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You’re eight months pregnant, and with your uterus squeezing your stomach, you could really use an antacid. Is it safe to pop a Tums?
A prickly heat rash is sweeping like wildfire across your abdomen. Should you reach for the cortisone cream?
And what about the pounding headache, those achy legs and the nausea, constipation or sniffles that won’t go away? Are there any over-the-counter remedies you can swallow, swill, chew, spray or rub on that will not threaten your developing baby?
In a word, yes. Although any woman who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant in the near future should not take anything — even an aspirin — without first discussing it with her doctor, many nonprescription medications pose no known risks to mother or fetus. “Pregnancy is a time to be cautious, but avoiding everything is not appropriate,” says Lynn Martinez, program manager for the Pregnancy RiskLine in Salt Lake City, a referral organization for the Teratology Information Services hot line. “Though the benefit of using a medicine during pregnancy sometimes far outweighs any potential risk, some women are fearful of taking anything, even when it’s on doctor’s orders.”
But just because a medication is available without a prescription does not mean it is safe to take during pregnancy. (In fact, because of the potential risks, few drugs have been tested on pregnant women.) Experts say that where any drug is concerned, it is best to proceed with caution. “The basic rule is, if you don’t need to take a medication — prescription or over-the-counter — don’t take it,” says Karen Filkins, M.D., director of reproductive genetics in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California, Los Angeles, Medical School. Still, we do know enough about the use of some remedies during pregnancy to give them a green light.
Pain relievers No serious risks from the moderate use of acetaminophen (Tylenol) have been found. But experts often warn against using aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories containing naproxen (Naprosyn).
Cold medicines Oral decongestants called pseudoephedrines (Sudafed) have been used safely during pregnancy to relieve sniffles and sneezing. Nasal sprays are usually not recommended, as their effects on fetal development have not been as well studied.
Antacids The antacid of choice, according to Martinez, is one containing calcium carbonate (Tums). If you want to use a different product, select one without sodium, since salt can cause fluid retention.