Someone blowing their nose
By Maria Montoya, MD

Which Cold & Flu Medication Is Safe to Take During Pregnancy?

You are pregnant and start feeling sick. Before you reach for that bottle of cold or flu medicine, are you certain it is safe for your baby?

When you are pregnant, your baby will be exposed to everything you are exposed to. This means that when you are sick with a cold or flu your baby will not only be exposed to the cold or flu virus, but also any medication you may take.

Typically, with most viruses, you must wait for your immune system to fight the infection. Over-the-counter medications can help soothe your symptoms while you wait.

However, not all over-the-counter medicines are safe to take during pregnancy. Certain medications may hurt the baby or cause problems for you, such as increasing your blood pressure.

Use this quick list of pregnancy-safe natural cold and flu remedies and over-the-counter medications as a starting point. Remember, read the directions on the package for any medication you might take. It’s also a good idea to talk with your doctor or midwife before taking a cold or flu medication.

Natural, Pregnancy-Safe Remedies

Before you try any medications, there are natural remedies you may find adequate relief from first. Here are a couple of safe, natural remedies to try:

  • Gargle warm salt water
  • Get as much restful sleep as possible
  • Sip honey in hot water
  • Stay well hydrated
  • Use nasal saline sprays
  • Try a humidifier

While not all herbs and supplements are safe in pregnancy. You may be able to safely take:

  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc
  • Manuka Honey
  • Elderberry

Talk with your doctor or midwife before taking any supplements or trying at-home remedies or essential oils during pregnancy.

If natural remedies don’t provide enough relief, consider these pregnancy-safe medications.

Pregnancy-Safe Cold & Flu Medication

It is best to avoid taking medications when possible. If you do need to take something, follow the package directions carefully. Talk with your doctor or midwife before taking medication during pregnancy.

These over-the-counter medications are considered safe for most pregnant patients:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
    • Safe during the entire pregnancy.
    • Take only as needed.
    • Try to limit regular exposure.
    • Not safe if you are allergic to it or have liver problems.
  • Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
    • Safe in the second and third trimester
    • Not safe in the first trimester due to a small risk of abdominal wall birth defects
    • Not safe if you have high blood pressure (hypertension) or a history of heart disease
  • Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton)
    • Safe during pregnancy.
    • Not safe while breastfeeding.
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
    • Safe throughout pregnancy.

Watch out for extra ingredients. Many cold and flu medications treat more symptoms than you may be experiencing. For example, Tylenol Cold Multi-Symptom treats headaches, fever, body aches, cough, chest congestion, stuffy nose, and more. If you just have a stuffy nose, this is more medication than you need.

A word about antibiotics. Some sinus infections are treated with antibiotics. In general, pregnant patients should not take antibiotics unless it is necessary. Make sure your health care provider knows you are pregnant if they prescribe antibiotics.

The dangers of high blood pressure in pregnancy

How to spot symptoms and get help

Medications to Avoid in Pregnancy

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications can hurt your developing baby. Do not take NSAIDs such as these when you are pregnant:

  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • Naproxen (Aleve, Midol)
  • Celecoxib (Celebrex)
  • Aspirin (Bayer), unless your doctor or midwife prescribes daily low-dose aspirin.

Do not take these medications during pregnancy. These drugs can hurt the developing baby:

  • Benzocaine (throat lozenges/throat sprays)
  • Codeine (a pain and cough medication)
  • Phenylephrine (i.e., Sudafed PE): it not considered safe while pregnant because studies with animals showed adverse effects to the fetus.

When you don’t feel well, the last thing you might want to do is read a medication label. However, it is worth taking a few extra moments to read the label and avoid additional risks. If you’re not sure what medicine is safe to take, call us. We are always here to help you.

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Categories: Women's Health