Is it safe to take cold and flu remedies while pregnant?

Dr Rob Hicks explains which over-the-counter medicines are OK to have during pregnancy

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‘Can I take cold and flu remedies, such as Lemsip?’, is a common question during pregnancy.

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Family GP Dr Rob says, “It’s best to avoid medicines when pregnant. However, paracetamol is fine to take during pregnancy. With ibuprofen, there are different guidelines on whether it is safe to take, depending on which stage of pregnancy you’re at.”

The NHS states, “Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (NSAID). The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency advises that NSAIDs should not be used in the first two trimesters of pregnancy unless the ‘potential benefit to the patient outweighs the potential risk to the foetus’. NSAIDs should not be used at all in the third trimester unless on the advice of a doctor. Paracetamol, which is not an NSAID, is usually recommended as a safer choice than ibuprofen.”

NHS guidelines:

  • First trimester (weeks 1-13): Avoid taking ibuprofen. It can increase the risk of miscarriage and your baby could develop a heart defect or other abnormalities.
  • Second trimester (weeks 14-27): If you need medicine to relieve pain and reduce inflammation, you can take ibuprofen occasionally, but opt for paracetamol if possible. 
  • Third trimester (weeks 28-40): Avoid taking ibuprofen because it can increase the risk of heart problems and cause your unborn baby to have high blood pressure in her lungs. It can also delay labour and reduce your level of amniotic fluid.

Dr Rob continues, “Many over-the-counter cough and cold remedies have multiple ingredients, some of which shouldn’t be taken when pregnant, so always ask your pharmacist before taking any of these. Rest and drinking enough liquid are important. Steam inhalation, using a natural sea water nasal spray, and warm honey, lemon and ginger drinks also help to relieve symptoms of a cold.”

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What other mums say on our forum:

  • “You would probably be better to take paracetamol and make a hot honey and lemon drink. That way you don’t have half the additives,” Samatha24
  • “My hubby asked the chemist about throat lozenges and lemsips and was told not to touch them. He said try merocaine lozenges, they’re safe for pregnant women and to be honest I found them better than the normal stuff,” BigMumma
  • “I had a cold at middle trimester and used them in a bowl of hot water and a towel over my head, either that or vapour rub in bed,” Hayleys1
  • “A nurse I spoke to recommended lots of orange juice, mixed with hot water if I wanted a hot drink, paracetamol and plenty of rest,” KitKat
  • “No drugs are tested on pregnant women for obvious reasons, it would be unethical. For this reason it’s difficult to say which drugs are safe and which aren’t. Steam inhalation, chicken soup and a duvet should do the trick!” Mrshappy123

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