8 Over-The-Counter Drugs to Avoid During Your Pregnancy

Experiencing the miracle of being a mother while balancing the pain that comes along with it is surprisingly confusing. 

With pregnancy comes pain, morning sickness, stuffy nose, food cravings, and other common discomforts. Your first instinct may be to open the medicine cabinet for some much-needed relief, but WAIT!

When it comes to carrying a baby, even the familiar becomes a question mark. Especially when multiple studies have proved that certain medications given during pregnancy may prove harmful to the unborn child.

So, what should soon-to-be moms do? Take the risk, or play it safe with the herbal options? The answer is simple: Certain medications should be avoided, whereas for others, your doctor will assess the risks and benefits to you and your baby.

This article mentions a few medications that pregnant women should avoid.

Over-the-counter Pain Relievers to Avoid

Pain is a part and parcel of pregnancy. However, use the following pain medications with caution:

#1. Aspirin

Aspirin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) drug that should be avoided during the final three months of pregnancy. 

It can cause hemorrhaging in the mother and the baby, leading to complications during delivery. However, some studies suggest low dosages of aspirin (60 to 100 mg/day) might help avoid preeclampsia. Other studies say that low-dose aspirin combined with a blood thinner like heparin might reduce the chances of recurrent miscarriages.

Whatever the case, your best bet is to consult your healthcare provider and let them know about your symptoms.

#2. Tylenol (Acetaminophen)

Acetaminophen, also known as Tylenol, was once considered the safest OTC pain medication for pregnant women. It was used as an alternative to aspirin and ibuprofen. 

However, the latest research has raised some questions about the safety of this product when used during pregnancy. According to Torhoerman Law, there’s an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in babies whose mothers used Tylenol during pregnancy.

There’s even a Tylenol lawsuit going on. The lawsuit alleges that the manufacturer failed to mention that using the store-brand drug during pregnancy could cause newborns to develop autism or ADHD.

So make sure you avoid acetaminophen until the dust around its lawsuit settles.

#3. Ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin)

Ibuprofen (brand names: Advil and Motrin) is an anti-inflammatory drug that should be avoided during the third semester. 

You can use small doses of ibuprofen in the first trimester. But high doses should be avoided as they can cause serious health complications, such as:

  • Increased the risk of miscarriages and birth defects
  • Premature closure of the ductus arteriosus (a critical artery), which leads to complications during delivery
  • Jaundice
  • Hemorrhaging and blood-thinning for both mother and baby

#4. Naproxen

Naproxen (brand names: Aleve, Naprosyn) might be your go-to for muscle aches or menstrual cramps, but during pregnancy, it’s best to hit the brakes. 

This NSAID can affect your baby’s heart and kidneys, especially in the third trimester. It can also increase the chances of birth defects and miscarriages.

Decongestants to Avoid

With pregnancy often comes nasal and sinus congestion. You may instinctively reach for a decongestant, but common OTC options like Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) and Sudafed PE (phenylephrine) should be avoided.

#5. Pseudoephedrine and Phenylephrine

Pseudoephedrine constricts blood vessels, which can limit blood flow to the fetus. It also increases blood pressure and heart rate in pregnant women. Phenylephrine, on the other hand, also causes blood vessel constriction, specifically in uterine tissue. This can reduce oxygen and blood delivery through the umbilical cord.

Neither drug has been deemed safe during pregnancy. Speak with your doctor about alternative congestion relief options such as nasal saline sprays or strips, humidifiers, and guaifenesin-based cough medicine.

Antihistamines to Avoid

Antihistamines are commonly used for allergies, but might not be safe during pregnancy. Two commonly found antihistamines, Chlorpheniramine and Diphenhydramine, though effective for allergies, can pose significant risks for pregnant women and their babies.

#6. Chlorpheniramine and Diphenhydramine

Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) are first-generation antihistamines. These popular OTC medications contain active ingredients that can cross the placenta and potentially affect your baby’s nervous system. These histamines are known for their sedative effects and pose a significant risk to a developing fetus.

Opt for safer options like second-generation antihistamines (Cetirizine, Loratadine) after getting the green light from your doctor. And remember, natural remedies like nasal irrigation and avoiding allergy triggers can work wonders too!

Other OTC Medications to Avoid

Pregnancy impacts how your body metabolizes and utilizes certain medications. Even basic over-the-counter remedies can pose surprising risks. Besides the categories discussed above, steer clear of the following when pregnant:

#7. Antibiotics

While antibiotics can be lifesavers in fighting infections, some types pose potential risks to your developing baby. 

Tetracycline (including doxycycline (Doryx) and minocycline (Minocin)), for example, can cause liver damage and miscarriage in pregnant women. It also causes yellowed or brown teeth in infants and interferes with their bone development. 

Fluoroquinolones (including ciprofloxacin (Cipro) and levofloxacin), on the other hand, might affect the baby’s muscle and skeletal growth. It might also cause joint pain and nerve damage in the mother. Moreover, fluoroquinolones also increase the risk of aortic tears and ruptures, which result in severe hemorrhage. 

If antibiotics are prescribed, your doctor will carefully choose the safest option and weigh the benefits against the potential risks. Remember, open communication with your healthcare professional is crucial when it comes to any medication use during pregnancy.

#8. Cold and Allergy Medications

Never self-medicate. Several ingredients in common cold and allergy medications, such as certain decongestants or antihistamines, might pose risks during pregnancy. 

You’d be surprised where ingredients such as alcohol and caffeine might turn up. Vick’s NyQuil Cold & Flu Liquid contains alcohol whereas CVS Aspirin-Free Tension Headache is, indeed, aspirin-free, but still contains caffeine.

Pregnancy is full of surprises. While most are welcome, some can leave an expecting mom anxious about what she can and cannot put into her body. As a mom-to-be, it’s best to have an open conversation with your doctor about any over-the-counter medications you’re considering taking.

Certain ingredients in common OTC drugs have been linked to complications, birth defects, and developmental issues. The risks outweigh any potential short-term relief these medications may provide. Focus instead on natural remedies, lifestyle changes, and safer alternatives specifically approved by your healthcare provider.

Remember, not all medications are created equal, and no one size fits all. What worked for your close ones or even for you pre-pregnancy may not be suitable now. 

Trust your doctor to prescribe or greenlight only the safest pain relievers, decongestants, antihistamines, and other OTC options for the health of both you and your future bundle of joy.