Analgesics in pregnancy eMedicine

Pain Medications During Pregnancy -- Which Painkillers Are Safe During Pregnancy

May 24, 2014 – 08:40 am

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(LifeWire) - Pregnancy and discomfort often go hand in hand. But when discomfort progresses to pain, what medications can expectant mothers use for relief? Luckily, safe painkiller options exist, but as with everything else during pregnancy, diligence is necessary.

Pain medications, also called analgesics, can be obtained either over-the-counter (OTC) or by prescription. Naturally, prescription-strength painkillers are usually more potent than OTCs, but they also present more potential dangers to the developing fetus. OTC analgesics, however, are not risk-free. Certain drugs in both categories can increase the likelihood of birth defects or complications during labor and delivery.

Here's a breakdown of pain relievers, along with guidelines for those safe to use and those that should be avoided during pregnancy. Be sure to consult your doctor before taking any medication during pregnancy, whether OTC or prescription strength.

OTC Painkillers

These come in two categories, based on their active ingredient:

  • Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is considered safe during pregnancy. Well researched by scientists, acetaminophen is used primarily for headaches, fever, aches, pains and sore throat. It can be used during all three trimesters of pregnancy.
  • Aspirin, which has salicylic acid as its active ingredient, should not be taken by expectant mothers because it can cause problems for both the mother and the fetus. Also, if aspirin is taken a day or so before delivery, it can lead to heavy bleeding during labor. There are occasions when aspirin may be prescribed for women who have certain other medical problems (such as preeclampsia, for risk of blood clots).

    Ibuprofen and naproxen are safer options, but both of these should be used with caution during pregnancy. They are considered safe in the first two trimesters, but they are ill-advised in the final three months because they can also increase bleeding during delivery.

    Prescription Painkillers

    The more common ones are categorized as opioids, which are derivatives of the poppy plant. All are considered narcotics, which are controlled substances and illegal to use without a doctor's authorization. Painkillers of this strength are typically used for intense pain resulting from injuries, surgery, dental work or migraine headaches.


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