Over-the-counter medicine, supplements and herbal products during pregnancy

KEY POINTS

  • Talk to your health care provider before you take any medicine, supplement or herbal product. Some may cause problems during pregnancy.

  • You don’t need a prescription from your health care provider to buy over-the-counter medicine, supplements or herbal products.

  • Some over-the-counter medicine, supplements or herbal products aren’t safe to use during pregnancy.

  • Talk to your health care provider even if you’ve read the product label and you think a a medicine or other product is safe to use during pregnancy.

What is over-the-counter medicine?

Lots of women use over-the-counter (also called OTC) medicine, like pain relievers and cold medicine, to treat common conditions like a headache or a stuffy nose. Over-the-counter means you can buy the medicine without a prescription from a health care provider. But not all OTC medicines are safe to use during pregnancy. This goes for supplements and herbal products, too. 

If you’re pregnant, check with your health care provider before you take any over-the-counter medicine, supplement or herbal product to make sure it’s safe for you and your baby. 

Are over-the-counter medicines safe to take during pregnancy?

The label on most OTC medicine says that pregnant women should talk to their health care provider before using. This is because some OTC medicines may cause problems during pregnancy. 

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (also called NSAIDS). NSAIDs are a type of medicine used to relieve pain and swelling. They include ibuprofen (such as brand name Advil®), aspirin and others. When NSAIDs are taken after 20 weeks of pregnancy they can cause certain complications for the baby such as:

  • Reduced blood flow and heart problems
  • Kidney problems that can lead to low levels of amniotic fluid

Low-dose aspirin (also called baby aspirin or 81 mg aspirin). If your provider thinks you’re at risk for preeclampsia, he or she may want you to take low-dose aspirin to help prevent it. Or your provider may ask you to take low-dose aspirin if you have diabetes or high blood pressure. If your provider asks you to take low-dose aspirin, take it as recommended.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (also called ACOG), daily low-dose aspirin use in pregnancy has a low risk of serious complications and its use is considered safe.

Acetaminophen. Most pregnant women can take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol®) to relieve pain or fever if they follow the directions on the product label. Taking too much can cause liver damage. 

Talk to your health care provider before taking any over-the-counter medicine to be sure it’s safe for you and your baby.

Are supplements safe to take during pregnancy?

It depends. A supplement is a product you take to make up for certain nutrients that you don’t get enough of in the foods you eat. For example, you may take a vitamin supplement to help you get more vitamin B or C. Or you may take an iron or calcium supplement. 

All pregnant women should take a prenatal vitamin with 600 micrograms of folic acid in it every day. Most prenatal vitamins contain this amount. But talk to your health care provider before taking any other kind of supplement. Some supplements may have too much or too little of the nutrients you need. And some may not be safe to take during pregnancy.

Are herbal products safe to take during pregnancy?

We don’t know for sure. An herbal product is made from herbs. An herb is a plant that is used in cooking or for medicine. Examples of herbal products are green tea and Gingko biloba. There’s very little research on how herbal products may affect pregnancy. So it’s best not to use them while you’re pregnant. 

More information

Last reviewed: October 2020