Can I Take Cold Medicine During Pregnancy?

Pregnant woman resting
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While there is never really a good time to have a cold or the flu, having one during pregnancy comes with additional difficulties. Unfortunately, getting sick during pregnancy isn’t uncommon—the immune system goes through a series of changes during those nine months.

When faced with a seasonal cold or flu while pregnant, you must consider not only your own health but that of your baby's. While there are certain drugs to avoid, suffering through your symptoms isn't necessary. Read on for a few tips to consider.

Treating a Cold or Flu in Early Pregnancy

As a general rule, if you have a cold or flu in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, you should avoid all medications. The first trimester is a critical time in your baby's development, and most doctors advise against exposing the fetus to any drug unless absolutely necessary.

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.

Instead, 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
  • Drinking plenty of water, soup broth, or juice
  • Gargling with salt water to treat a sore throat or cough
  • Sucking on ice chips to alleviate a sore throat and to help with hydration
  • Using a humidifier to help relieve congestion
  • Eating small, healthy meals regularly
  • Taking your prenatal vitamins

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 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) which can cause a blood vessel linked the baby's heart to close prematurely
  • Any cold remedy containing alcohol, including Benadryl and NyQuil
  • Codeine, a narcotic drug which may cause fetal respiratory depression
  • Bactrim (sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim), an antibiotic which 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
  • Pseudoephedrine- and phenylephrine-based decongestants, both of which may cause the constriction of the uterine arteries during the first trimester

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.

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Article Sources

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

  • Honein, M.; Gilboa, S; and Broussard, C. "The Need for Safer Medication Use in Pregnancy." Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol. 2013; 6(5):453-55.