What Pain Relievers Can Be Taken During Pregnancy

By Michelle Hottya
Kari Marie/Demand Media

The joys of pregnancy—feeling the baby kick, watching the belly grow, preparing for a welcome addition to the family—at times can be overshadowed by common complaints, such as headache, muscle cramps and lower back pain. Many pregnant women wonder what type of pain relief they can take safely, without posing risks to their baby or causing complications to the pregnancy. There are several options that can help and definitely some to avoid.

Acetaminophen

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The most commonly used pain reliever during pregnancy is acetaminophen. Also known as Tylenol, this medication has been shown in several research studies to be safe for use during pregnancy. Pregnant women can take Tylenol for headaches, muscle pain or fever in doses up to 4 grams per day.

Ibuprofen and Naproxen

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Ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and Naproxen (Aleve) are part of a class of medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The medical community agrees that while the effects of NSAIDs in early pregnancy are not completely known, they have been shown to have increased negative side effects in the third trimester. These risks include premature closing of a valve in the baby’s heart (the ductus arteriosus, which leads to fetal pulmonary hypertension), reduced amniotic fluid and slowing down of labor. Pregnant women should only take ibuprofen under a doctor’s close supervision so that the baby’s heart can be monitored for problems.

Herbal Remedies

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Herbs have been used for ages to treat common ills, but due to lack of regulation and consistent preparations, the Food and Drug Administration does not recommend the use of any herbal remedies during pregnancy. However, many practitioners of natural medicine employ a variety of simple treatments to relieve pain and its causes during pregnancy. Mild herbs, such as chamomile, red raspberry leaf, nettle and comfrey, can be effective in teas, rubs or infusions. A trained herbalist can help you find the most beneficial and safe herbs for your condition.

Non-pharmaceutical Options

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Pregnant women can seek non-medicinal remedies for pain relief as well. Exercise, especially yoga and swimming, helps relieve stress and strain that lead to head and muscle aches. Pregnancy massage and reflexology pinpoint areas of the body that are sore or tense. Regular chiropractic care helps to keep the body in alignment and prevent or treat pain from the loosening of joints (due to the relaxin hormone which allows the body to adapt to posture changes and prepare the pelvis for childbirth). Wearing comfortable, supportive shoes and sleeping on your left side with pillows positioned comfortably under your belly and between your knees also increase comfort and reduce pain.

Nutrition

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Sometimes headaches, muscle cramps and stomach upset are brought on by inadequate intake of water, protein or calcium. Pregnant women should take prenatal vitamins regularly, stay hydrated and eat well—the most important practices for overall well-being.

About the Author

Michelle Hottya is a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She has written for "Writer's Digest", "New Beginnings", "Latina Bride" and "Arizona Birth Connection". She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Loyola Marymount University.