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Which cold remedies are safe for pregnant women?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
UC San Diego experts offer tips for cold remedies during pregnancy

Experts from the University of California, San Diego Health Sciences warn pregnant women that some cold remedies can be harmful. Physicians say some should be avoided altogether.

Some ingredients in over-the-counter cold and cough remedies can be harmful to the developing fetus.

Christina Chambers, PhD, MPH, professor of pediatrics at UC San Diego and director of the California Teratogen Information Service (CTIS) said, "Every year around this time, we get a significant number of calls from pregnant and breastfeeding women in California who are battling colds and are worried about which meds they can and can't take."

Because moms to be need to know which cold remedies are safe, the pregnancy and breastfeeding experts offer the following tips.

When it comes to treating colds during pregnancy it’s important to remember that taking less is better.

Pregnant women should only take cold medicines for specific symptoms. An example is purchasing cough syrup for symptoms of cough, versus a combination cough suppressant and decongestant.

Rather than using nasal decongestants, pregnant women should use saline nose drops or nasal washes. Decongestants may be safe during the first three months of pregnancy, but it’s best for pregnant women to avoid them altogether.

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Don’t take herbal remedies because they haven’t been studied to know if they’re safe during pregnancy.

Vitamin C and zinc should be limited during pregnancy. The recommended dose of vitamin C during pregnancy If 80 to mg per day and the recommended amount of zinc is just 11 mg.

Abi Berger, science editor for the British Medical Journal, explains though zinc is essential for immunity – for both mother and baby – “Taking too much daily zinc could also be a problem because, although it is not toxic, high doses can impair copper absorption. This can lead to copper deficiency with immunosuppression and other subtle and apparent adverse effects, especially for the mother and fetus during pregnancy.”

According to MedLine Plus, too much vitamin C can cause harm to the baby.

Pregnant women should look for cough syrups that are alcohol three. Fetal exposure to alcohol can cause harm.

Sonia Alvarado, CTIS supervising counselor who takes calls through the service’s toll-free hotline said that pregnant women call with valid concerns about what they can take for a cold.

If you have questions about which cold remedies are safe during pregnancy, you can contact The counselors at 800-532-3749 or via instant message counseling at CTISPregnancy.org or their affiliate, Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), at 866-626-6847 if you live outside of California.

Not all cold remedies are safe to take during pregnancy. Take only what you need to treat a cold symptom, avoid cough syrups with alcohol, check labels carefully for herbal ingredients, and avoid preparations with vitamin C and zinc that is often found in throat lozenges. The safest nasal decongestant to use during pregnancy is saline.