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Taking Medications During Pregnancy: What's Safe and What's Not

In the first trimester of pregnancy, avoid over-the-counter medications like antacids, antibiotics, cold medicines, laxatives, and steroids. Read what other remedies may not be safe for your baby.
Medications During Pregnancy

Taking medications during pregnancy

During the first three months of pregnancy, it's best to avoid all over-the-counter medications. Once you are past the first trimester, some other medications are considered safe, but always consult your doctor if you are in any doubt. The following provides guidance on medications used for treating common pregnancy complaints and minor illnesses.


Heartburn and indigestion are common problems in pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester when the increased size of the baby puts pressure on your stomach. Some antacids are safe to use during pregnancy, although you should avoid sodium bicarbonate because it may increase fluid retention. Consult your doctor or pharmacist about which ones are recommended.


Many antibiotics used to treat infection are safe for use during pregnancy. This includes antibiotics containing penicillin, although there are safe alternatives if you're allergic to penicillin. The following antibiotics should be avoided during pregnancy:

  • Streptomycin. This can damage the ears of the fetus as it develops and may result in hearing loss in the baby.
  • Sulphonamides. These can cause jaundice in the newborn baby.
  • Tetracyclines. These drugs shouldn't be taken because they can affect the development of the baby's bone and teeth and can cause discoloration in the teeth.


If you have severe nausea and vomiting and natural remedies such as gingersnaps or ginger tea don't relieve the problem, your doctor may recommend an antiemetic medication that is safe to use during pregnancy.

Antifungal remedies

You should avoid over-the-counter antifungal remedies, including oral and local remedies, for treating yeast. Consult your doctor, who can recommend an antifungal medication that is appropriate for use in pregnancy.

Cold remedies

Remedies for coughs and colds often contain a range of ingredients, such as caffeine, antihistamines, and other decongestants, many of which aren't safe in pregnancy. Ideally, avoid all cold remedies and instead have steam inhalations and hot caffeine-free drinks. If you need relief, talk to your doctor before using any over-the-counter treatments.


It's normal to experience some swelling in the hands and feet during pregnancy, and you shouldn't attempt to deal with this by taking diuretics, including herbal diuretics. If you have sudden swelling in the face, hands, or feet, you should consult your doctor immediately because this can be a sign of preeclampsia


The first step in dealing with constipation is to take dietary measures by increasing your intake of fiber and drinking plenty of fluids. If this isn't enough to ease constipation, then some over-the-counter laxatives may be safe to take during pregnancy, including laxatives that contain bulking agents. Those containing castor oil may cause uterine contractions. Check with your doctor before taking any laxatives.


The general advice is to avoid all analgesics during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. Before using pain medication for a common problem, such as a headache or backache, first try natural remedies; massage or a warm bath are often effective in relieving aches and pains. If these aren't sufficient, call your doctor for advice. Aspirin and anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen should be avoided throughout pregnancy. The pain medicine codeine can sometimes be used for a short period to treat specific pain, but should only be taken on the advice of a doctor.

Rehydration solutions

If you have a stomach upset resulting in a severe bout of diarrhea that lasts for an extended period, your doctor may recommend a rehydration solution that is safe to use in pregnancy.


If you have eczema, or find that this condition develops or worsens during pregnancy, talk to your doctor about appropriate medications. Corticosteroids, which are used to treat eczema, aren't associated with birth defects, but they are known to cross the placenta, so both topical and oral corticosteroids aren't recommended during pregnancy.

Steroid inhalers used to treat asthma are safe in pregnancy, and it's important to control your asthma while you're pregnant.

Oral steroids may also be prescribed for certain other conditions, and these may be safe to continue with under the guidance of your doctor. Anabolic steroids should not be taken during pregnancy.

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