treat constipation, start without OTC meds and add more water and soluble fiber to your diet. Soluble fibers are found in oats, citrus fruits, apples, barley, psyllium, flax seeds and legumes. If you increase fluids and fiber in your diet and still have problems, then you can try a supplement, such as fiber pills (FiberCon is one example) or fiber powders (such as Metamucil). Laxatives can cause intestinal cramping that is hard to distinguish from premature labor which is one of several reasons to be careful here.

3. Can I take herbal products?
I’d also be very careful here and always ask your doctor before you take any herbal product or supplement. Some herbal products can harm an unborn baby.

4. Ugh what about allergies?
You have some good options if you are pregnant and have allergy symptoms. Claritin (loratadine) is safe, as are the saline nasal sprays.

5. Oh that . . . an annoying cough?
OTC cough medicines such as Robitussin or Mucinex can be used for cough in pregnant women. Most experts tell pregnant women to avoid decongestants with active pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine in the ingredients.

6. Last but not least, diarrhea?
Good news here if you are pregnant with diarrhea (cruel) as most OTC options are safe including loperamide (Imodium), Kaopectate II, Maalox and Pepto.

Fight on!

Dr O.

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