In a nutshell

With caution and not for prolonged periods


The expert view

People tend not to dwell on the painful aspects of pregnancy, but conditions like sciatica, SPD (symphysis pubis dysfunction) and back pain can be a real issue for some women, and many feel they need something to take the edge off the discomfort.

Co-codamel is an effective pain reliever, but, explains our GP Dr Philippa Kaye, it should be used with care during pregnancy

"Low dose co-codamol is available over the counter but as with any medication speak to your pharmacist or doctor before starting it in pregnancy," she advises. "It contains both paracetamol and codeine and, while paracetamol is considered safe in pregnancy, the codeine can have both side effects in the mother and effects on the baby so it is prescribed with caution."

If you do choose to buy the lower strength formulation ( 8mg of codeine and 500mg of paracetamol) over the counter, the NHS warns you should only use it for a maximum of three days as it can cause addiction and side effects including constipation and nausea.

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What are the risks to my baby?

US research as part of the National Birth Defects Prevention Study found an association between use of opioids, including codeine, in the first trimester and birth defects such as heart problems and spina bifida.

In addition, repeatedly taking co-codamol during pregnancy could mean your baby becomes physically dependent, and lead to withdrawal symptoms from codeine or paracetamol after birth.

However, do seek advice from your GP because as Dr Kaye points out, co-codamol is actually "commonly prescribed to pregnant women who need it for pain". She also recommends trying other non-medicinal treatments, such as ice packs, or physiotherapy.

Mums our forum say

"I had [symphysis pubis dysfunction] with Hayden from 30 weeks then Reese at 18 weeks painful. I found trying to sleep on my side with a pillow in between my legs helped and I supported my body on a v shape pillow too. I took co codamol and paracetamol to sleep as the burning pain was worse at night." BecsF


"The GP offered to provide co-codamol for my SPD pain. Not sure if it's prescription only though?" smashedcrab


Magda Ibrahim is a freelance writer who has written for publications including The Times and Sunday Times, The Sun, Time Out, and the London Evening Standard, as well for MadeForMums.