Are over-the-counter drugs safe in pregnancy?

Thrush, constipation, piles, itching, heartburn…no, it's not our Christmas shopping list, we just want to know whether any non-prescription medicines for these complaints are OK to take in pregnancy

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In a nutshell?

Some medicines without prescription are safe, others aren’t.

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The expert view

Constipation, rashes, thrush, nausea and back pain are some of the most common pregnancy complaints (or ‘niggles’ as they used to be optimistically called!) women experience. Even the most straightforward pregnancy is likely to bring with it a few unwanted symptoms.

So, how do you know which of the common over -the-counter medicines are safe to take?

“Just because it’s available over the counter does not mean that it’s not an effective medication or that it is safe in pregnancy,” points out MFM’s GP Dr Philippa Kaye.

The general rule is always to check with a medical professional before taking drugs in pregnancy.

“Even with simple commonly-used medicines and creams, check with your pharmacist before you use them. And this also applies to those medicines which you may have lurking in a cabinet at home,” she adds.

So which medicines are generally considered safe, then?

Paracetamol – as a painkiller or for reducing a high temperature – is fine.

Movicol, Fybogel and Normacol for constipation are considered safe, while other treatments such as Dulcolax, Senokot, Celevac and Dulcoease are not recommended for pregnancy

Germoloids ointment, cream and suppositories for haemorrhoids are safe in pregnancy, but the spray is not as it contains hydrocortisone. Anusol is also considered safe.

Thrush treatments which include oral tablets or capsules are not usually recommended in pregnancy, but external creams such as Canesten are usually fine. Visiting a doctor is advised if it’s the first time you’ve had thrush, or it keeps coming back.

Vitamin B6 is often recommended to help combat sickness, but the problem is that the dose needed to work is well above what’s usually recommended for mums-to-be. It’s worth seeing your GP if it’s really bad.

Itchy skin is another unfortunate side effect of pregnancy for some women as their bump grows. Creams like E45 are generally considered safe, but if the itching’s really bad, it could be a sign of something more serious – so do raise it with your GP or midwife.

Some over- the-counter drugs for colds and flu, like paracetamol, are OK – but others aren’t safe because they contain ingredients that are not recommended in pregnancy. Medicines like Lemsip, which contain a decongestant, should not be used, as well as Vicks products containing ephedrine, although the rubs and oils are fine.

Gaviscon for heartburn and indigestion is generally safe, but can interact with other medicines. So check with a health professional if you’re taking anything else.

The mums who’ve been there view

“I have a chest infection and its so annoying and painful! I’m just rubbing vapour rub on my chest and inhaling a little bit of that in a bowl of hot water.honey & lemon in hot water is good to sooth too. But I would kill for some Benylin right now!!!!” – arlik

[If you have thrush in pregnancy] Canestan is fine – I used at 36 weeks and used the pessary which worked in a day it’s great and I highly recommend it, but get it prescribed after all it’s free that way.” – sarahbaby654

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