#23 Safe Over-the-Counter Medications During Pregnancy

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are nonprescription medications you can buy in stores without the need for a prescription. All OTC medications are considered safe for pregnant women. You should still ask your doctor about any OTC medication you might take in pregnancy.

There are several physical problems which can become troublesome in pregnancy, including nausea and morning sickness, headaches, heartburn, allergies, constipation, and sometimes rashes. My recommendation is to as much as possible control these problems with diet first, and if that still doesn’t work, talk with your doctor about the OTC medications discussed below.

Nausea and Morning Sickness

I have written about how to manage nausea and morning sickness with diet in a previous post.  If you are unable to manage your nausea and morning sickness with diet, discuss this with your doctor. There are prescriptions your physician can provide, but there are two OTC medications used in combination which are safe in pregnancy. Talk with your doctor about trying OTC medications before moving on to prescriptions for nausea and morning sickness.

The two OTC medications used together are doxylamine (Unisom) and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Unisom is an antihistamine and considered a sleep aid.  Vitamin B6 reduces morning sickness nausea but doesn’t have much effect on vomiting. Because these medications cause sleepiness, it is usually recommended that they be taken at bedtime.

Pain Relief

Tylenol has been considered safe for use during pregnancy, but recent warnings have been voiced over possible effects on fetal development which need further investigation. My experience with my patients and Tylenol is that it really is not effective for pain relief. However, I was frequently asked by nurses to give Tylenol to my hospital and nursing home patients. I believe Tylenol’s popularity as a pain reliever is much overrated.

Ibuprofen, another popular pain relief medication, is not to be used during the third trimester of pregnancy but is considered to be safe during the first and second trimester. However, ibuprofen closes the ductus arteriosus which circumvents the blood flow to the baby’s lungs. Remember, the baby’s lungs are not working until after birth. If the ductus arteriosus closes, the baby will try to breathe air through its lungs while still in utero, lungs which will not work before birth. My recommendation is to avoid ibuprofen throughout your pregnancy.

If you must have pain relief, call your doctor. Your doctor may recommend taking Tylenol.


Benadryl, like Unisom, is an antihistamine, and like all OTC medications, is considered safe for use in pregnancy. Just the same, talk to your physician about taking Benadryl.


Gaviscon for heartburn is considered safe for pregnancy and nursing women, but if you consider how this medication works, you might want to think twice about taking it for heartburn. This medication treats heartburn by lowering the pH of the stomach. I believe it is not a good idea to try to change the pH of the stomach during pregnancy when your baby depends upon your digestion for nutrients.

Instead of trying to medicate the heartburn, consider trying to figure out which foods cause your heartburn and if when you eat can be related to the heartburn. If you still cannot find relief from your heartburn, talk to you physician about what medications you might take to reduce your discomfort.


Colace is considered safe for pregnancy. But again, before resorting to medications, even OTC medications, for constipation, try prune juice or a food you know helps you avoid constipation. Everyone is different and you probably already know what foods relieve constipation for you. For some people, this may be a cup of coffee in the morning. There are suggested limitations on caffeine intake during pregnancy, but a cup of coffee falls within these limits. Glycerine suppositories are another approach that avoids ingesting medication.

If you are unable to resolve your constipation problems with diet. talk with your doctor. Colace may be recommended for you, but you and your physician should talk about your constipation problem and how to resolve it.


If you are encountering rashes or itchiness on your body, Calamine lotion applied to the skin may help soothe the redness and ease the itching. The lotion provides temporary relief for any skin irritations.

Again, if you have persistent trouble with rashes, talk with your physician about what kind of medications are available to you for treatment.