Using Over-the-Counter Medications During Pregnancy

Learn which over-the-counter drugs are safe for you and your baby during your pregnancy.
When OTC Medications Are Safe for You and Your Baby
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Using Over-the-Counter Medications During Pregnancy

Baby Talk

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are ones that can be bought without a prescription. They are all the preparations and remedies that fill the shelves in your local pharmacy.

Here's the rule to remember about the medications you can buy over the counter (OTC): Just because these medications are readily available and safe for you to use, it does not mean they are safe for your baby. Some of the remedies we all take without a second thought need to be okayed by your doctor before you can take them during your pregnancy—aspirin, cold remedies, yeast infection medications, preparations for digestive problems, and sleep aids, for example. Your doctor or a good pharmacist can weigh the risks and benefits and decide what is best for both you and the baby.


If you pop a few pain pills every time you feel a tension headache coming on or feel the twinge of a stiff muscle, you might have to break this habit very quickly now that you're pregnant.

Full-strength aspirin is not good for pregnant women-especially in the last three months. It might increase bleeding tendencies in the mother and in the fetus (which is especially dangerous for babies born prematurely). When taken late in pregnancy, aspirin might delay the onset of labor, reduce the strength and frequency of contractions, and increase the length of labor. Aspirin can also increase the risk of hemorrhage at delivery and cause bleeding problems in the newborn. That's an awful lot of damage for such a "safe" medication.

In addition to aspirin, there is a long list of over-the-counter medications for the treatment of pain that you should avoid because they contain both aspirin and caffeine . Popular ones include:

  • Anacin Analgesic Tablets
  • Cope
  • Excedrin Extra Strength
  • Vanquish Analgesic caplets
Hey Mom!

Sometimes a doctor might okay the use of aspirin by a pregnant patient. If an expectant mother suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis, for example, and can't bear the pain, the doctor might decide that the risk of taking aspirin is worth the benefits it gives the mother. This is the kind of call your doctor can help you make.

Hey Mom!

Before you open a bottle of pills, try a few other remedies first. A neck massage and a nap are sometimes good for headaches. Body aches often ease with a massage and a warm bath. The pain of varicose veins can be relieved by putting your feet up and by wearing support hose. And many body discomforts in general can be zapped with the relaxation exercises.

Another type of pain reliever to be avoided during pregnancy is the nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug (called NSAID). It includes ibuprofen (found in Motrin, Advil, Motrin IB, and Nuprin) and naproxen (found in Anaprox and Naprosyn). These drugs are relatively new on the pain-relief scene and not too much is known about their effect on pregnancy. It is thought that if used late in a pregnancy, NSAIDs can cause problems similar to the ones caused by aspirin. Unless your doctor says differently, it's best to avoid these pain relievers in the last three months of pregnancy.

Acetaminophen (the pain-relieving ingredient in products like Tylenol and Datril) is the best choice for pain relief during pregnancy—but use it with caution. A new study suggests that pregnant women in their second and third trimesters might want to limit their use of Tylenol. In a study of more than 9,000 pregnant women, researchers found that frequent use of the painkiller acetaminophen—also known as paracetamol—after the 20th week of pregnancy might increase the risk of the babies wheezing as young children. Women who took acetaminophen daily or most days doubled the risk of their children beginning to wheeze when they were 3½ years old. Heavy use of aspirin was also associated with a higher risk of wheeze, but only in children under six months old. The researchers recommend that if painkillers are needed, expectant mothers should still take acetaminophen rather than aspirin, but they should not use it every day.