4 Over-The-Counter Medications to Steer Clear of During Pregnancy


Pregnancy is a period marked by great happiness and expectation, yet it can also be filled with uncertainties, particularly when dealing with common health issues.

While over-the-counter (OTC) medications often seem like a quick and convenient solution for minor discomforts, it’s crucial to exercise caution during this delicate phase, as certain drugs can pose risks to the developing fetus.

That is why it is important to promote the safety of both the mother and the child. It is crucial to be mindful of medications that should be avoided during pregnancy. Let’s delve into four common OTC medications that should be cautiously approached.

1.    Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen serves as a widely used pain reliever and fever reducer. As one of the most prevalent active drug ingredients in the United States, it is present in over 500 over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicines.

Even if the term “acetaminophen” isn’t familiar, chances are you recognize some popular brands that incorporate it, including Tylenol®, Nyquil®, Dayquil®, Percocet®, and Vicodin®.

Yet, Tylenol is currently under investigation regarding its potential connection to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children born to mothers who utilized the medication while pregnant.

TorHoerman Law notes that since 2008, researchers have found a correlation between Tylenol and postnatal autism, with a surge in autism cases observed since 1980.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially recommended aspirin over acetaminophen for infants during this period, research redirected attention to acetaminophen’s association with autism in young children.

 Although not universally experienced, pregnant women using Tylenol also face an increased risk of ADHD and autism in their offspring. 

This circumstance has led to legal actions such as the Tylenol lawsuit for autism cases. Individuals are pursuing legal recourse against the makers and distributors of Tylenol. The lawsuit represents pregnant women who utilized Tylenol during pregnancy, and subsequently, their children developed conditions such as ASD, ADHD, and other related disorders.

2.    Isotretinoin

Isotretinoin is a prescription medication used to treat severe acne, specifically nodular acne, which forms large and painful lumps on the skin, potentially leaving lasting scars if untreated. Doctors prescribe isotretinoin when other acne treatments prove ineffective.

Besides acne, it is also utilized for certain skin conditions and types of cancer. Isotretinoin belongs to a category of drugs called oral retinoids, synthetic forms of vitamin A that address specific skin conditions and blood cancers.

It is taken by mouth, and while Accutane® is the original brand, other brands like Absorica®, Amnesteem®, Claravis®, Myorisan®, and Zenatane® are currently used.

However, taking isotretinoin or similar medications during pregnancy poses serious risks to the baby.

Due to the potential harm, users must commit to using birth control to prevent pregnancy while taking the medicine. Taking isotretinoin while pregnant significantly increases the risk of miscarriage, early delivery, and birth defects that impact the body’s structure or functions, as well as intellectual and developmental impairments in later life.

These potential complications underscore the importance of caution and contraception during isotretinoin treatment for women of childbearing age.

3.    Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen, found in common pain relievers like Advil and Motrin, belongs to a class of drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These also include naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) and aspirin. Among NSAIDs, ibuprofen is the most extensively studied during pregnancy.

Generally, it’s not recommended for use during pregnancy unless prescribed by a doctor, especially after 20 weeks of pregnancy. This caution is due to potential effects on the baby’s circulation and kidneys.

While a short course of ibuprofen (up to 3 days) might be considered in specific situations, its use during pregnancy depends on factors like gestational age and the medical reason for its use.

It’s crucial to consult with a doctor or pharmacist before taking ibuprofen while pregnant. They can guide the potential benefits and risks associated with its use during pregnancy.

4.    Thalidomide

Thalidomide, initially marketed as a sedative and remedy for morning sickness in pregnant women during the late 1950s and early 1960s, led to severe birth defects in babies.

Developed by Chemie Grunenthal in Germany and introduced in the UK in 1958 as Distaval, it was withdrawn in 1961 due to its harmful effects.  The first instance of a baby born with thalidomide-induced defects occurred in Germany in 1956.

Babies exposed to thalidomide suffered disabilities like limb shortening or absence, hand and digit malformations, ear and eye damage, sensory impairment, facial disfigurement, brain damage, and skeletal issues.

Over the years, similar disabilities were observed in babies born with genetic conditions like Holt-Oram Syndrome, TARS syndrome, Poland’s Syndrome, and Talipes Equinovarus. These parallels contributed to the delayed recognition of thalidomide as the cause of birth defects.


Pregnancy introduces significant changes to the body’s physiology, making it essential to reconsider the safety of over-the-counter medications.

What might be considered safe for a non-pregnant individual can present different considerations for an expectant mother. Hence, a cautious approach to over-the-counter drugs becomes crucial during pregnancy.

The accessibility of certain drugs without a prescription doesn’t guarantee their complete safety for expectant mothers. It is imperative to make informed decisions by consulting healthcare providers with the expertise to evaluate potential risks and benefits specific to pregnancy.

Clear and honest communication with healthcare providers is essential for safeguarding the health of both the mother and the unborn child.

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