Is it safe to take anti-sickness medication when pregnant?

Are anti-sickness drugs such as Metoclopramide and Cyclizine OK to take during pregnancy and why are some people scared of using them?

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In a nutshell

Most anti-sickness (anti-emetic) medication is safe to take during pregnancy but a doctor should always prescribe anti-emetic drugs, and it’s worth trying natural alternatives first.

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The expert view

If you’re really struggling with sickness during your pregnancy, there’s good news: anti-sickness medications are safe to take during pregnancy if prescribed by a doctor. Anti-sickness drugs have had a difficult history – see more below – but rest assured, there is medicine you can take which won’t harm your baby.

“There is medication that is safe to use in pregnancy,” confirms midwife Anne Richley, “but it should always be prescribed by a doctor, not bought over the counter.”

The NHS commonly prescribes antihistamines like Promethazine and Cyclizine to treat pregnancy sickness and taking anti-emetic drugs, like Prochlorperazine (Stemetil) or Metoclopramide, is another way of easing pregnancy nausea.

These drugs work either by blocking the signals from and to your the part of your brain that controls the sickness mechanism, or by encouraging your stomach to empty faster, so there’s nothing to bring up. You may also be prescribed vitamin B6, which may help relieve pregnancy nausea for some women, though it doesn’t reduce vomiting.

So when might you need to take anti-sickness drugs?

While more than half of pregnant women suffer with morning sickness, most mums-to-be are able to get through it and find the sickness eases by around week 12.

However, some women have really severe sickness, called hyperemesis gravidarumThis affects around 0.1% of pregnancies, and became well known when Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, suffered from it when she was pregnant with Prince George

According to Patient.co.uk, if your symptoms are, “persistent, severe and preventing daily activities” and typically last beyond week 20 of your pregnancy, you may need treatment with drugs. 

If you feel you’re not coping with pregnancy nausea, do talk to your midwife or doctor. 

There are also more serious sickness symptoms, which mean you should contact your GP or midwife immediately. These are:

  • if you’re unable to keep food or any fluids down for 24 hours
  • you don’t wee for more than 8 hours and your urine is dark coloured
  • you feel very weak, dizzy or faint when you stand up
  • you have stomach pains
  • you have a high temperature – 38°C (100.4°F) or above
  • your sick contains blood

But aren’t anti-sickness drugs dangerous in pregnancy?       

In the 60s a drug called Thalidomide was used to treat morning sickness. This did prove to be dangerous to unborn babies and was banned from use to treat pregnancy sickness.

The medications doctors now prescribe are largely considered safe and effective, although as with all medicines there can be side effects and it’s generally best to avoid medication when you’re pregnant if you can.

One study of more than 200,000 women found babies born to mums who had taken an antihistamine during their pregnancy were no more likely to have something wrong with them than babies whose mothers had not taken one. And another study of 40,000 women proved that taking metoclopramide didn’t increase the risks birth defects or miscarriage.

How can I cope without taking medication?

There are also lots of ways to stop feeling and being sick that don’t involve a visit to the pharmacy.

“There are various things that you can try to reduce the symptoms before using drugs,” says Anne. “Try eating little and often. Also, acupressure bands, often used for travel sickness, can work wonders.”

Other suggested natural treatments include including more ginger in your diet, eating dry, bland foods first thing in the morning, acupuncture and wearing clothes that don’t feel tight around the waist. 

Mums writing in our forum say:

“I was given Prochlorperazine when I was 10 wks pregnant with my DD. I had suffered from about 5 weeks and lost almost a stone. I visited my GP every week and begged them to help me but it took until 10 weeks for them to prescribe them (they worked great once I got them). I had to take anti sickness tablets until I was 26wks.” baby_blaylock

“Have had really bad case of hyperemesis gravidarum since 6 weeks pregnant. Got medication from doctor but nothing seemed to really kick it but……last few days have become increasingly better and without jinxing myself I don’t feel sick today! Am hoping that this is the start of me turning a corner. Fingers crossed!” tiger2004

“I had Hyperemesis and lost 2 stone in a matter of weeks. Everyone kept saying it’s just morning sickness you have to force yourself to eat but I couldn’t even keep water down. When I saw my consultant my urine sample was neon orange and she said she’d never seen anything like it and wanted me on a drip now. I was put on medication and luckily it stopped me being sick but the nausea was there throughout the pregnancy. There are a lot of foods I still can’t eat because of it. There’s only so many times you can throw something up and still want to eat it.” Lucian3

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