What Cold Medicine Can I Take While Pregnant?

Pregnant woman resting
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While there is never really a good time to feel unwell, catching a cold during pregnancy comes with additional challenges. Coughing or sneezing may be extra uncomfortable as the muscles around your uterus are already stretched and pulled. A stuffy nose may feel even more congested than normal as the mucus membranes may already be a bit swollen due to hormonal changes during pregnancy.

When faced with a seasonal cold or flu while pregnant, you also must consider not only your own health but that of your baby as well when managing your symptoms. The good news is that suffering through your cold isn't necessary.

While there are certain drugs to avoid, other cold medications, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Benadryl (diphenhydramine) are safe to take throughout pregnancy. Some other products are only safe to take at certain points of fetal development. Learn more about what cold medications are safe to take during pregnancy.

Cold Medicine That Is Safe During Pregnancy

Unfortunately, getting sick during pregnancy isn’t uncommon—the immune system goes through a series of changes during those nine months that make it more vulnerable to infections.

You might assume it's better to avoid taking any medication at all to treat your cold symptoms. However, it's usually recommended to take a medication like Tylenol to prevent fever, as fever can be detrimental to a developing embryo.

Are Cold Medicines Safe During Pregnancy?

Whether it's safe to take cold medicines during pregnancy depends on what medication you are considering. There are many safe options but also some that should be avoided either throughout pregnancy or in specific trimesters.

Safe Cold Remedies During Pregnancy

You can also take steps to avoid contracting the flu while you are pregnant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that changes to the heart, lungs, and immune system during pregnancy make women more prone to experiencing severe effects of the flu.

For this reason, the CDC recommends that pregnant women should get a flu shot. Research suggests that getting a flu vaccination reduces the risk that a woman will be hospitalized for flu-related complications by approximately 40%.

Other preventative steps you can take include washing your hands frequently, staying away from people who are sick, avoiding touching your mouth and nose, and avoiding crowds.

This is not to suggest that all drugs have a potential for harm. In many cases, they don't. But, in others, we simply don't know. For this reason alone, you should adhere to your doctor's advice to avoid all medications for at least the first 12 weeks.

Unsafe Cold Remedies During Pregnancy

Certain medications are generally not safe to take during pregnancy. These include Advil (ibuprofen), Motrin (ibuprofen), Celebrex (celecoxib), Sudafed PE (phenylephrine), or throat lozenges containing benzocaine.

What If I Take Cold Medicine Before Learning I'm Pregnant?

If you discover you are pregnant soon after taking a cold medicine, most likely there will be no adverse effects. However, depending on the medication and dosage taken, there may be cause for concern. So, it's important to discuss any possible complications with your doctor.

Types of Cold Medications to Consider

Even after your first trimester, it is best to speak with your doctor about the types and brands of cold medications that are safe to take. Typically speaking, you should avoid any multi-symptom product, which could include ingredients that range from painkillers and decongestants to expectorants and cough suppressants.

Instead, get the drug to treat the specific symptom you're experiencing. There are a number of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs considered to be safe in pregnancy, such as:

  • Anesthetic cough drops such as Chloraseptic or Cepacol lozenges
  • Expectorants containing guaifenesin to help clear mucus
  • Alcohol-free cough syrups containing dextromethorphan, such as Tussin DM
  • Combination guaifenesin/dextromethorphan drugs
  • Tylenol (acetaminophen) to treat fever and minor aches and pains
  • Menthol rubs such as Vicks or Mentholatum ointment

When buying any over-the-counter cold or flu remedy, always read the label closely. In some cases, there may be ingredients you should avoid. In others, there may be ingredients you don't need.

Common Medications to Avoid

Knowing what not to take is almost more important than knowing which medications are safe to take during pregnancy. There are a number of medications to avoid while pregnant unless recommended by your doctor. These include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Motrin and Advil (ibuprofen), Bayer (aspirin), and Aleve and Naprosyn (naproxen), higher doses of which can cause premature blood vessel closure in the baby. However, low-dose aspirin is now routinely recommended for other indications.
  • Any cold remedy containing alcohol, including Benadryl and NyQuil
  • Codeine, a narcotic drug that may cause fetal respiratory depression
  • Bactrim (sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim), an antibiotic that can interfere with folic acid metabolism while stimulating the production of bilirubin (a pigment found in the liver and excreted in bile), both of which are not good for the baby. The concern for folic acid metabolism is only in the first trimester, and the concern for jaundice is only after 32 weeks gestation. The medication can otherwise be used without concern, especially when treatment is necessary.
  • Pseudoephedrine- and phenylephrine-based decongestants, both of which may cause the constriction of blood vessels, potentially increasing the risk of a specific birth defect in the first trimester (particularly if you are a smoker) and risk of elevated blood pressure if used later in pregnancy.

If your cold or flu is severe and you are experiencing chest pains, are coughing up discolored mucus, or have a fever over 102o F, call your doctor immediately.

Cold vs. Flu

The cold and flu are caused by different viruses, but they often share common symptoms, which can make it difficult for people to tell the difference between the two. In most cases, the symptoms of the flu are more serious than those of a cold. 

According to the CDC, colds usually have a gradual onset and are commonly marked by sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat, and mild to moderate chest discomfort. The flu, on the other hand, has an abrupt onset marked by fever, aches, fatigue, headache, and chest pain. The flu is also more likely to result in serious associated complications, such as pneumonia, that may require hospitalization.

Other Ways to Find Relief

Cold medications aren't the only way to find relief. Make every effort to help your body recover by slowing down, resting, and avoiding stresses that can affect your immune system. You can do this by staying in bed, napping, and getting as much rest as possible. Take off from work and get help from your partner or support system so that you can just focus on getting better.

Drink plenty of water, soup broth, or juice. Suck on ice chips to alleviate a sore throat and to help with hydration. Gargling with salt water can also treat a sore throat or cough.

  • Using a humidifier to help relieve congestion
  • Eating small, healthy meals regularly
  • Taking your prenatal vitamins
4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. March of Dimes. Common Discomforts of Pregnancy. Last reviewed May 2016.

  2. Sass L, Urhoj SK, Kjærgaard J, Dreier JW, Strandberg-Larsen K, Nybo Andersen AM. Fever in pregnancy and the risk of congenital malformations: a cohort studyBMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2017;17(1):413. doi:10.1186/s12884-017-1585-0

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cold versus flu. Updated August 30, 202.

  4. Thompson MG, Kwong JC, Regan AK, et al. Influenza vaccine effectiveness in preventing influenza-associated hospitalizations during pregnancy: a multi-country retrospective test negative design study, 2010-2016. Clin Infect Dis. 2018;68(9):1444-1453. doi:10.1093/cid/ciy737

Additional Reading
  • Aghaeepour N, Ganio EA, Mcilwain D, et al. An immune clock of human pregnancy. Sci Immunol. 2017;2(15):eaan2946. doi:10.1126/sciimmunol.aan2946

  • Briggs, G. and Freeman. R. Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation: A Reference Guide to Fetal and Neonatal Risk (10th Edition). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins;2014.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu and pregnant women. Updated April 12, 2021.

  • Honein, M.; Gilboa, S; and Broussard, C. The need for safer medication use in pregnancy. Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol. 2013;6(5):453-55. doi:10.1586/17512433.2013.827401

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.