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Medications: Over-The-Counter And Prescribed 

Relief for adults – risk for the unborn

Many people use over-the-counter drugs (OTC). These are medications bought without a doctor’s prescription.

We are used to treating headaches, coughs and other illnesses with medications by pulling a remedy out of the medicine cabinet. But when a couple is planning a pregnancy, the door of the medicine cabinet should not be opening as often! A drug that is safe for an adult may not be safe for a developing baby.

Drugs come in many disguises…

OTC drugs include painkillers, sleep-aids, laxatives and others. Don’t be fooled – vitamins and herbal treatments are drugs too. OTC drugs are misleading because you don’t need a prescription. And the directions on the label may not apply to pregnant women. They are still serious drugs and a growing fetus can absorb all drugs. Also some OTC drugs can be addictive—painkillers, nasal sprays or laxatives.

Before you get pregnant, talk to your health care provider about all the drugs, vitamins and herbal treatments that you use. Drug-test your know-how

Before taking OTC drugs, ask yourself…

  • Why am I taking it?
  • What type of drug is it?
  • Are there limits to who should use it or with what?
  • Am I taking more than the recommended dose?
  • Can it harm my baby if my partner or I get pregnant?
  • Is there something safer that I can do or use?
  • Have I consulted with a health care professional?

Your first steps!

  • When planning a pregnancy I will…
  • Assume that all OTC drugs could affect the safety of my developing baby.
  • Talk to my health care provider or pharmacist before taking any OTC drug.
  • Read instructions on the OTC drug labels.
  • Keep track of what I am taking and how much.

Drug-free answers for common health problems

Many people face the health challenges below, but the first treatment does not have to be drugs. Below are some alternative suggestions.


Exercise regularly
Relax – breathe deeply
Keep a regular sleep routine
Avoid caffeine, especially after 3pm
Avoid nicotine and alcohol
Drink warm milk before bed


Take a bath or a shower
Do simple exercises
Talk with friends and relatives
Think of something else — book, movie


Reduce activity
Get some rest
Eat a balanced diet
Drink plenty of fluids
Use a cool air vaporizer
Gargle with salt water or suck on hard candy


Don’t put off the “urge” to go to the bathroom
Eat a high fibre diet
Drink 8-10 glasses of water every day
Be active every day
Eat 7-8 servings of vegetables or fruits every day.
Choose whole grain cereals and bread

If you have been taking OTC drugs for an ongoing or worsening problem, consult
with your health care provider.

If you currently use prescription drugs, talk to your health care provider.

You may be advised to:

  • Continue using your prescription.
  • Switch to a safer prescription.
  • Lower the dose of your prescription.
  • Stop using the prescription.

Recreational Drugs

Recreational drugs such as marijuana and cocaine may affect the quality of sperm and eggs. The effect of recreational drugs may not be identified immediately after birth. The effects usually show up at a later date in the form of learning disabilities. It is safer to stop using recreational drugs before planning a pregnancy.

Changes I have been advised to make to prepare for pregnancy:

Did You know...

Babies born to mothers who use street drugs:

  • May have brain damage that will affect their ability to learn.
  • Are smaller than other babies.
  • Cry a lot more and are more likely to be fussy.
  • Can be born with an addiction.


Health care provider:


Motherisk Home Line: 416-813-6780 or www.motherisk.org

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse: www.ccsa.ca or 613-235-4048

Canadian Mental Health Association: www.cmha.ca or 613-745-7750

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