Medicines to Avoid When Pregnant

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on June 08, 2023
4 min read

The rule about taking medicines during pregnancy is simple: Always ask your doctor first. That includes questions about prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. There are some medicines you should definitely not take. For others, your doctor may need to weigh the risks and benefits to you and your baby.


Some drugs can harm a developing baby or cause a miscarriage or stillbirth. Some of the most common medications you should avoid are: 

Sometimes, not taking a certain medication can cause more problems for you or your baby than if you do take them. Other medications carry less risk at certain stages of your pregnancy. Your doctor will let you know which medications are safe to take and when. 

Prenatal vitamins are safe and important to take when you're pregnant. Ask your health care provider about the safety of taking other vitamins, herbal remedies, and supplements. Most herbal preparations and supplements have not been proven to be safe during pregnancy.

Generally, you should not take any OTC medication while pregnant unless it is necessary.

No drug can be considered 100% safe to use during pregnancy. Researchers can’t ethically test drugs on people who are pregnant. But the following medications and home remedies have no known harmful effects during pregnancy when taken according to the package directions. Contact your doctor for additional information on their safety or for medications not listed here.


Check with your doctor before taking these in the first trimester.

Cold and Flu

  • Acetaminophen – if taken at the lowest possible dose and for the shortest amount of time needed for relief
  • Saline nasal drops or spray
  • Warm salt/water gargle

Check with your doctor before taking any other medications, especially in the first trimester.


First Aid Ointment


Some alternative therapies have been shown to be safe and effective for relieving some of the uncomfortable side effects of pregnancy. Talk it over with your doctor first before using any of them. And remember, “natural” doesn’t always equal “safe” when you’re pregnant.

Nausea in early pregnancy: Acupuncture, acupressure, ginger root (250 milligram capsules four times a day), and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, 25 milligrams two or three times a day) work well. Sipping the thick syrup from inside a can of peaches, pears, mixed fruits, pineapples, or orange slices may also help.

Backache: Chiropractic manipulation holds the best track record. Another option is massage, but it is important to make sure your massage therapist is adequately trained in prenatal massage.

Turning a breech baby: Exercise and hypnosis may help.

Pain relief in labor: Epidurals are most effective, but immersion in a warm bath can also relieve tension. Relaxation and breathing techniques, emotional support, and self-hypnosis are widely used in labor. Acupuncture can also work for some people.

The following substances in concentrated formulation (not as a spice in cooking) may harm your baby. Some are thought to cause birth defects and potentially encourage early labor.

Avoid these oral supplements: Arbor vitae, beth root, black cohosh, blue cohosh, cascara, chaste tree berry, Chinese angelica (dong quai), cinchona, cotton root bark, feverfew, ginseng, golden seal, juniper, kava kava, licorice, meadow saffron, pennyroyal, poke root, rue, sage, St. John's wort, senna, slippery root, tansy, white peony, wormwood, yarrow, yellow dock, and vitamin A (large doses can cause birth defects).

Avoid these aromatherapy essential oils: Calamus, mugwort, pennyroyal, sage, wintergreen, basil, hyssop, myrrh, marjoram, and thyme.

When in doubt about any medication, supplement, or therapy, ask your health care provider before taking or using it.