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Safe Ways to Combat Sickness + Navigate the Medicine Aisle While Pregnant

Posted by Alexandra Porto on

Doing everything you can to stay healthy but still end up sick while pregnant? It’s never fun feeling under the weather, especially when you’re carrying another life inside of you. But you aren’t alone; this happens to a lot of women. Changes in your immune system can make you more susceptible to illness. 

Common issues like allergies or stomach aches become more challenging when pregnant. Not only do you need to suffer through the symptoms, but you also need to figure out what medications or remedies are safe. While it is always important to consult with your doctor, especially with high-risk pregnancies, there are some general guidelines you can follow. 

We’ve sourced some of the best tips from top OB-GYNs, the CDC & the Cleveland Clinic for sickness prevention, home treatments, what medicines are safe, and which you should avoid. So, next time you are in the pharmacy, you will have a better handle navigating the medicine aisle and getting on the path to recovery sooner.

Tips for Staying Healthy 

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Top Tips for Staying Healthy

Being pregnant does some fascinating things to your body. One of those phenomena includes weakening your immune system so your body can recognize the developing fetus and not mistake it for a foreign invader. It is essential to your pregnancy but means you might have to take extra steps to prevent getting sick. Here are some tips for keeping in the best help possible:

  • Frequently wash your hands, especially in public restrooms
  • Bring antibacterial wipes with you to the grocery store or high-traffic areas
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule
  • Stay up-to-date with your vaccination schedule, especially for the flu
  • Maintain a balanced diet and take prenatal vitamins
  • If you know someone is sick, try to keep your distance
  • Take a regular probiotic supplement
  • Aim to reduce stress through meditation, massages, or other relaxation techniques
  • Listen to the signals your body is giving you and take a break if you’re feeling run down


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Try These Home Remedies First if You’re Feeling Sick

As soon as you feel ill, take steps to start feeling better. That doesn’t mean immediately turning to over-the-counter medicine. Most doctors recommend trying home remedies first before turning to approved medications. Here’s a list of treatments that can help:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of clear liquids like chicken broth or water
  • Take a vitamin C supplement or add some extra citrus fruits to your diet
  • Cook something with garlic in it, which is known to have natural antibacterial properties
  • If you have a sore throat, gargle with a cup of luke-warm saltwater
  • Sleep with a humidifier by your bedside
  • Try saline gel or mists to keep your nasal passages moist
  • If you feel exhausted, don’t fight it. Rest up!
  • Add some extra zinc to your daily vitamins
  • If you are having trouble breathing at night, keep your head elevated with an extra pillow
  • Even if your sickness is curbing your appetite, try to maintain a healthy diet
  • Keep up with light exercises like walking or aerobics
  • Grab a spoonful of honey to ward off a cough or sore throat

Stay Hydrated

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Follow These Medicine Guidelines

During your first 12 weeks of pregnancy, doctors recommend steering clear of any medication and focusing on home remedies. If it’s after this point and you’re still feeling sick, it’s probably time to call your physician. 

We hear a lot about things to avoid while pregnant, including medicine. Still, sometimes the risk of not treating your symptoms can lead to even more complications, like in the case of a urinary tract infection, which could turn into a kidney infection if left untreated. 

Only your doctor can weigh these risks and give you the best assessment, especially when it comes to prescriptions. It never hurts to double-check with your doctor for over-the-counter medicine and use the lists below as a general guideline.

What to Do if You Catch a Cold?

You've likely caught a cold if you’re starting to feel a running nose, slight cough, and mild congestion. We recommend following all of the home remedies mentioned above first. If those don’t work, call your OB-GYN to see what they’d recommend. Generally, these over-the-counter medicines are deemed safe during pregnancy by the Cleveland Clinic:

  • For aches and fever: Generic acetaminophen or Tylenol - do not substitute; other pain relievers are not always safe
  • For a cough: vapor rubs like Vicks, cough suppressants like Robitussin, Chloraseptic sprays, or throat lozenges
  • For a stuffy nose: antihistamines like Claritin or Benadryl
  • Nasal sprays: saline mists, Neti-pot, generic budesonide or Rhinocort, Entocort, or Pulmicort – avoid decongestant sprays like oxymetazoline and check with your doctor

Medicine to take if you have a cold

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Take Extra Steps & Precaution if You Have the Flu

You might have caught the flu if you are experiencing much more severe symptoms with fever or body aches. This comes with added risk when pregnant, beyond feeling sick, so it’s important to focus on getting better. The CDC recommends being treated with antiviral medication as soon as possible when you are pregnant with the flu, so calling your doctor is the best first step.

In addition to following the home remedies or taking an OTC medication mentioned above, here are some treatments that can help:

  • Use cold or hot packs to reduce sinus pressure
  • Try a hot-mist vaporizer to minimize congestion
  • Use breathing strips to open up your nasal airways
  • Take generic acetaminophen or Tylenol as directed until your fever is gone
  • If you have a cough, take an expectorant during the day and a suppressant at night (only after your first trimester)
  • Drink lots of water and decaffeinated tea with honey and lemon to soothe your throat and moisten your breathing passages

How to Treat Seasonal Allergies

If you’ve suffered from ongoing allergies for most of your life, you know how annoying the constant sneezing and runny nose can be. The good news is most allergy medications can be continued during pregnancy with your doctor’s approval. Some women even continue to get their regular allergy shots.

What to do if you are feeling sick

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Here’s a list of generally safe allergy medicine for when you are pregnant. Just be sure to get the treatment alone and not in a multipurpose or Sustained Action format:

  • Generic loratadine or Claritin
  • Generic cetirizine or Zyrtec
  • Generic diphenhydramine or Benadryl
  • Generic fexofenadine or Allegra
  • You can also use sinus rinses, saline sprays, and a humidifier if it helps

Suffering from Stomach or Gastrointestinal Issues?

As your baby starts to take up more real estate in your belly, it’s common to experience GI issues like diarrhea or nausea. Typically, it passes quickly and can be treated with home remedies or OTC medicines. Sometimes even changes to what you are eating can help alleviate symptoms too. If it lasts more than two days or is particularly severe, you should inform your physician. Here are some OTC treatments that are deemed safe with your doctor’s approval for occasional use:

For Diarrhea:

  • Generic loperamide or Imodium can be taken for a short duration after your first trimester
  • Fiber supplements or eating bananas can also help

For Constipation:

  • Psyllium like Fiberall or Metamucil
  • Methylcellulose fiber or Citrucel
  • Docusate or Colace
  • Magnesium Oxide
  • Miralax or Milk of Magnesia

For Heartburn:

  • Famotidine or Pepcid AC
  • Calcium carbonate/magnesium carbonates like Mylanta, Titralac, or Tums
  • Ranitidine like Zantac

Stomach ache treatments

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For Nausea & Vomiting:

  • Vitamin B6
  • Sea sickness bands
  • Dramamine
  • Antihistamines Like Benadryl
  • Ginger tea
  • Emetrol

For Hemorrhoids:

  • Preparation H
  • Witch hazel hemorrhoid creams or pads, like Tucks pads
  • Fiber supplements

Experiencing Headaches or Body Aches?

Sadly, aches and pains come with the territory when pregnant. But it can get intolerable if you’re feeling stressed or overexerting yourself. The safest way to get pain relief when pregnant is with the following:

  • Generic acetaminophen
  • Tylenol
  • Extra Strength Tylenol

Try These Creams for a Yeast Infection

Pregnancy hormones can change the pH levels of your vagina, leading to more frequent yeast infections. If you find yourself dealing with one, a doctor is most likely to recommend one of these creams to help keep it at bay:

  • Clotrimazole, including Mycelex or Lotrimin AF
  • Miconazole like Monistat 3
  • Terconazole like Terazol 7

First aid

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How to Treat a Rash, Cut, or Insect Bite

With summer in full swing, you’ll want to be ready for insect bites or rashes from being outdoors more often. Even a minor scrape requires attention to prevent scarring or infection. These topical treatments are typically considered safe to use when pregnant:

For a Rash or Insect Bites:

  • Hydrocortisone cream or ointment, including Cortizone-10
  • Diphenhydramine cream, like Benadryl
  • Calamine lotion
  • Coconut oil
  • Oatmeal bath, like Aveeno

For First-Aid:

  • Bacitracin
  • Neomycin
  • Neosporin
  • Antibiotic ointments like Polysporin

Avoid These Medicines While Pregnant

Some medications might cause you and your little one more harm than good. Unless otherwise prescribed by your doctor, you’ll want to avoid the medicines listed below. These over-the-counter treatments might cause birth complications, especially if taken during the first or third trimester:

  • Multi-symptom medications or Sustained Action “SA” type medicines with various ingredients packed in to combat many symptoms, you’re better off opting for a narrowly tailored remedy to address your illness.
  • Decongestants nasal sprays
  • Brompheniramine like Dimetapp Cold and Allergy
  • Bactrim antibiotics
  • NyQuil, due to its high percentage of alcohol
  • Generic aspirin or Bayer
  • Generic ibuprofen like Advil or Motrin
  • Generic naproxen like Aleve or Naprosyn
  • Bismuth subsalicylate like Pepto Bismol
  • Codeine

Check with your doctor

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If You Experience These Symptoms, Call Your Doctor Right Away

Pregnancy can lead to additional complications when you are sick, particularly if you have caught the flu. Some can not only impact you but also increase the risk for your baby. If you experience these more severe symptoms, it’s important to call your doctor immediately:

  • Reduced fetal movement
  • Chest pain
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Severe vomiting
  • Confusion and dizziness
  • Increased difficulty breathing
  • High fever that isn’t lowered by acetaminophen

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