Limit Cold Medications During Pregnancy, Experts Advise

WEDNESDAY Dec. 21, 2011 -- It's prudent to limit the use of over-the-counter cold and flu medications during pregnancy, experts say.

This is because some medications may contain substances that are potentially harmful to developing fetuses, or that have not been well-studied for use in pregnant women.

"Every year around this time, we get a significant number of calls from pregnant and breast-feeding women in California who are battling colds and are worried about which meds they can and can't take," said Christina Chambers, professor of pediatrics at University of California, San Diego and program director at the California Teratogen Information Service.

To help expectant mothers who are sick this holiday season, Chambers offered these cold medicine safety tips:

  • Take as little as possible. Over-the-counter cold remedies could contain up to six ingredients for a wide array of symptoms, such as a cough, runny nose or headache. Choose medications that contain just the ingredients you need for your specific symptoms.
  • Avoid oral decongestants in early pregnancy. When taken during the first trimester, these medications have been linked to a slightly heightened risk of abdominal wall defects in fetuses. Saline drops or nasal sprays may be good short-term alternatives.
  • Be cautious about herbal ingredients. Many over-the-counter medications may contain herbal ingredients that have not been evaluated for use during pregnancy.
  • Don't overdo it with lozenges. These drops may soothe a sore throat but they often contain mostly sugar. Lozenges may also contain zinc and vitamin C, which should be taken only in limited daily doses (80 to 100 milligrams per day for vitamin C and 11 milligrams per day for zinc) during pregnancy.
  • Choose alcohol-free cough syrups. Opt for cough remedies that do not contain alcohol.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about medication use during pregnancy.

Posted: December 2011


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