Severe and persistent pain that is not effectively treated during pregnancy can result in depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure in the mother.1 Medicines including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, and acetaminophen can help treat severe and persistent pain. However, it is important to carefully weigh the benefits and risks of using prescription and OTC pain medicines during pregnancy.
The published studies we reviewed reported on the potential risks associated with the following three types of pain medicines used during pregnancy (see Data Summary section for more information about these studies):
• Prescription NSAIDs and the risk of miscarriage in the first half of pregnancy.2-6 Examples of prescription NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, and celecoxib.
• Opioids, which are available only by prescription, and the risk of birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord in babies born to women who took these products during the first trimester of pregnancy.7, 8 Examples of opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, morphine, and codeine.
• Acetaminophen in both OTC and prescription products and the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children born to women who took this medicine at any time during pregnancy.9 Acetaminophen is a common pain reducer and fever reducer found in hundreds of medicines including those used for colds, flu, allergies, and sleep.
We found all of the studies we reviewed to have potential limitations in their designs; sometimes the accumulated studies on a topic contained conflicting results that prevented us from drawing reliable conclusions. As a result, our recommendations on how pain medicines are used during pregnancy will remain the same at this time.
Pregnant women should always consult with their health care professional before taking any prescription or OTC medicine. Women taking pain medicines who are considering becoming pregnant should also consult with their health care professionals to discuss the risks and benefits of pain medicine use. Health care professionals should continue to follow the recommendations in the drug labels when prescribing pain medicines to pregnant patients.