While pregnant women should proceed with caution with any OTC medication since there is not enough data to say for certain if a drug is entirely safe to take during pregnancy due to ethical reasons, sometimes the potential benefit of taking a medication outweighs any potential risk to the baby. OTC medications may be needed during pregnancy to treat or alleviate symptoms of allergy, respiratory, gastrointestinal, general analgesia, and fever. If non-pharmacological therapies are ineffective or have failed, here are the top OTC medications that are safer to use during pregnancy:
-For constipation, which is common during pregnancy, Polyethylene glycol 3350 (Miralax), Pregnancy Category C, is the drug of choice, especially for chronic constipation since it has minimal systemic absorption. Stool softeners such as Docusate Sodium (Colace), Pregnancy Category C, are also safer to use.
-Heartburn is another condition that most pregnant women experience, and selective histamine H2 antagonists (Cimetidine (Tagamet), Famotidine (Pepcid), Nizatidine (Axid), Ranitidine (Zantac), Pregnancy Category B, are safer to use in all trimesters and have no known teratogenic effects.
-For allergic rhinitis, first-generation antihistamines Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Pregnancy Category B, and second generation antihistamines Cetirizine (Zyrtec), and Loratadine (Claritin) (Pregnancy Category B) are safer to use and have also shown to have no known teratogenic effects.
-For treatment of fever, acetaminophen (Tylenol), Pregnancy Category B was shown to be the safer. While there is still debate about the use of acetaminophen during pregnancy among health professionals, data has shown that when used specifically for fever and as a single agent without routine use, acetaminophen is actually protective against birth defects that fevers may cause. Acetaminophen is also the safest agent to use for pain as long as it is used occasionally.
However, pregnant women should always consult their healthcare professional first, especially during their third trimester, to avoid any interactions, adverse effects, or misuse. For more information about the pregnancy categories and the safety of other OTC medications, see article below.
References: Servey J, Chang J. Over-the-counter medications in pregnancy. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2014/1015/p548.html#afp20141015p548-c1. Accessed February 17, 2017.
Posted by Christine Choe, PharmD Candidate 2018