How Pregnant Women Can Safely Use Pain Relievers

Consult a Doctor Before Taking Any Pain Meds

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Pregnancy and discomfort often go hand in hand. But when discomfort progresses to pain, what medications can expectant mothers use for relief?

Luckily, safe painkiller options exist, but as with everything else during pregnancy, diligence is necessary. Furthermore, you should discuss all medications that you take—including over-the-counter (OTC) drugs—with your OB-GYN.


Pain medications, also called analgesics, can be obtained either over-the-counter (OTC) or by prescription. Naturally, prescription-strength painkillers are usually more potent than OTCs, but they also present more potential dangers to the developing fetus.

OTC analgesics, however, are not risk-free. Certain OTC prescription painkillers increase the likelihood of birth defects or complications during labor and delivery.

OTC Painkillers

Here's a breakdown of pain relievers, along with guidelines for those safe to use and those that should be avoided during pregnancy. Again, be sure to consult with your physician before taking any medication during pregnancy, whether OTC or prescription strength. (Over-the-counter painkillers come in two categories, based on their active ingredient.)


Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is considered safe during pregnancy. Well researched by scientists, acetaminophen is used primarily for headaches, fever, aches, pains, and sore throat. It can be used during all three trimesters of pregnancy.

However, a 2019 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that babies exposed to higher amounts of acetaminophen in the womb had a higher risk of being diagnosed with autism and/or ADHD in childhood.


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include aspirin, as well as Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen).

Aspirin, which has salicylic acid as its active ingredient, should not be taken by expectant mothers because it can cause problems for both the mother and the fetus.

Also, if aspirin is taken for a day or so before delivery, it can lead to heavy bleeding during labor. Occasionally, aspirin may be prescribed for women who have certain other medical problems, such as preeclampsia. (Aspirin decreases the risk of deadly blood clots in these patients).

Ibuprofen and naproxen are safer NSAID options; however, both of these medications should be used with caution during pregnancy.

Ibuprofen and naproxen are considered safe during the first two trimesters, but they are ill-advised during the final three months of pregnancy because they can also increase bleeding during delivery.

Prescription Painkillers

The more common prescription painkillers are categorized as opioids, which are derivatives of the poppy plant. All opioids are considered narcotics, which are controlled substances and illegal to use without a physician's authorization.

Painkillers of this strength are typically used for intense pain resulting from injuries, surgery, dental work, or migraine headaches.

These prescription analgesics are available in several different forms and brand names, including:

  • Codeine 
  • OxyContin (oxycodone)
  • Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen)
  • Roxanol (morphine)
  • Demerol (meperidine)
  • Duragesic (fentanyl)
  • Vicodin (hydrocodone and acetaminophen)

Physicians allow the use of these drugs sporadically in pregnant patients when the benefits of the drug outweigh the potential risks.

Consult Your Physician

Please remember to always discuss all medications that you're taking with your OB-GYN. Furthermore, never take a prescription or over-the-counter pain medication without having first spoken with your physician. Opiates are potent drugs with adverse effects.

There is no evidence that suggests a safe level of narcotic use during pregnancy. Risks to the fetus include miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature delivery. At birth, the baby is also at increased risk of low birth weight (below 5.5 pounds), breathing difficulties, and extreme drowsiness, which can lead to feeding problems.

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  1. Toda K. Is acetaminophen safe in pregnancy?. Scand J Pain. 2017;17:445-446. doi:10.1016/j.sjpain.2017.09.007

  2. Ji Y, Azuine RE, Zhang Y, et al. Association of Cord Plasma Biomarkers of In Utero Acetaminophen Exposure With Risk of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder in Childhood. JAMA Psychiatry. 2020;77(2):180-189. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.3259

  3. Demers S, Roberge S, Bujold E. The use of aspirin during pregnancy. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2013;208(2):161-162. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2012.11.024 

  4. Yazdy MM, Desai RJ, Brogly SB. Prescription Opioids in Pregnancy and Birth Outcomes: A Review of the Literature. J Pediatr Genet. 2015;4(2):56-70. doi:10.1055/s-0035-1556740

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