Safe Medications to Take While Pregnant

What's safe and what's not when you're expecting.


Getting sick when you're pregnant can be scary enough without having to stress about whether popping pills that might ease your symptoms will harm your growing baby. "One of the biggest things my pregnant patients are afraid of is ingesting something that may cause birth defects or negatively impact the baby's development," says Alane Park, M.D., mother of two sons and co-author of The Mommy Docs' Ultimate Guide To Pregnancy and Birth. "The truth is that most medications are actually deemed fairly okay. While you want to minimize drug use as much as possible, the consequences of not taking a medication on the health of the mother and baby usually outweigh any potential risks." To get relief and feel more at ease, check out Dr. Park's recommendations for safe drugs to take when you're expecting.

For Pain

Safe to take: Regular and extra-strength Tylenol (acetaminophen)

Follow the dosage on the bottle for Tylenol and you'll be okay. Other types of pain relievers—such as ibuprofen (a.k.a. Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (a.k.a. Aleve)—can trigger a decrease in amniotic fluid levels in third trimester (which means less cushioning for baby and more pressure on its lifeline, the umbilical cord), says Dr. Park. Advil may also make a certain vessel in the baby's heart close prematurely and cause developmental issues in later stages of pregnancy.

For Constipation

Safe to take: Metamucil, Colace, Citracel, Milk of Magnesia, Dulcolax

If you're feeling a little plugged up, blame it on a surge in the hormone progesterone that slows down your smooth muscle cells so your bowel movements aren't as regular. (Or blame it on your growing uterus for pushing on your intestines!). Dr. Park gives the green light for taking stool softeners and laxatives, but also try upping your fiber intake by eating more fruits and veggies and drinking plenty of fluids.

For Indigestion and Heartburn

Safe to take: Tums, Maalox, Mylanta, Pepcid

Progesterone is at it again, causing heartburn by affecting your smooth muscle cells and relaxing the sphincter between your stomach and esophagus so acid comes up. (And your growing uterus is also pushing on your stomach to add to the heartburn.) Before you take a prescription med such as Prilosec, try over-the-counter remedies first because they're the least strong. Also eat smaller, more frequent meals and stop noshing two to three hours before you hit the sack.

For Infections

Safe to take: Penicillin

If you have an infection such as strep throat or an UTI that calls for antibiotics, penicillin is the way to go. "There have never been any birth defects associated with the penicillin family, or any other issues linked to mom or baby," says Dr. Park. However, the tetracycline and doxycycline families of antibiotics have been found to cause discoloration in babies' teeth after the fourth month of pregnancy, because these meds affect the calcification—or the hardening—of their pearly whites. "It's purely a cosmetic thing, but best to avoid those types of antibiotics," says Dr. Park.

For Yeast

Safe to take: Monistat, Gynelotrimin

Yeast infections are common during pregnancy, and while the condition won't harm the baby the last thing you want to do is suffer through the itchy discomfort. "There is some absorption of vaginal creams into the body and blood stream, but doses are low and no studies show that it affects baby or mom negatively," says Dr. Park. "We don't prescribe the oral pill diflucan or fluconzaole because observational studies show that moms who have had to take extended doses for chronic fungal infections have had babies with birth defects." However, it's safe to take this oral yeast infection med when breastfeeding if you get the fungal infection known as thrush from your baby.

For the Common Cold

Safe to take: Benadryl, Sudafed, Afrin nasal spray, Claratin, Robitussin DM, Vicks Formula 44, Halls cough drops

"Pretty much all of the over-the-counter meds for common cold are thought to be safe," says Dr. Park. One thing to keep in mind is that there are a lot of combination meds, such as Tylenol Cold, that treat multiple symptoms, such as a runny nose and cough and fever. But if the only cold symptoms you have are a headache and stuffy nose, why would you take a medication that also treats a cough? "Rather than taking meds you don't actually need, target only the symptoms you want to treat by buying drugs for each of your specific concerns," says Dr. Park.

Look for the ingredient dextromethorphan, or DM, for a cough suppressant; guaifenesin to loosen up mucus; and pseudoephedrinem and phenylephrine, or PE, as a decongestant for a stuffy nose.

Please consult with your healthcare provider before taking any medication while pregnant.

For the Flu

Safe to take: Tamiflu

Your immune system isn't as strong when you're pregnant, so the flu can hit you a whole lot harder—and even lead to death in extreme cases. That's why it's so important to get the flu vaccine (ask for the inactivated flu vaccine so you don't get the live virus). However, if you've been exposed to and/or tested positive for the flu, doctors say it's important to take Tamiflu to lessen the symptoms and duration. "Tamiflu is thought to be safe for pregnant women, and the risks of skipping it are far greater than taking the meds," says Dr. Park. "That's because the baby's temperature is always going to be a degree higher than yours, so if you have a high fever it may cause birth defects during early development stages and pre-term labor during later stages of pregnancy."

For Pre-Existing Medical Conditions

(such as depression, asthma, seizures, chronic hypertension, and diabetes) Safe to take: It's best to consult your doc if you're on a prescription for a pre-existing health issue, but you'll most likely need to continue taking life-saving meds during your pregnancy.

The goal is always to give the minimum dosage necessary to keep your symptoms under control, because there may be greater risks if you're affected by say, asthma or seizures, than by the effects of taking those meds on the baby. "And even though we don't recommend regular, prolonged exposure to anxiety drugs such as Zanax, Ativan, and valium because they're addictive substances and the baby could have withdrawal symptoms at birth, we do prescribe them in rare occasions because you have to have a healthy, happy, functioning mom in order to have a healthy pregnancy," says Dr. Park.