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Safety of Over-the-Counter Medications in Pregnancy

Stanley, Angela Y. DNP, APRN-BC, PHCNS-BC, NEA-BC, RNC-OB, C-EFM; Durham, Catherine O. DNP, FNP-BC; Sterrett, James J. PharmD, BCPS, CDE; Wallace, Jerrol B. DNP, MSN, CRNA

MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing: July/August 2019 - Volume 44 - Issue 4 - p 196–205
doi: 10.1097/NMC.0000000000000537
Feature: CE Connection

Approximately 90% of pregnant women use medications while they are pregnant including both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications. Some medications can pose a threat to the pregnant woman and fetus with 10% of all birth defects directly linked to medications taken during pregnancy. Many medications have documented safety for use during pregnancy, but research is limited due to ethical concerns of exposing the fetus to potential risks. Much of the information gleaned about safety in pregnancy is collected from registries, case studies and reports, animal studies, and outcomes management of pregnant women. Common OTC categories of readily accessible medications include antipyretics, analgesics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, nasal topicals, antihistamines, decongestants, expectorants, antacids, antidiarrheal, and topical dermatological medications. We review the safety categories for medications related to pregnancy and provide an overview of OTC medications a pregnant woman may consider for management of common conditions.

Use of over-the-counter medications during pregnancy and breastfeeding is wide-spread. In this review, details of common medications that are used during pregnancy are covered. Up-to-date information for nurses caring for women during pregnancy and lactation is offered so nurses are prepared to give accurate advice.

Angela Y. Stanley is an Instructor, College of Nursing, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC. The author can be reached via e-mail at

Catherine O. Durham is Doctor of Nursing Practice Program Director, College of Nursing, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC.

James J. Sterrett is an Assistant Professor, College of Pharmacy, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC.

Jerrol B. Wallace is Program Director, Nurse Anesthesia Program, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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