Medicines in pregnancy

When is it safe to take medicine in pregnancy, and what should you avoid?


It is true that you should have an increased wariness of what you are putting into your body when you’re pregnant, And because your baby’s nutrition is derived from what you take then any medication will be passed on to some degree, too.


Prescription medicines


If you develop a chest infection or a urine infection, for example, there is a risk of premature birth or foetal damage. Whether you’re pregnant or not, your doctor won’t prescribe antibiotics unless you really need them, as it’s well known that increased use of antibiotics reduces their effectiveness.
 For example, a bad cold can seem awful, but if your doctor can’t detect an infection after listening to your chest, you won’t be given antibiotics unduly.

If you’re coughing badly it can give you a bad ache across your bump, and your GP may be able to suggest or prescribe a safe linctus for you.

It’s very important to tell your GP that you’re pregnant so that pregnancy-safe antibiotics can be prescribed.

“I have had a history of chest infections since I was a kid but when I got pregnant with my first child I thought I had to avoid antibiotics, so I struggled through two weeks of a really bad chest. The next time I saw my midwife I mentioned it in passing and she told me how important it is for the safety of the baby to get infections like that cleared up,” says Karren, 34, mum to Drew, 5, and Lily, 2. “It put my mind at rest when the same thing happened when I was pregnant again, and I went straight to my doctor. A couple of times I had a bad cold and my GP listened to my chest and said I was actually fine, but I was glad I got checked out.”

Treatments for depression

Despite some research which questions pregnancy medication for mental problems such as depression, it’s important to discuss any treatment you’re already taking with your GP before you decide to stop any course you’re currently prescribed.

Other medication

If you’re on medication for any ongoing condition, if possible discuss this with your GP before you try for a baby.

If you’ve only just found out you’re pregnant, don’t worry unnecessarily, just talk to your GP as soon as you can so you can discuss whether your treatment needs to be adjusted for the duration of your pregnancy.

Over-the-counter medicines

When you’re pregnant, it’s a good idea to shop for any medication from a pharmacist – even those tablets and medicines you’d usually buy from a supermarket shelf. At a chemist you can ask the on-duty pharmacist if what you’re buying is suitable for pregnancy.

Some health professionals now believe that drug companies and doctors might be too cautious during pregnancy and be depriving women of medication they could be taking. Still most medicines fall into the bracket of those ‘not 100% proven safe’ so caution is advised before taking any medicines at all.


Insomnia is a common pregnancy complaint that many women experience as their bumps make nights more uncomfortable, but it can also strike in early pregnancy. It’s best to avoid all sleeping tablets and herbal remedies – although some herbal teas are specifically designed and safe for use during pregnancy – and to focus on natural ways of promoting sleepiness, like taking a warm bath before bed or drinking warm milk.

Headache, aches and pains

If you usually reach for an Ibruprofen or Nurofen when you’re suffering aches and pains then you’ll need to make a switch in pregnancy. You also shouldn’t take aspirin unless it’s specifically recommended by your doctor for your pregnancy. The occasional paracetamol won’t do your baby any harm; frequent usage, however, isn’t recommended.


Some women who suffer from migraines may find that these disappear during pregnancy, others may find they’re more common. If you know that you’re a migraine sufferer then talk to your doctor as soon as you can about medication that’s safe to take during pregnancy.


Constipation is a very common pregnancy complaint. It can be brought on by pregnancy hormones slowing down the digestive system and also by iron supplements if you need to take them.

If you can it’s best to deal with pregnancy constipation through diet: increasing your fibre intake and drinking plenty of fluids. Some laxatives can be harmful during pregnancy so don’t take laxatives unless recommended by your doctor.


Treatments designed to rehydrate your system are usually fine – check with your doctor or chemist for specific brands. It’s important that you keep drinking plenty of fluids to replace the fluids you lose through the illness and it’s probably a good idea to consult your doctor over a badly upset stomach.

Colds and flu

If you take flu and cold remedies then make sure they contain paracetamol only, as many contain a combination of pain killers.

Alternatively, you can make a natural hot lemon drink (lemon juice in hot water, sweetened with a little honey) and take it along with a paracetemol and/or a vitamin C tablet.

For congestion and blocked noses avoid decongestants and try menthol and eucalyptus oils dropped into a basin of warm water or in your bath to steam your system. Or drop a little oil onto your pillow to decongest during the night.

If you’re finding it difficult to shake off a cold or flu then make sure you see your doctor in case you have a secondary infection.


Most cough lozenges are safe for use in pregnancy, though you should double-check if the lozenges are medicated. Cough mixtures, however, often contain medicines that you should avoid, so always check with your doctor or pharmacist for a pregnancy-safe option. As with colds and flu, drinking lemon in hot water with honey should help soothe your throat.


Medicine in pregnancy – the basic rules

  • Never take anything (not even a throat lozenge!) without reading the packaging properly.
  • When buying any medication over the counter, tell the pharmacist that you’re trying for a baby, that you might be pregnant or that you are pregnant. Don’t presume he’ll notice your bump!
  • Discuss any medication with your GP. In some cases, the effect of not taking something may be worse than taking it, and in other cases, there may be a safer alternative you don’t know about.
  • Don’t think that because they appear to be more ‘healthy’, that alternative remedies are necessarily safe to take in pregnancy, seek the same medical advice as with other medicines.

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