What You Need to Know About OTC Medicines and Pregnancy

Pregnancy is one of the most exciting times of any woman’s life, but it can also be one of the most challenging and frightening too. Especially if it’s your first pregnancy and you’re not quite sure what to expect or how to handle certain situations, you might find yourself asking a lot of questions you never asked before and worrying about things that didn’t seem so confusing in the past.

Many moms-to-be start to worry about the risks and side effects of OTC medicines, for example, and rightly so. OTC medicines are super convenient, letting us treat simple issues like headaches and colds without the need to go to the doctor and get a prescription, but when you’re carrying a little one around in your belly, it’s only natural to wonder about whether or not those medications are truly safe to use.

Can I Take OTC Medicines While Pregnant?

This is one of the most common questions asked by expectant moms, and the simple fact of the matter is that there’s no yes or no answer. It’s actually quite a gray area, even among medical experts, and while some OTC medications are regarded as safe to take while pregnant, others can pose some risks.

The side effects of OTC medications are well-known to many, with even common pain relief pills causing drowsiness, fatigue, nausea, slower reactions, so it’s only natural to fear that these same pills could pose problems to your little one.

Several studies have taken place on FDA-approved OTC medicines in order to try and evaluate whether or not they’re safe for pregnant women to use, but many drugs haven’t been studied too closely to make any definitive conclusions. One report even argues that around 90% of FDA-approved medications from 1980 to 2000 haven’t been studied closely enough.

This is why it’s so important to be careful when it comes to taking OTC medicines while pregnant, and even when you’re not pregnant, it’s worth taking a closer look at the lists of potential side effects on any OTC medicine you take and being aware of the possible risks associated with each pill.

Which OTC Medicines Are Safe For Pregnant Women?

Statistics show that around 9 in 10 pregnant women in the US will take some form of OTC medicine during their pregnancy, and in the vast majority of cases, there won’t be any problems at all, as several forms of OTC medicine have been deemed safe. Here are some examples:

  • Cold Medicines – Common cold and cough syrups like Vicks, Sudafed, Tylenol Cold, and Actifed have been classed as safe for pregnant women.
  • Pain Relief – Tylenol, for relief of headaches and other pains, can be taken by pregnant women.
  • Allergies – Allergy medications including antihistamines are regarded as safe to take during pregnancy. Examples include cetirizine, Rhinocort, Afrin, Benadryl, Zyrtec, Efidac, and Teldrin.
  • Digestive – Digestive medications for issues like diarrhea and constipation, such as Colace, Metamucil, Milk of Magnesia, Senekot, and Kaopectate, are also safe, but Imodium should only be used after the first trimester.
  • Heartburn – Common heartburn remedies like Gavison, Maalox, Mylanta, and TUMs are also safe for pregnant women.
  • Others – Prenatal vitamins are perfectly safe to take during pregnancy, but other vitamins and supplements should be handled with care and checked with a doctor before taking. Rash creams like Aveeno and Benadryl Cream are safe too, along with yeast infection treatments like Monistat and Terazol.

Which OTC Medicines Should I Avoid While Pregnant?

We’ve seen some common examples of OTC medicines that have been classed as safe for use in pregnant women, so now let’s take a closer look at some of the OTC medicines you are better off avoiding while expecting. Here are some of the most significant examples:

  • Pain Relief – Aspirin is one of the most commonly taken forms of OTC pain relief, but it’s not recommended for pregnant women. Other pain relief medicines like ibuprofen should be avoided too.
  • Decongestants – Decongestant medicines for treating stuffy noses and blocked sinuses are generally not recommended for pregnant women during the first trimester, especially if they contain phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine.
  • Others – Many herbal supplements and vitamins should be avoided while pregnant, as they may have side effects that could harm the baby, especially during the first trimester.

Top Tips For Pregnant Women Considering OTC Medicines

So what should you do with OTC medicines while pregnant if you want to minimize the risks to your baby and prevent any issues from developing? These simple tips will help you make the right call:

  • Always Consult Your Doctor – If you’re not sure about any OTC medicines and the possible risks of side effects they might have, don’t take them until you’ve consulted with your doctor. He/She will be able to provide you with guidance and reassurance, helping you choose the right medicines for every situation.
  • Stay Safe During The First Trimester – The first trimester is when your baby is most at risk from any possible side effects induced by OTC medicines, so if possible, try to avoid taking any of these medicines for the first 12-13 weeks.
  • Consider Your Options – Often, there are safer and simpler ways to deal with common health complaints that might typically be treated with OTC medicines. If you have a headache, for example, some rest in a dark room can help, and chiropractic techniques can help with other aches and tensions around the body. Yoga, exercise, and healthy diets can also help lower the risk of health issues.


Overall, while further studies in OTC medicines for pregnant women are needed in order to evaluate the risks of each one, it’s clear to see that many of these medicines are safe to take, but others should be avoided.

This article is not meant to be medical advice or to replace a consultation with your doctor. Remember to check the label and speak with your doctor if you’re unsure about anything or before taking any medication.

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