Sick While Expecting? Try These Safe Cold Medications for Pregnancy

A pregnant woman wearing a grey tee-shirt is laying on her back on a bed. She has her left hand on the top of her belly and she is blowing her nose with a tissue with her right hand.

Sometimes, we forget that “normal sick” is still a thing during pregnancy…at least I did! I was so focused on things like early pregnancy signs and basic morning sickness symptoms that I was slightly taken aback when I got a run-of-the-mill sinus infection. Let’s remember, though, just because we’re dealing with these like morning sickness, lightning crotch, and pregnancy constipation, that doesn’t mean there’s suddenly a moratorium on picking up nasty germs. Allergies, colds, and tummy bugs are still possible while you’re expecting. So, what do you do when you’re pregnant and feeling like crap? You lean on safe cold medications for pregnancy, that’s what!

While we shouldn’t start taking medicine willy-nilly while pregnant (some ingredients aren’t good for baby’s development), there are still plenty of suitable options.

Important note: you should ALWAYS remember to talk to your doctor before taking ANY new medication.

Stick around if you’ve got a runny nose, headache, or an unfortunate case of hay fever! We’re breaking down all the best cold remedies and medication options for you and your little one during pregnancy

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Is There an Increased Risk of Getting Sick While Pregnant?

We all know that pregnancy has its fair share of annoying side effects. Did you realize, however, that a weakened immune system is one of them? That’s right– as if your sore boobs and pregnancy acne weren’t bad enough, there’s also a higher chance you’ll catch a cold during your gestational journey. 

To combat the increased risk of illness (and to help you stay out of the doctor’s office!), it’s helpful to give yourself a little immunity boost. 

Take a quality prenatal vitamin, wash your hands thoroughly, and clean with antibacterial products or disinfecting wipes. You should also get plenty of rest and make sure you’re keeping up with your water intake (those handy “Don’t forget to drink” bottles are helpful!)

Remember to take at least 85mg of Vitamin C daily, too!

Do Safe Medications Change Based on Pregnancy Trimesters?

Just because something is considered safe during pregnancy doesn’t mean you can use it for the entire nine months. 

Some medications, for example, are only safe during the second and third trimesters. For example, you can only take Sudafed after your first trimester.

As you read through our list of safe medicines to take while pregnant, pay attention to any notes about which ones you should avoid during particular trimesters

What are the Most Common Medications You Should Avoid While Expecting?

Certain medicines are proven to increase the risk of congenital disabilities in babies. While NOT a comprehensive list, you should avoid the treatments below unless directed otherwise by your doctor:

  • Isotretinoin, i.e., Accutane
  • Over-the-Counter Ibuprofen and Naproxen 
  • Lithium
  • ACE Inhibitors
  • Certain Seizure Medications, i.e., Valproic Acid 
  • Methotrexate 
  • Warfarin  
  • Certain Anxiety Medications, i.e., Alprazolam and Diazepam  

What Are Safe Cold Medications to Take During Pregnancy?

Do you know what sucks? Waking up in the morning with that telling tickle in your throat, pounding in your head, or the sudden sensation you can’t breathe because your nose is so stuffed with gunk!

All these and more are the tell-tale signs that you’re probably getting sick. 

However, when you’ve got a human being in your belly, you can’t just run to the local pharmacy and grab the first cold medicine you see. 

But there are still use plenty of things you can use when you need cold medications during pregnancy. Read on to learn more…

1. Saline Spray

Sick or not, did you know that stuffy noses are common during pregnancy? Regular saline spray is an excellent option whether you’re looking for preventative care or treatment for cold symptoms. 

It will moisturize nasal passages, flush out mucus, and loosen any hardened debris that’s hanging out inside your nose.  It’s a great addition to your cold medications collection during pregnancy!

2. Mucinex

Over the years, I’ve had many doctors suggest using Mucinex when I’ve had colds. Thanks to those expert opinions, it’s now my first-choice line of defense against any yuck and cooties I contract.

It’s also safe during pregnancy, but what does it do?

Long story short, the main ingredient in Mucinex (Guaifenesin) helps eliminate mucus. This medication is helpful whether you’re battling bronchitis or the common cold. It makes coughs more productive and loosens phlegm, so it’s easier to get out. 

Note: There’s a minimal chance that guaifenesin can cause neural tube defects and inguinal hernia. For that reason, experts suggest avoiding it during the first trimester. 

3. Robitussin

Is your cough driving you up the wall or keeping you up at night? Robitussin could be the ideal pregnancy-safe solution. The active ingredients in this medication are dextromethorphan (DM), a cough suppressant, and guaifenesin, the mucus expectorant also found in Mucinex. 

While studies of DM don’t show any correlation between the ingredient and congenital disabilities, you may want to steer clear of Robitussin during the first trimester since it contains guaifenesin. 

4. Cepacol Lozenges

I recently faced a 2-month war with strep throat. Given my recent experience, I can tell you that navigating a sore throat without any treatment is MISERABLE. 

Whether you’ve got strep yourself or you’re struggling with a sore throat from a cold or flu, Cepacol throat lozenges offer much-needed relief. 

These fast-acting magic tablets contain benzocaine and menthol to counteract sore throat or mouth pain. Be warned; these will likely numb your mouth, which can be just as annoying as a sore throat. 

Since benzocaine is absorbed through the skin, studies show your baby won’t receive it in utero. Cepacol lozenges get the green light during all three trimesters.

5. Afrin

Afrin is one of the best nasal sprays for congestion during pregnancy. Why, you ask? Because barely any of its main ingredient, oxymetazoline, gets absorbed into your bloodstream

Since there’s some discussion about whether oral decongestants, like pseudoephedrine, are safe during pregnancy all trimesters, Afrin is an excellent alternative.

If Afrin isn’t working, speak with your doctor to see if a medicine like Sudafed would be okay for you to use. Some research claims it’s likely an acceptable option if you do not use it in the first trimester and don’t have high blood pressure.

If you decide to use Afrin, read the directions carefully. Overuse causes rebound congestion. Experts say patients should only use it intermittently or regularly for up to three days.

Are Antibiotics Safe During Pregnancy?

Sometimes, no matter how much sleep you get, Vitamin C you ingest, and OTC medications you take,  there’s no amount of at-home treatments to keep you away from an antibiotic prescription. 

But are they considered safe medications during pregnancy?

Yes and no.  

The word antibiotic is simply an umbrella term. Not all medications in this treatment category are trusted options while you’re expecting. Thankfully, some widely-used varieties are safe for developing babies and reliable for treating many conditions. These include:

  • Penicillin (i.e., Amoxicillin and Ampicillin)
  • Cephalosporins (i.e., Cefaclor and Cephalexin)
  • Clindamycin (i.e., Cleocin, Clinda-Derm, Clindagel)
On a table sits a clear mug with a light colored liquid, a thermometer, a lemon, a bottle of medicine, tissues, and a tan blanket.
Wondering what cold medications you can take while pregnant? Here’s a list to help you out!

Is Tylenol the Only Safe Pain Reliever for Pregnancy?

I was one of the unlucky people to have near-constant headaches during both of my pregnancies. I especially suffered from early pregnancy headaches, and honestly, there was no way I’d have made it through nine months without taking some pain-relief medication.

While not all analgesics (the fancy word for painkillers) are suitable for pregnancy, acetaminophen, a.k.a Tylenol, is safe for body aches and headaches.

But what about the other options – like NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), for instance?

NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), aren’t usually recommended as safe pregnancy medications, especially after week 20 since they can contribute to low amniotic fluid. The FDA has also concluded they can cause kidney defects in your baby after the 20-week mark.

So, as a general rule: stick to Tylenol.

If the Tylenol isn’t working for you, speak with your doctor. They can assess the situation and help develop a better treatment plan for exactly where you are in your pregnancy.

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Medications for GI and Stomach Issues During Pregnancy

Constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, and nausea are just a few of the fantastic GI problems you might experience during pregnancy. Yay! 

But here’s the real kicker. Despite the abundance of tummy trouble you might face, not every medication is suitable for pregnant people. Pepto-Bismol, for example, is a no-go! 

There are plenty of dependable products you can use for gastro distress, such as:

1. TUMS

Got a case of heartburn or indigestion during pregnancy? Grab a bottle of TUMS and pop a couple of tablets! Made from calcium carbonate, these are not only safe for treating many GI issues, but they also provide an extra boost of calcium that’s necessary during pregnancy. 

Bonus: These now come in a chewy variety that basically tastes like candy!

2. Pepcid AC

According to the Cleveland Clinic, 50% of people will experience severe heartburn during pregnancy. If taking a few TUMS isn’t cutting it, you might need a different treatment option, such as Pepcid AC. 

Pepcid features the active ingredient famotidine, which helps minimize the acid in your stomach. With less acid hanging around, your indigestion, acid reflux, and heartburn episodes will also slow down. 

Basically, if you’re suffering from gastroesophageal disease (GERD), which is where your stomach contents sneak up your esophagus, during pregnancy, this medication might be your best friend. 

Studies show no additional risk of congenital disabilities or problems when taking Pepcid AC, beyond the 3-5% background risk each pregnancy starts out with.

3. Emetrol

Are you on a desperate hunt for morning sickness treatments? Is there a nasty stomach bug barreling through your home? If you’re tired of puking and want relief, Emetrol is a safe anti-nausea medicine during pregnancy. 

Emetrol soothes stomach muscles and helps prevent nausea and vomiting-inducing contractions. 

4. Dulcolax

The nasty truth about pregnancy is that it does a number on our bowel routines. No matter how regular you were pre-baby bump, the pee stick turns positive, and suddenly you’re either desperate to poop or pleading for it to stop. 

If constipation is your problem of the moment, it might be time to face the music and buy some stool softeners, which is where Dulcolax comes in.

While it’s best to try natural constipation treatments first,  such as increasing your fiber intake and drinking more water, Dulcolax is a safe option if you need a laxative to get things moving. 

Is There a Pregnancy-Safe Diarrhea Medicine?

Okay, no bones about it, diarrhea sucks, and most of us don’t want to grin and bear it during pregnancy. That said, is there a safe medication you can use while expecting?

Maybe?

Some doctors might suggest patients use Loperamide, a.k.a. Immodium, during pregnancy. But here’s the thing; there isn’t much information to prove whether or not this is a safe solution since studies show a possible connection between Immodium and congenital disabilities

Before you go out and buy yourself a bottle, check with your healthcare provider. If the benefits outweigh the medication‘s risks, they might give you the green light.

Instead of running to your local pharmacy, you can try natural diarrhea treatments first. These include drinking room-temperature beverages for hydration and eating a “recovery diet,” such as the BRAT diet, which includes:

  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Apple sauce
  • Toast

The Best Allergy Medications for Pregnancy

Whether you struggle with seasonal, pet, or food allergies, there’s a chance they could get worse (or better!) during pregnancy

Don’t fret, though! If you’re dealing with allergies, there are plenty of safe medicines to take while pregnant.

1. Benadryl  

Research shows that diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl, is safe during pregnancy. This medication is an antihistamine, meaning it blocks the side effects of histamines in your body, i.e., sneezing, itching, etc.

What is histamine, you ask? It’s a chemical connected to your immune system and works as your bodyguard against allergens. If you come in contact with anything you’re allergic to, the histamines will cause an immune response. Unfortunately, those responses are annoying as hell. 

So, thanks to histamines for doing their job, but also thanks to Benadryl for helping us counteract the effects. 

While some study results show the possibility of congenital disabilities when using this product during the first trimester, others contradict this. If you’d rather edge on the side of safety, your best bet is to avoid taking this medication during early pregnancy. 

Note: Benadryl can cause frustrating side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, or constipation. Be careful taking it until you know how your body will respond.

2. Zyrtec

So, what’s the difference between an allergy medication like Benadryl and one like Zyrtec? Per the experts, Zyrtec, which utilizes the active ingredient Cetirizine, is a second-generation antihistamine. In layperson’s terms, that means an antihistamine that doesn’t cause as many side effects. 

It takes around the same amount of time to yield results, about 15-30 minutes) but also lasts much longer, around 24 hours. 

Sometimes, different allergy medications work better for particular people. If you feel like you need a daily allergy pill, but Zyrtec isn’t cutting it, Claritin and Allegra work the same way and are safe during pregnancy

As with Benadryl, it’s best to avoid these during the first trimester, if possible. Always talk with your doctor if you have concerns about allergy medications.

3. Flonase

Want to double down on your allergy symptoms? Flonase (Fluticasone) is a nasal spray that works against side effects like runny nose, sneezing, and itchiness. 

Since you spray this into your nose, hardly any of it gets into your bloodstream, making it an excellent option for allergy treatment during pregnancy. 

A pregnant woman wearing a light orange shirt is sitting in a tan chair. She is blowing her nose.
Feeling bad while pregnant? Here’s what you need to know about cold medications and pregnancy.

Make Sure to Print Our Undefining Motherhood Safe Cold Medications in Pregnancy List

I know; this is a lot of information you might forget two seconds after reading this article. No worries, we’ve got you covered!

Print our convenient “Safe Medications in Pregnancy” List to ensure you always know what medicine is okay for you and your growing baby. Hang it on the fridge, leave it in your car, or have it tattooed onto your forearm: the options are endless!

Call Your Doctor if You Get Confused About Safe Medicines During Pregnancy

I know you want to do the best things for your baby during pregnancy. Sometimes, though, the best thing is taking care of yourself.

It’s easy to say you won’t take anything while pregnant to protect your baby; I know I did. 

But what happens the first time your head is pounding, your gastrointestinal tract is backed up, or your seasonal allergies start wreaking havoc on your nose? While avoiding medicine seems selfless, you shouldn’t torture yourself.  The cold medications mentioned are safe for you during pregnancy.

There’s no reason to harbor guilt for doing something to help yourself.

And don’t forget; doctors have helplines for a reason! If you’re nervous about taking something, call their office and get their professional opinion. Pregnancy anxiety is bad enough without you stressing about the Tylenol you took last night!

Take care of yourself, Mama. Growing a kid is no easy feat; you deserve as much comfort as possible!

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Did you take any cold medications during pregnancy? Were you worried about it?