Common medications to avoid during pregnancy

During pregnancy, your body may be more at risk for developing common illnesses but some medications may be unsafe to take while expecting.

While the countdown to your new bundle of joy is exciting, sometimes pregnancy can bring about health challenges. During pregnancy, the immune system undergoes a significant change while adjusting to your growing baby, and succumbing to colds, coughs and other complaints are not uncommon. While you may be tempted to reach for over-the-counter medication, many medications are considered unsafe. This makes deciding what you can – and can’t – take challenging.

We look at what medications to avoid while pregnant and the best ways to treat some of the conditions you may experience.

Tackling colds & flu

Experts agree, and statistics show, that pregnant women are more likely to catch flu than not. And the later in their cycles it occurs, the worse it can be. Flu vaccinations are being used more extensively and some studies conclude that it can be effective and is considered safe to take during pregnancy. It is already routinely given to pregnant women in the US and Canada and it is also believed that the vaccine may protect the baby from catching the virus in the first months of life. Talk it over with your gynaecologist who will advise you what to do.

Treating a sore throat, tonsillitis, and bacterial infections

Although antibiotics are the obvious and preferred treatment for these conditions, some researchers have expressed concern that they might have harmful long-term effects on the baby. But the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK insists that most pregnant women showing signs of infection can be treated promptly and safely with antibiotics. Should you contract a bacterial infection, and to put your mind at rest, talk to your doctor or gynaecologist. Paracetamol can be taken to bring down the temperature in tonsillitis, and warm drinks, soft foods, throat lozenges or boiled sweets can help to make swallowing easier.

Conquering crunching headaches and migraines

The good news for pregnant moms is that recent research has revealed that migraine attacks diminish considerably during pregnancy. One study found that around 80% of migraine sufferers had no attacks at all during their pregnancies. But for those who don’t escape the dreaded migraines and ongoing headaches, it must be kept in mind that aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, are not recommended during pregnancy due to it being linked to complications in labour. For mild to moderate headaches, only paracetamol is safe during pregnancy and may also be used for mild fever. Your doctor or gynaecologist will prescribe a suitable medication to take during your pregnancy.

Beating coughs 

Pregnant women are susceptible to coughs and colds owing to their lowered immunity. Common over-the-counter remedies usually contain a combination of several ingredients, including painkillers, antihistamines, and decongestants, many of which are best avoided. Cough mixtures containing iodine as an expectorant should also be avoided because the iodine might impair the functioning of a baby’s thyroid gland. Plenty of warm drinks can help relieve a chesty cough and inhaling steam can help to loosen the mucous. Although there is no confirmed evidence that vitamin C reduces the duration or intensity of a cold, there is no harm in taking it provided you don’t exceed the recommended daily allowance of 40 mg, as it can cause diarrhoea and tummy ache. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor about other possible safe and healthy alternatives.

A word on constipation

About 40% of women suffer from constipation during pregnancy, mostly during the early stages. Although the cause has yet to be discovered, it is thought to be as a result of the raised levels of the female hormone progesterone. This hormone relaxes the intestinal muscles and, combined with the pressure of the expanding uterus on the intestines forces food and waste to move more slowly through your system. The common iron tablet, taken for anaemia during pregnancy, might also contribute to constipation. Drinking more fluids and eating more foods high in fibre, including fresh fruit and wholegrain cereals, should be tried before resorting to more severe measures. If this doesn’t work you may have to try laxatives that are safe for pregnant women – including the bulking agents lactulose and macrogols – which can help soften stools and create an easier bowel movement. However, before taking a laxative please consult your pharmacist or doctor.