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Medications Pregnant Women Should Avoid

Pregnancy is a time of joy and anticipation, but also a time of caution and care. You want to do everything you can to ensure the health and well-being of your baby, and that includes being careful about what medications you take. Some medications can harm your baby’s development, cause birth defects, or increase the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. In this blog post, we will discuss some of the medications that pregnant women should avoid, and what alternatives are safe to take with your doctor’s approval.

What Medications Are Not Safe to Take During Pregnancy?

According to various sources, some of the most common medications that pregnant women should avoid are:

  • Aspirin – unless specifically prescribed by your doctor, aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding, premature delivery, and low birth weight.
  • Ibuprofen – this is a type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that can cause heart defects, kidney problems, and miscarriage in the first trimester, and premature closure of a blood vessel in the baby’s heart in the third trimester.
  • Herbs, minerals, and regular vitamins – some herbal remedies, supplements, and vitamins can interact with other medications, cause allergic reactions, or have harmful effects on your baby. For example, vitamin A can cause birth defects if taken in excess, and some herbs like St. John’s wort can interfere with the effectiveness of antidepressants. Always check with your doctor before taking any of these products during pregnancy.
  • Isotretinoin – this is a medication used to treat severe acne, formerly sold as Accutane, now available as Absorica, Amnesteem, Claravis, Myorisan, Zenatane, and others. This medication can cause serious birth defects, such as brain, heart, and facial abnormalities, and should never be taken during pregnancy or if you are planning to get pregnant.
  • Thalidomide – this is a medication used to treat a type of skin disease and multiple myeloma, a type of cancer. This medication can cause severe limb defects, such as missing or shortened arms and legs, and should never be taken during pregnancy or if you are planning to get pregnant.
  • Ciprofloxacin and levofloxacin – these are types of antibiotics that belong to the fluoroquinolone class. These antibiotics can affect the baby’s muscle and skeletal growth, cause joint pain and nerve damage in the mother, and increase the risk of aortic tears or ruptures, which can result in life-threatening bleeding. These antibiotics can also increase the risk of miscarriage, according to a recent study.
  • Primaquine – this is a medication used to treat malaria. There is not enough data on the effects of this medication on human pregnancy, but animal studies suggest that it can damage the blood cells of the fetus and cause anemia.
  • Sulfonamides – these are a group of antibiotics, also known as sulfa drugs, that are used to treat various bacterial infections. These antibiotics can cause jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes, in newborns, and increase the risk of miscarriage.
  • Trimethoprim – this is another type of antibiotic that can cause neural tube defects, which affect the brain and spinal cord development of the baby.
  • Warfarin – this is a medication used to prevent blood clots, also known as Coumadin. This medication can cause bleeding problems, bone defects, and eye defects in the baby, and should be avoided during pregnancy.
  • Clonazepam and lorazepam – these are types of medications used to treat anxiety, seizures, and insomnia, also known as benzodiazepines. These medications can cause withdrawal symptoms, such as tremors, irritability, and breathing problems, in the baby after birth, and may also affect the baby’s brain development and behavior.

What Medications Are Safe to Take During Pregnancy With a Doctor’s OK?

Some medications may be necessary to treat certain health conditions during pregnancy, such as depression, bipolar disorder, seizures, asthma, or cancer. In these cases, your doctor will weigh the benefits and risks of taking these medications, and may prescribe them with caution and close monitoring. Some of the medications that may be safe to take during pregnancy with a doctor’s OK are:

  • Certain antidepressants – some types of antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), may be safe to take during pregnancy, depending on the severity of your depression and the specific medication. However, some antidepressants, such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), should be avoided, as they can cause serious side effects for you and your baby.
  • Lithium – this is a medication used to treat bipolar disorder, a condition that causes mood swings. Lithium can cause heart defects in the baby if taken in the first trimester, but may be safe to take in the second and third trimesters, with careful monitoring of the blood levels and the baby’s growth.
  • Phenytoin – this is a medication used to treat seizures, also known as Dilantin. Phenytoin can cause facial and limb defects, growth problems, and bleeding problems in the baby, but may be necessary to prevent life-threatening seizures in the mother. Your doctor may adjust the dose or switch to another medication if possible.
  • Certain cancer chemotherapies – some types of cancer treatments, such as surgery, radiation, and certain drugs, may be safe to use during pregnancy, depending on the type and stage of cancer, the gestational age of the baby, and the potential risks and benefits. Your doctor will discuss the best options for you and your baby, and may recommend delaying or modifying the treatment if possible.
  • Fluconazole – this is a medication used to treat yeast infections, also known as Diflucan. Fluconazole can cause birth defects if taken in high doses or for long periods of time, but may be safe to take in a single low dose for a mild infection.
  • Albuterol – this is a medication used to treat asthma, also known as Ventolin. Albuterol can cause increased heart rate and jitteriness in the mother and the baby, but may be necessary to prevent asthma attacks and breathing problems.

What Medications Are Safe to Take During Pregnancy?

The safest medications to take during pregnancy are prenatal vitamins, which are specially formulated to provide the essential nutrients for you and your baby. You should always consult your doctor before taking any other vitamins, herbal remedies, or supplements, as some of them may not be safe or may interact with other medications. Generally, you should not take any over-the-counter (OTC) medication during pregnancy unless it is necessary and approved by your doctor. No drug can be considered 100% safe to use during pregnancy, as there is not enough research or testing on pregnant women. However, some of the OTC medications that have no known harmful effects during pregnancy when taken according to the package directions are:

  • Acetaminophen – this is a pain reliever and fever reducer, also known as Tylenol. Acetaminophen is safe to take during pregnancy if taken at the lowest possible dose and for the shortest amount of time needed for relief. However, you should avoid taking more than 4 grams (8 tablets) per day, as it can cause liver damage in you and your baby.
  • Saline nasal drops or spray – these are products that help relieve nasal congestion and dryness, by moistening and flushing out the nasal passages. Saline nasal drops or spray are safe to use during pregnancy, as they do not contain any medication or chemicals that can harm you or your baby.
  • Warm salt/water gargle – this is a home remedy that helps soothe a sore throat, by reducing inflammation and killing bacteria. Warm salt/water gargle is safe to use during pregnancy, as it does not contain any medication or chemicals that can harm you or your baby. To make a warm salt/water gargle, mix 1/4 teaspoon of salt with 8 ounces of warm water, and gargle for a few seconds, then spit out. Repeat as needed.


Here are some of the frequently asked questions about medications and pregnancy:

  • Q: Can I take cold or cough medicine during pregnancy?
  • A: Most cold and cough medicines contain a combination of ingredients, such as decongestants, antihistamines, expectorants, and cough suppressants, that can have harmful effects on you and your baby. For example, decongestants can raise your blood pressure and reduce blood flow to the placenta, antihistamines can cause drowsiness and dry mouth, expectorants can cause nausea and vomiting, and cough suppressants can interfere with breathing. Therefore, you should avoid taking cold or cough medicine during pregnancy, unless your doctor prescribes a specific product that is safe for you and your baby. Instead, you can try some natural remedies, such as drinking plenty of fluids, using a humidifier or vaporizer, eating honey or lemon, and resting.
  • Q: Can I take allergy medicine during pregnancy?
  • A: Some allergy medicines, such as Budesonide – this is a type of steroid nasal spray that helps reduce inflammation and congestion in the nose, also known as Rhinocort Allergy. Budesonide is safe to use during pregnancy, as it does not affect the baby’s growth or development. However, you should use the lowest effective dose and for the shortest duration possible and consult your doctor before using.

How Can I Prevent or Reduce Allergy Symptoms During Pregnancy?

Besides taking medication, there are some natural ways to prevent or reduce allergy symptoms during pregnancy, such as:

  • Avoid allergens – the best way to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid exposure to the substances that trigger them. For example, if you are allergic to pollen, stay indoors when the pollen count is high, close the windows, and use an air purifier. If you are allergic to dust mites, wash your bedding frequently, use dust-proof covers, and vacuum regularly. If you are allergic to pet dander, keep your pets out of your bedroom, and wash your hands after touching them.
  • Use saline solutions – saline is a mixture of salt and water that can help moisten and clear your nasal passages, and relieve congestion and dryness. You can use saline nasal drops or spray as needed, or try nasal irrigation with a neti pot or a squeeze bottle. Make sure to use distilled or sterile water, or water that has been boiled and cooled, or filtered with a device that traps germs. Do not use regular tap water, as it may contain bacteria or parasites that can cause infections.
  • Drink plenty of fluids – staying hydrated can help thin the mucus in your nose and throat, and make it easier to breathe. Drink water, juice, herbal tea, or broth, and avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate you.
  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer – adding moisture to the air can help soothe your irritated nasal passages and throat, and reduce coughing and sneezing. Use a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer in your bedroom, and clean it regularly to prevent mold and bacteria growth. You can also add a few drops of eucalyptus oil or menthol to the water, which can help open your airways and relieve congestion.
  • Eat honey or lemon – honey and lemon have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and can help ease a sore throat and cough. You can add a teaspoon of honey or lemon juice to a cup of warm water or tea, and drink it several times a day. However, do not give honey to children under 1 year old, as it may contain botulism spores that can cause a serious illness.
  • Rest and relax – getting enough sleep and reducing stress can help boost your immune system and lower your inflammation, which can improve your allergy symptoms. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night, and take naps during the day if you feel tired. You can also practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or massage, which can help calm your mind and body.


Allergies can be a nuisance during pregnancy, but they do not have to ruin your experience. With proper medication, natural remedies, and lifestyle changes, you can manage your allergy symptoms and enjoy your pregnancy. However, always consult your doctor before taking any medication or supplement, and seek medical attention if you have severe or persistent symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, or signs of an infection. Remember, your health and your baby’s health are the most important things, and you deserve the best care possible.

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