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OTC Medicines and Pregnancy

Like everyone else, pregnant women will suffer from the normal health problems; headache, cough and cold, upset stomach or hayfever. Many women prefer to avoid taking any medicines during their pregnancy, however this could cause unnecessary discomfort which can be avoided. Pregnant women should ensure they check with their GP or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that you can buy from your pharmacy or a supermarket and always read the label and instructions before taking medication.

There is a range of common illnesses that can affect women over the course of their pregnancy, and it doesn't have to mean misery and discomfort:

  • Morning sickness
    There are no OTC medicines that are licensed specifically for the treatment of morning sickness. If you have mild nausea, eating small and frequent meals high in carbohydrates and low in fat can help to maintain blood sugar levels. Ginger or peppermint tea can also be of help.
  • Coughs and colds
    For a sore throat or dry cough, there are a number of non-medicated pastilles with honey, boiled sweets or non-medicated drinks that can help. Simple linctus can also be used for its short-term soothing effect.
  • For congestion, steam inhalations with oil-based decongestants should provide some relief as they will liquefy mucus that may have been caused by a chesty cough.
  • Headaches
    Paracetamol is generally regarded as being safe for use in pregnancy and it is the best treatment for headaches. You can also try a gentle forehead massage. Many women actually find that migraines improve during pregnancy.
  • Heartburn or indigestion
    Antacid preparations are licensed for OTC use in pregnancy. The most preferred types are calcium carbonate, with the most neutralising effect, or a combination of aluminium and magnesium salts which are fairly insoluble and will remain in the stomach for longer.
  • Constipation
    If you feel constipated, as a first treatment you should make sure you drink more fluids and increase the level of fibre in your diet. If constipation persists, you can try bulk-forming laxatives such as ispaghula husk or lactulose. If these do not work, you can try a dose of senna, the stimulant laxative. If you are in the later stages of pregnancy, you should avoid using senna as, theoretically, it could cause uterine contractions.
  • Haemorrhoids
    Haemorrhoids, or piles, can be treated by a cream or ointment in mild cases. You can apply an ice pack or topical bland astringent preparation if necessary.
  • Thrush
    If you develop thrush while pregnant you will have to visit your GP as a pharmacist can not sell antifungal treatments to pregnant women.
  • Backache
    Treatment for backache is predominantly paracetamol. To try and minimise backache developing do not sit or stand in the same position for too long, wear flat shoes, rest when pain is severe, support the back with a pillow when seated and if picking up something take the strain on your legs rather than your back. A warm bath and gentle stretching exercises should help tight muscles.
  • Leg cramps
    Avoiding high-heeled shoes can help reduce the risks of leg cramps and varicose veins developing. As can having a pillow at the end of your bed to stop your feet stretching forward. During a cramp, massaging and stretching the muscle can provide some relief.
  • Nicotine cravings
    If you smoke you should try to stop - particularly if you are pregnant. Nicotine replacement therapy can help you to do this prior to pregnancy. Seek advice from your GP if you are pregnant and need support with giving up smoking.
  • Folic acid
    Taking folic acid supplements early in pregnancy while the neural tube is forming can reduce the chance of having a baby with a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida. Women are advised to take folic acid supplements containing 400mcg of folic acid each day before conceiving and up to the 12th week of pregnancy. Eating a diet rich in fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals, some breads and folate rich foods, can also help.

How to get advice:
If you need advice on taking over-the-counter medicines, speak to a pharmacist or call The CHIC's Over-The-Counter Medicines Advice Line on 0208 742 7042. It is manned by trained nurses. is a directory of medicines and food supplements that are available 'over the counter' (OTC) from your pharmacist. The links below will take you to pages detailing products which may help treat or relieve the following symptoms:

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