During pregnancy, you may catch a common illness such as a cold or you could be having some mild pain but might be nervous about taking over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. These are drugs that can be bought without prescription in a pharmacy and usually include mild painkillers or cold remedies.
Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital Dr Penny Law answers some commonly asked questions to put your mind at rest.
Are over-the-counter medications safe to take in pregnancy?
It is actually safer not to take any medication in pregnancy, but for each woman, the risks of any drug have to be weighed against the need for it and the possible benefit to the mother.
There is a myriad of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines in your pharmacy but very few have ever been tested on pregnant women and their developing foetuses.
It is always better to check with your midwife or GP before taking even mild painkillers. For instance, paracetamol is thought to be effective for headache and has a very low risk to the foetus but ibuprofen in pregnancy has been associated with an increased chance of miscarriage.
If you have symptoms of a cold or cough, the cause is usually viral and only steam or honey is likely to help regardless. Cough syrup may soothe the throat temporarily but has minimal effect on your cough or inflammation of your throat.
In terms of vitamins, if you are eating a balanced diet, the only ones you need are folic acid and vitamin D – the rest in many multivitamin preparations are probably excreted by your body. Bumps (Best Use of Medicine in Pregnancy) – http://www.medicinesinpregnancy.org/ – is a good online resource if you wish to check the latest evidence on safety of a particular medicine.
What are the OTC medicines used to treat some of the most common illnesses in pregnancy?
These would include antacids for reflux and heartburn, low dose aspirin for added protection against a blood clot or pre-eclampsia and simple painkillers such as paracetamol. It is always safer to check that these are safe to take in 'your' pregnancy.
Are there different guidelines for pregnant women?
Of course – a pharmacist will always check that you have taken medical advice before using an OTC preparation, particularly if you are not yet twelve weeks as this early time is when the foetus is developing all its vital organs.
What OTC medicines should be avoided during pregnancy?
As mentioned above, ibuprofen is best not taken when you are pregnant, also any medications for diarrhoea as they can cause cramping. Any medication other than 'Lactulose' to help you go to the bathroom can also cause uterine irritability, and some medicines for hay fever should be avoided unless you have spoken to your doctor.
Am I able to take antibiotics during pregnancy?
Again these are best avoided if possible especially until you are over twelve weeks. There will always be times though when you do have a bacterial infection i.e. a urine infection and if left untreated it could worsen and affect your kidneys – so in these cases an antibiotic may be suggested – albeit from a list of thoroughly tested and tried medication.
Once you start a course of these medicines, you should always finish them – unless you experience side effects e.g. rash or vomiting/diarrhoea.
Many women do take antibiotics in pregnancy, and indeed to try and prevent pre-term labour they may well be prescribed by your doctor.