During pregnancy, your focus may have shifted to your growing baby. But you, too, may need some extra TLC, especially if you get sick. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 9 in 10 women take medication at some point during their pregnancies.
Many over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and prescription medications are classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) according to risk.
Those falling in categories A, B, or C are generally considered “safe” for use during pregnancy. This is because the benefit of taking the medication outweighs any associated risks demonstrated by studies on animals or humans:
|A||Controlled studies on pregnant women show no risk to fetus in first trimester or later trimesters.|
|B||Animal studies haven’t shown adverse effects on fetus, but there are no controlled studies on pregnant women.
Animal studies have shown adverse effects that weren’t confirmed by studies on women in the first trimester.
|C||Animal studies have shown adverse effects on fetus.
There are either no controlled studies in women or studies on women/animals aren’t available. Drugs in this category are given with caution — only if the benefit justifies the potential risk.
|D||Evidence of fetal risk exists with animal or human studies.
Drugs in this category may still be used if benefit outweighs risk; for example, in a life-threatening situation.
|X||Adverse effects have been confirmed by animal or human studies.
Adverse effects have been demonstrated in the public. Risk of taking drug outweighs any benefit. Not prescribed for women who are or may become pregnant.
Pain or headache relief
Acetaminophen (Tylenol; category B) is the drug of choice for pain during pregnancy. It’s widely used with very few documented adverse effects.
Aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, on the other hand, should be avoided during pregnancy.
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- ketoprofen (Orudis)
- naproxen (Aleve)
If your pain is particularly severe — after a surgery, for example — your doctor may prescribe a short course of opioid pain relievers. When taken as directed, they may not affect fetal development.
That said, opioid use during pregnancy does carry the risk of withdrawal, called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), after delivery.
Cold medications are not well-studied for use during pregnancy. Some doctors suggest trying to wait until after your 12th wwwk to minimize any potential risks to your baby.
Safe options include:
- plain cough syrup, such as Vicks
- dextromethorphan (Robitussin; category C) and dextromethorphan-guaifenesin (Robitussin DM; category C) cough syrups
- cough expectorant during the day
- cough suppressant at night
- acetaminophen (Tylenol; category B) to relieve pain and fever
The active ingredient in Sudafed, pseidoephedrine, may elevate blood pressure or affect blood flow from the uterus to the fetus. This drug isn’t classified by the FDA. It may be safe during pregnancy, but speak with your doctor if you have high blood pressure or other concerns.
Doctors often recommend trying home treatments before taking medications:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Stay hydrated by drinking water and warm liquids, like chicken soup or tea.
- Gargle salt water to ease sore throat.
- Use saline nose drops to fight stuffiness.
- Humidify the air in your room.
- Use menthol rub on your chest.
- Try nasal strips to open airways.
- Suck on cough drops or lozenges.
Heartburn and acid reflux
OTC antacids containing alginic acid, aluminum, magnesium, and calcium are generally safe during pregnancy:
- aluminum hydroxide-magnesium hydroxide (Maalox; category B)
- calcium carbonate (Tums; category C)
- simethicone (Mylanta; category C)
- famotidine (Pepcid; category B)
For severe hearburn, your doctor may suggest taking H2 blockers, such as:
- ranitidine (Zantac; category B)
- cimetidine (Tagamet; category B)
Lifestyle changes may also help take the edge off heartburn:
- Wear loose-fitting clothing that doesn’t put pressure on your abdomen.
- Try keeping a food diary to help identify certain foods that may trigger your reflux.
- Wait three hours to lie down after meals. Avoid late meals right before bedtime.
- Sleep with your head elevated at night.
- Eat small meals throughout the day.
Speak with your doctor if your heartburn becomes severe. In rare cases, it may be a sign of HELLP syndrome. This is a serious pregnancy complication.