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OTC medications during pregnancy: everything you need to know

Even if your ibuprofen seems harmless compared to all of the "real" medicines out there, it's very important to make sure of the pregnancy-safety of each over-the-counter medication you take. Ibuprofen included (hint: it's probably a no-no).

What are OTC medications?

OTC medications stands for “over-the-counter”, meaning those that you can buy at your local pharmacy or convenience store without a prescription. There are a huge number of OTC medications available to treat a wide variety of ailments and afflictions, ranging from headaches to heartburn and everything in between. OTC medications often seem safer because you do not need a healthcare provider's recommendation, and usually just take these medications as needed, rather than on a regimen.

How can medications be dangerous during pregnancy?

Most medications you take enter your bloodstream to do their job, and because your system is connected to Baby through the placenta, she can be affected by any drugs you take. So even though medications like Advil do not seem like they would have any profound effect, many are proven to be unsafe for developing babies. Even topical ointments are sometimes known to result in less-than-desirable pregnancy outcomes.

How will I know if a medication is safe to take?

When in doubt, ask your healthcare provider! Your healthcare provider will be your most valuable resource throughout pregnancy, from conception to delivery. He or she can give you an informed opinion of any medication you have questions about.

You can talk to your pharmacist as well about which OTC meds are safe in pregnancy.

The bottom line

Make sure you check out the pregnancy-safety of any medication you wish to take with your healthcare provider, as some are totally safe, while others may pose a risk for side effects. OTC medications can be very helpful for managing some pregnancy symptoms - you just have to make sure you pick the right ones!

Reviewed by Dr. Jamie Lo
Read more
  • J Servey, J Chang. "Over-the-Counter Medications in Pregnancy." American Family Physician. 90(8):548-555. Web. 10/15/2014.
  • Sumit Kar, Ajay Krishnan, K. Preetha, Atul Mohankar. "A review of antihistamines used during pregnancy." Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics. 3(2): 105-108. Web. April-June 2012.
  • "Can I take ibuprofen when I'm pregnant?" NHS. NHS Choices, 4/4/2014. Web.
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