Is it Safe to Have Cough Drops While Pregnant?

How to deal with that pesky, lingering cough the safe way.

If your pregnancy is progressing as mine was, you’re finding one thing might be true – your throat is always sore.

Nagging sore throats are incredibly common in pregnancy.

They can arise from the temperature changes happening outdoors, the temperature changes happening in your own body, the heartburn and acid reflux that seem to tear at your esophagus, pregnancy allergies that tickle your throat (it’s not in your head says Parents magazine), or the frequency at which you feel under the weather but can’t take much for relief.

But holy smokes.

I was shocked when I suggested taking something to ease my discomfort, the laundry list of possibilities that my doctor ran through. After all, it’s just a cough drop! But this nickel-sized lozenge doesn’t have to scare you.

So can I take cough drops while pregnant?

The “simple” answer to so very many things in your pregnancy is: it depends. Even with something that strikes you as potentially “harmless” as a cough drop needs to be referred to a medical professional.

If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, Women’s Care, an organization out of the state of Oregon and its Fertility Center, suggest checking with a doctor before choosing any medication, even over-the counter. But figuring whether or not to take cough drops, and which ones to take is where I can help you.

How do cough drops work?

According to Health Status LLC, “Cough drops are small sweets that are supposed to be taken by mouth and dissolved slowly, in order to help sooth a sore throat due to the common cold or influenza. These sweets are medicated and also help relieve cough. The medicines present in these sweets help soothe and lubricate the irritated throat tissues” (para 2).

Know what you’re buying.

Cough drops can contain any of the following:

Active Ingredients:

  • Benzocaine: which is a topical anesthetic normally found in over the counter products such as mouth ulcer medicine
  • Eucalyptus oil: this is an extract of the eucalyptus plant.
  • Dextromethrophan: this is a potent cough reliever
  • Zinc gluconate glycine
  • Pectin
  • Menthol
  • Spear mint
  • Peppermint oil
  • Honey

Inactive Ingredients:

  • Peppermint
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Wild thyme
  • Elder
  • Horehound
  • Hyssop
  • Lemon balm
  • Linden flowers
  • Mallow

And you can buy them in mentholated or non-metholated versions. The Livestrong Foundation explains the differences by noting:

“Mentholated cough drops numb pain in the throat. They also often contain cough suppressants in addition to the oral anesthetic. And non-mentholated drops coat the throat with a soothing substance. They do not suppress coughs or numb pain in the throat.

These cough drops are often made with natural ingredients such as lemon, honey or mint.”

So which ingredients are safe for pregnancy?

  • Cough drops that contain dextromethorphan and guaifenesin (an expectorant) are considered safe for pregnant women to use.
  • There are no studies that assess the safety of menthol during pregnancy. Therefore, the risks of menthol cough drops on pregnancy are not fully known.
  • Many doctors claim that the Top Three cough drops to take during pregnancy are:
    1. Halls Menthol-Cough Suppressant / Oral Anesthetic Plus Medicine
    2. Ricola Cough Suppressant Throat Drops
    3. Vicks Menthol Cough Suppressant / Oral Anesthetic Drops

Possible dangers:

  • There have not been any reports of negative effects on a pregnancy due to menthol use. To be safe, you should talk to your doctor before taking menthol cough drops during pregnancy.
  • If you are unsure of the specific effects of the combination of herbs on your developing baby, consult with your health professional before taking the cough drops, even if they are labeled “all natural.”
  • Certain herbs, corn syrup, or sugars found in cough drops might not be what your doctor suggests. Why? Because if you are at risk for gestational diabetes or in a high-risk pregnancy, those sugars or herbs could be counterproductive.

And there are remedies that are all natural:

For those of you who read all of the above and felt unsure about whether or not chemicals are your cup of tea, the “cures” below are considered solutions for relieving throat issues during pregnancy:

  • Suck on garlic. Literally. A clove in each cheek, sucked on like cough drops
  • Add 1 tsp honey and 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper to boiling hot water. Drink when cooled.
  • Chamomile tea with honey
  • Ginger tea, made from fresh ginger root
  • Hot water, honey, and whole cloves in boiling water
  • Honey lemon tea
  • Humidifiers
  • Gargling with salt water (1 tsp of salt for every 8oz of water)
  • Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup
  • Preggie Pop Drops from Motherhood Maternity

The more you know.

It’s important to remember – what is happening to your body is between you and your doctor. So ALWAYS ask.

When I was pregnant, I craved tuna fish like nobody’s business. It’s all I thought about. And oh yes – I’m a vegetarian. But my doctor, despite my pleas, was and is 100% against canned fish while pregnant. And he was against any medication, over the counter or prescribed, for my sore throat and heartburn. He, instead, suggested Coke Slurpees from 7-Eleven.

So, while everyone kept saying, “Eat the tuna!” like some scary cartoon bullies, and when my mother tried to feed me things that would curl my stomach because “They worked for me!” I chose to trust my doctor and my gut (literally) and take each piece of advice with a smile and a “I might try that.”

Allow many, if not most, of these decisions be as tailored to you and your baby as possible.

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