Using Over-the-Counter Medications During Pregnancy


Colds and morning sickness

Sniffles and Sneezes

A bad head and chest cold, a seasonal allergy attack, or the flu during pregnancy can make you miserable—but be careful about taking over-the-counter remedies. Some cough syrups, antihistamines, and decongestants can be bad for the fetus (especially early in the pregnancy).

Many cold medicines contain alcohol. Alcohol is very bad for the developing baby. Some medications contain as much alcohol as a four-ounce glass of wine. They also might contain aspirin, which is bad for the baby, for the reasons explained earlier.

When you're so stuffed up you can't breathe, a good nasal spray is a gift from heaven. But when you're pregnant, even a nasal spray can be a problem. Many contain oxymetazoline. This compound clears the sinuses by tightening the small blood vessels of the nasal passages. Unfortunately, it also has the potential to tighten the arteries leading to the uterus. If this happens, the flow of blood and oxygen to the fetus is reduced. Although the risk is small, it is best to stay away from these remedies. Watch out for oxymetazoline in nasal sprays such as all Afrin products, Coricidin Decongestant Nasal Mist, Dristan Long Lasting Nasal Spray, Duration 12 Hour Nasal Spray, Neo-Synephrine 12 Hour Nasal Spray, and Vicks Sinex Long-Acting Decongestant.

Over-the-counter cold and allergy medications in the same class as oxymetazoline often contain other compounds that do not tighten arteries. All of these are considered safe during pregnancy, when used in the proper dose under a physician's supervision. They include Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold Medicine, Allerest Allergy Tablets and Sinus Pain Formula, A.R.M. Allergy Relief Medicine Caplets, Contac, Doricidin, Dimetapp, Robitussin-CF, Triaminic, Actifed, Sudafed, Benadryl Decongestant, Maximum Strength Dristan, Sinus Excedrin Analgesic, Sinutab, Tylenol Cold Medicine, Tylenol Allergy Sinus Medication, Vicks Formula 44D Decongestant, and Vicks NyQuil Nighttime Cold Medicine.

Some allergies are controlled by a series of injections of allergens (substances to which a person is allergic) to build up resistance. You should not start allergy shots during your pregnancy; there's no telling what kind of reaction you'll have initially. But if you have been getting allergy shots before your pregnancy, it is probably safe to continue them during the pregnancy under certain conditions:

  • Make sure your allergist knows you are pregnant.
  • The smallest amount possible of the allergen should be given in the first trimester.

As a bonus, some allergists believe that allergy injections during pregnancy can give the baby resistance to that particular allergen later in life. Talk to your prenatal doctor and your allergist about what is best for you.

Are you prone to the flu? Do you worry about getting the flu during your pregnancy? If so, ask your doctor about getting a flu vaccine (some do not advise it in the first trimester). The Centers for Disease Control recommends getting a flu shot if you'll be in your third trimester during the flu season (mid-November to mid-March). Because the vaccine can make you achy and feverish, however, you must talk to your doctor before getting the shot.

If you get the flu during your pregnancy, you'll feel miserable just like everybody else who gets the flu—maybe a little more so because it's still not a good idea to load yourself up with symptom-relief medications. Tylenol is good for fever and body aches, but stay away from all the other stuff sold specifically for flu symptoms. Many of them contain alcohol and other ingredients that are bad for the baby.

There are many natural remedies for cold, flu, and allergy symptoms that you can try before you reach for the medicine bottle. If you're all stuffed up and/or have a sore throat, use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Sleep with two pillows so your head is slightly raised and the excess mucus can drain down your throat. Drink hot broth to help open clogged sinuses. Rest—the simplest solution might be the most effective. Eat well; your body needs all the energy it can get to fight off a cold naturally.

Relief from Morning Sickness

When you've grazed on bland snacks for weeks and have had it with sucking on lemons and pushing on acupressure points to stop your morning sickness, all with no relief, your doctor might suggest that you try medication to calm your stomach. This is definitely a case where allowing you to dehydrate from frequent vomiting is a great deal worse than the cure. Your doctor might suggest the following remedies:

  • Vitamin B6. This nonprescription vitamin has a strong reputation for calming the queasy stomach of morning sickness.
  • An antihistamine. This nonprescription drug is found in many cold and sleep remedies. Popular brands include Dramamine (the motion-sickness medication) and Benadryl (often used for allergies). Both have been proven to be safe during pregnancy.

If these medications still don't calm the vomiting of morning sickness, your physician might choose to use a stronger remedy. You must not ignore extreme morning sickness, because it causes complications such as weight loss and mineral and body fluid loss.


excerpted from:

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth © 2004 by Michele Isaac Gliksman, M.D. and Theresa Foy DiGeronimo. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's website or call 1-800-253-6476.

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