Most expectant moms suffering from colds, flu, or allergies wouldn't think of taking a prescription medicine without their provider's approval, yet many make the mistake of reaching for whatever over-the-counter pills or cough syrups are in their medicine cabinets. This is risky because very few of these remedies are known to be safe to use during pregnancy.
If you're sick, start with home remedies such as chicken soup, plenty of fluids, and rest. If they don't work, contact your health care provider and ask whether your over-the-counter medicine is safe to take before you use it. Remember that whatever medicine you take, your baby will be taking it too.
Here are some home remedies for each of these ailments, as well as medications generally considered safe to use in early pregnancy:
- Colds. You'll most likely catch a cold sometime during your pregnancy. The safest way to treat it is by resting and drinking extra fluids. Hot fluids, such as chicken soup or decaffeinated tea, can help ease congestion. Cold compresses may alleviate headaches and muscle pain.
If you're suffering from severe nasal congestion, use saline nose drops, which are considered safe at any stage of pregnancy. Buy drops at the pharmacy or make your own at home by mixing 1/4 teaspoon of salt into 8 ounces of water. Put a few drops in each nostril, wait 10 minutes, and then blow your nose. Vicks VapoRub is also a good cure for a stuffy head. You can also invest in a steam vaporizer or humidifier.
The only safe over-the-counter drug for aches associated with colds is acetaminophen (the key ingredient in Tylenol), which has a well-established safety record in pregnancy. For severe congestion that does not respond to saline drops, your provider might also suggest a nasal spray.
For coughs ask your providerabout using a suppressant called dextromethorphan, which is found in Vicks Formula 44 and Robitussin. Avoid any cough suppressant that contains iodine; iodine can cause life-threatening thyroid problems in your baby. Steer clear of aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (the main painkiller in Motrin and Advil) and naproxen (the active ingredient in Aleve). Studies have suggested that taking these medications in the 1st trimester can raise the risk of birth defects.
- Flu. Flu can be more serious during pregnancy because it sometimes results in pneumonia. Flu shots are safe for both you and your baby at any stage of pregnancy, so get one now if your pregnancy falls during flu season.
If you do contract the flu, follow the suggestions (this page) for treating cold and flu symptoms without medication. A high fever (102 degrees or higher) should be taken seriously because it can increase the risk of miscarriage. Call your provider immediately if you have a high fever and take two acetaminophen tablets. Tepid baths or showers can help bring down a fever, as can drinking cool beverages.
- Allergies. You'll certainly want to humidify your bedroom or use a facial steamer if you suffer congestion because of allergies. You can also ask your provider about taking antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine, which has a long history of use by pregnant women and may not be associated with side effects. Your doctor may also prescribe inhaled steroids, especially for severe seasonal allergies.
- When to call the doctor. There are a few reasons to call your health care provider right away:
* If you come down with influenza. Your doctor might want to treat it with antiviral medications.
* If your fever stays higher than 102 degrees after you take acetaminophen.
* If you have trouble breathing.
* If you feel contractions or if you see bleeding.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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