Cold and Flu Season Prompts Warning about Medication Use in Pregnancy

Health Center experts say for moms battling colds - “less is more.”

Expectant mothers need to be aware of the potential dangers of using common cold medicines during pregnancy, according to experts with the Connecticut Pregnancy Exposure Information Service (CPEIS).

Sharon Voyer Lavigne
Sharon Voyer Lavigne

“This time of year we are frequently asked about the safety of using various cold remedies during pregnancy or while breastfeeding,” says Sharon Voyer Lavigne, coordinator of CPEIS.

Lavigne says it can get confusing since so many brand name products carry numerous formulations for cough and cold symptoms or fever and congestion. Each product contains multiple and often different active ingredients.

“When you are pregnant or nursing, using the least amount of medication to control your symptoms is really important. Reading labels is critical to get the right ingredients to treat your specific symptoms and to avoid products that may contain harmful agents,” adds Lavigne.

Lavigne has compiled a list of helpful tips for moms and moms-to-be battling colds this season.

Top 5 Cold Remedy Tips During Pregnancy:

1. Less Is More: Take only those medications that are needed for your specific symptoms. Many cold remedies have several ingredients, some of which you (and your developing baby) do not need. If your major complaint is a cough, for example, then avoid a combination drug that includes a nasal decongestant, an extra medication you can do without.

2. Oral Decongestion Alternatives: While the majority of studies looking at oral decongestants during pregnancy are reassuring with first trimester use, it’s still best to avoid them in the first trimester due to a possible very low risk for vascular issues in the fetus. Pregnant women could consider saline drops or a short-term nasal spray decongestant alternative

3. Herbal Ingredient Warning: Watch out for herbal ingredients in many over-the-counter medications. Chances are they have not been studied in pregnancy. We recommend avoiding any product containing herbal ingredients.

4.  Throat Lozenges and Vitamin Overload: Throat lozenges contain mostly sugar; however, some may contain other ingredients such as zinc or vitamin C. When taking vitamin C, the recommended daily allowance in pregnancy is 80-85 mg/day and zinc is only 11-12 mg/day. Remember that since most women take a prenatal vitamin, you will also need to consider the combined dose you will be getting. Taking excessive amounts of vitamins is not recommended during pregnancy unless your doctor determines you are deficient.

5. Cough Syrups and Alcohol: Some cough syrups contain up to 10 percent alcohol. Get alcohol-free cough syrup. Your developing baby doesn’t need the alcohol exposure in addition to the other medications.

In Connecticut, questions about specific cold medications and other exposures in pregnancy or breastfeeding can be directed to CPEIS counselors at 800-325-5391 or 860-523-6419. Outside of Connecticut, call the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS) at 866-626-6847.

CPEIS is a Connecticut nonprofit affiliated with the University of Connecticut Health Center that educates the public about exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

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