Cough drops, cold medicine: What’s safe to take while you’re pregnant?
Guidelines for expecting mothers
Tingling in your throat, some congestion in your chest, a little ache in your back or an errant sneeze or two—these symptoms are often the makings of the flu or a cold. Typically, if you’re faced with a case of the sniffles or a sore throat, a dose of cold medicine and a good night’s sleep will do the trick.
But not if you’re pregnant. Unfortunately, many over-the-counter medicines are off limits during pregnancy.
“Typically, the symptoms of a bad cold or the flu while you’re pregnant won’t affect your baby,” says Dr. Marcel Favetta, an OBGYN at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center and Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre. “However, some of the medicines can be harmful, or they haven’t been studied widely, so you may have to get through this brief illness without some of the remedies you took before you were pregnant.”
How to prevent the flu when pregnant
One preventive measure that is recommended during your pregnancy is getting a flu shot. Getting a flu shot if you are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant can help keep you and your baby safe during flu season, which lasts from November to March.
“If you’re pregnant when you get the flu, you are at greater risk for serious complications that could affect both you and your baby,” says Dr. Favetta. “Fevers, which are common during the flu, are associated with birth defects.”
The CDC recommends getting a flu shot during any trimester of pregnancy.
Dealing with coughs and colds
But what if your symptoms aren’t as serious as the flu? What if you’ve simply got a sore throat and some nasal congestion?
Unfortunately, the effects of over-the-counter medications on pregnant women and babies haven’t been widely studied. We do know, however, that it is generally safe to take acetaminophen if you have a headache or some body aches, along with other cold symptoms. Most other medications may be off the table.
“You should avoid taking over-the-counter medicines in most cases,” says Dr. Favetta. “Instead, it’s best to turn to natural remedies to fight your cold symptoms.”
And while it might be tempting to take dietary supplements that are rich in vitamin C, you should avoid taking these while you’re pregnant, as well.
“Too much vitamin C can put you at risk for having a premature baby. Don’t forget that if you are taking a prenatal vitamin and eating your recommended servings of fruits and vegetables each day you are getting plenty of vitamin C,” says Dr. Favetta.
To treat nasal congestion, which can make it difficult to breath, you can use a saline nasal spray to clear the passages. For a sore throat, try gargling salt water to relieve the pain.
You should also try to get plenty of sleep and drink fluids.
No matter how much saltwater you gargle or how many times you try to clear your nasal passage, sometimes more natural remedies just won’t do the trick. If that’s the case, talk to your doctor about your over-the-counter medication options. They may be able to recommend specific medicines to take.
“Many over-the-counter medicines treat multiple symptoms—and you may only be suffering from one or two of them, which means you’re taking more medicine than you need to,” says Dr. Favetta. “But you can work closely with your doctor to decide on a medication based on your specific health history.”
You may be able to take certain expectorants (to relieve a cough), cough suppressants, vapor rubs and cough drops.
Prevent illness while pregnant
The best way to avoid getting sick in the first place is to wash your hands frequently and eat a healthy diet. And if your friends, co-workers or family members are sick, try to keep your distance.
“Your immune system is weaker while you are pregnant; if your co-workers are sick you may want to stay home if they insist on coming to the office,” says Dr. Favetta.
Marcel Favetta, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist who sees patients at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center and Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre. To schedule an appointment, please call 800-275-6401.