Is It Safe to Use NyQuil While I’m Pregnant?

Medically reviewed by University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group on August 5, 2016Written by University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group on August 5, 2016

About Nyquil

You’re pregnant, you have a cold, and your symptoms are keeping you awake. What do you do? Can you take NyQuil to help relieve your cold symptoms and get some shuteye?

The answer is yes and no. Some Nyquil medications are safe to use during pregnancy and some are not. NyQuil, as you may know, is used for short-term relief of common cold and flu symptoms. These symptoms include cough, sore throat, headache, minor aches and pains, fever, nasal and sinus congestion, and sneezing.

Nyquil comes in three types: NyQuil Cold & Flu, NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu, and NyQuil Cough. Each contains a different combination of drugs. Read on to find out how these drugs may affect a pregnancy and which Nyquil medications are safe to use while pregnant.

Safety of NyQuil ingredients in pregnancy

Some Nyquil medications are safe to use during pregnancy and some are not. It all depends on the ingredients found in each. You should not take NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu if you’re pregnant. Use of its active ingredient in early pregnancy may be linked with some birth defects. You should also talk to your doctor before using the liquid forms of NyQuil Cold & Flu and NyQuil Cough during pregnancy.

The active ingredients in Nyquil products are listed in the chart below. Alcohol is an inactive ingredient, but it can also affect pregnancy.

Ingredient Forms that contain itSymptom(s) treatedSafe during pregnancy?
acetaminophenNyQuil Cold & Flu, NyQuil Severe Cold & Flusore throat, headache, minor aches and pains, feveryes
dextromethorphan HBrNyQuil Cold & Flu, NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu, NyQuil Coughcough yes
doxylamine succinateNyQuil Cold & Flu, NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu, NyQuil Coughrunny nose and sneezingyes
phenylephrine HClNyQuil Severe Cold & Flunasal and sinus congestion and pressureno*
alcoholLiquid forms of: NyQuil Cold & Flu, NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu, NyQuil Coughnone (inactive ingredient)no**
* Use in early pregnancy may be linked with some birth defects. **Ask your doctor before using a product that contains alcohol.

Nyquil ingredients in detail

Each of the drugs contained in Nyquil has different effects on a pregnancy and on you. A medication’s side effects can affect how you feel during your pregnancy, so they’re also important to consider.

Acetaminophen: Effects on pregnancy

Acetaminophen is commonly used during all stages of pregnancy. A mother’s short-term use of the drug at the recommended dosage does not seem to pose a risk to her pregnancy. The American Academy of Family Physicians considers acetaminophen safe for use in pregnancy to relieve pain and fever.

Still, be sure to avoid taking acetaminophen in very high doses or on a continuous basis. This type of usage could lead to liver damage or other harmful effects for both you and your pregnancy.

Acetaminophen: Side effects

Acetaminophen does not have many common side effects. However, it does have more serious side effects. These are all rare, but can include:

  • liver damage
  • red, peeling, or blistering skin
  • rash
  • hives
  • itching
  • swelling of your face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes, hands, lower legs, ankles, or feet
  • hoarseness
  • trouble breathing or swallowing

Dextromethorphan: Effects on pregnancy

The American Academy of Family Physicians suggests that there are no major risks of using dextromethorphan during any trimester of pregnancy. It should be safe to use throughout your pregnancy when the benefits outweigh the risks. If you’re concerned, your doctor can talk to you about your specific use.

Dextromethorphan: Side effects

The more common side effects of dextromethorphan can include:

  • nervousness
  • dizziness
  • lightheadedness
  • drowsiness
  • restlessness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • stomach pain

More serious side effects are rare, but they can include:

  • severe rash

Doxylamine: Effects on pregnancy

Research has shown doxylamine to be safe in all stages of pregnancy, including the first trimester. In fact, doxylamine is often used with pyridoxine (vitamin B6) to relieve nausea and vomiting caused by pregnancy.

Doxylamine: Side effects

The more common side effects of doxylamine can include:

  • dry mouth, nose, and throat
  • drowsiness
  • nausea
  • increased chest congestion
  • headache
  • excitement
  • nervousness

More serious side effects of doxylamine should go away when you stop taking the drug. These effects can include:

  • blurry vision
  • trouble urinating

Phenylephrine: Effects on pregnancy

Phenylephrine can cause harmful effects such as birth defects. Phenylephrine may be most dangerous to a pregnancy during the first trimester. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, you should avoid taking this drug during the first trimester of your pregnancy. Only take it during any other time during your pregnancy if your doctor says it’s okay.

Keep reading: Dangers of phenylephrine and pregnancy »

Phenylephrine: Side effects

The more common side effects of phenylephrine can include:

  • nervousness
  • dizziness
  • sleeplessness

A more serious side effect of phenylephrine is increased blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, do not take phenylephrine unless your doctor recommends it. This is especially true for women with pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy).

Alcohol effects on pregnancy

Many liquid over-the-counter products, including liquid forms of Nyquil, contain alcohol. You should talk to your doctor before taking any medication that contains alcohol. Even the small amount of alcohol found in cold and flu medications raises the risk of harmful effects on a pregnancy. These effects include:

  • premature birth
  • low birth weight
  • physical disabilities
  • developmental disabilities

There is no safe amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy.

Learn more: Treating a Cold or Flu When Pregnant »

Talk with your doctor

In general, it’s a good idea to stay away from medication while you’re pregnant if you can. You can try non-drug options first to see if they help relieve your symptoms. You should only take medication during pregnancy if the potential benefit to you is worth the potential risk to the pregnancy. If you need to turn to Nyquil, here are some things to remember:

  • During your first trimester, avoid using Nyquil Severe Cold & Flu, which contains phenylephrine, and only use it during your second or third trimester if your doctor says it’s okay.
  • Throughout your pregnancy, avoid using liquid Nyquil products, as they contain alcohol.
  • You should be safe using all other Nyquil products during your pregnancy. However, you should always talk with your doctor before taking any medication.

If you have more questions about Nyquil or any other medication, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. They can help you feel better while taking good care of your pregnancy.

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