By J. Kyle Mathews, MD
Backaches, indigestion and nausea are just a few of the symptoms women typically experience during pregnancy. Many women also have seasonal allergies that flare up during pregnancy. And then, of course, there is the common cold and its ailments, like congestion, coughing and aches, that many pregnant women will catch.
As an obstetrician and gynecologist, I'm in charge of the well-being of both the mother and her child. So when it comes to treating symptoms like these, I talk to all of my pregnant patients about how they can safely find relief, including the use of over-the-counter medicines.
Here are some common questions my patients ask me about using over-the-counter, or OTC, medicines.
First and foremost, talk to your doctor or healthcare professional before taking any OTC medicines. Your doctor is in the best position to help you decide whether taking an OTC medicine is right for you. Your doctor can also suggest other remedies to treat symptoms if OTC medicines are not an option. Also, make sure your doctor knows any prescription medicines, dietary supplements and herbs you are taking.
Most doctors in general agree that it's best to avoid taking any medicine during your first trimester. This is when your baby's facial features, spinal cord, brain and other internal organs begin to form so it's best to take extra caution with what goes into your body. However, you don't need to suffer through symptoms either. If you feel that an OTC medicine can help, talk to your doctor about it.
Whether it's to ease back pain from your growing belly or to treat a throbbing headache, many women will talk to their doctor about using pain relievers during their pregnancies. Many of my colleagues and I generally consider OTC medicines containing the active ingredient acetaminophen safe for short-term pain relief throughout pregnancy, including the first trimester. To minimize any adverse side effects, patients are advised to start with the minimum possible dose-or one pill-and to take only what is needed for symptom relief.
Do not use aspirin during pregnancy as it can potentially cause harm in the unborn child or during delivery. Also avoid using other NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), especially during the third trimester. They may cause problems in your unborn child or complications during delivery. NSAID active ingredients include ibuprofen and naproxen.
Almost all of my patients complain of indigestion during some point in their pregnancies. Antacids, which neutralize stomach acid, are generally safe to take during pregnancy and can be taken as needed to relieve heartburn, but patients should always consult a doctor first, especially during their first trimester.
If your symptoms are persistent, talk to your doctor about taking an H2 blocker, which are the next step up from antacids. H2 blockers, which block stomach acid production, take about 30 to 90 minutes to take effect and can provide relief for up to 24 hours.
In addition, eating smaller meals more frequently can help prevent indigestion. To avoid nighttime heartburn, don't eat a large meal within three hours of going to bed.
Nausea is very common, especially during the first trimester. The best treatment for nausea is to eat small meals and snacks throughout the day, eat slowly and stick to a bland diet.
If you experience morning sickness, try eating a few crackers before getting out of bed. Also, having a small snack that contains protein before bed, such as yogurt or a peanut butter sandwich, may help prevent morning sickness.
If these home remedies don't help, talk to your doctor. In some women, excess stomach acid may cause or contribute to nausea; taking an antacid or acid blocker as a preventive measure may eliminate or reduce nausea.