It’s allergy season (which can sometimes seems to be a year-round thing) and you’re itching, sneezing, coughing, and having constant watery eyes. You’re also pregnant, which can make the runny nose and other allergy symptoms worse.
So, is taking an anti-allergy medication like Benadryl safe for your bun-in-the-oven?
More than 90 percent of women take an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication while pregnant. But you’re right to double-check all meds during pregnancy. Even some OTC can cause side effects or be harmful.
Fortunately, doctors advise that it’s OK to take Benadryl to cope with the dreaded allergies during pregnancy. And it’s been approved for pregnant women by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
But keep in mind that no medication is 100 percent safe during pregnancy. Take Benadryl only when you need it and exactly as advised by your doctor.
Benadryl is a brand name for the drug diphenhydramine (you might see this chemical name on generic brands). It’s an antihistamine. This means that it helps calm down your immune system from overreacting to pollen, dust, cats, and other allergens.
Taking Benadryl can give you some relief from allergies, asthma, hay fever, and cold symptoms, like:
- itchy eyes, nose, or throat
- runny nose
- watery eyes
- skin itching
- skin rash
This OTC medication is also used to stop or ease dizziness, nausea, and vomiting from being car or motion sick. Since it can make you drowsy, some women also use it to help with sleeplessness during pregnancy.
You’re not alone in seeking allergy relief while pregnant. Up to 15 percent of women in the United States report taking antihistamines like Benadryl while they were pregnant. Medical research shows that Benadryl is most likely safe for your growing baby.
Other brand-name allergy meds in this family of antihistamines include Claritin and Zyrtec. Doxylamine, another H₁ antihistamine commonly used to help with sleeplessness in pregnancy, is considered safe. You may know it by its brand name, Unisom.
Another kind of allergy antihistamine drug is called H₂. This kind has been tested by fewer medical studies and may not be safe during pregnancy. OTC antihistamines in this group include Pepcid, Zantac, and Tagamet — these should only be used under the supervision of a doctor.
What about the first trimester?
You’re right to be careful throughout your entire pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. This exciting time — when you haven’t even started showing yet — is when a lot of the action quietly happens.
Although your little bean is only about 3 inches long by week 12, they’ll have developed all their major organ systems — the heart, brain, lungs, everything — in the first trimester.
This also makes the first 12 weeks of pregnancy the riskiest. In the first trimester your baby is the most vulnerable to harm from alcohol, drugs, illness, and medications.
The Slone Center’s Birth Defect Study interviewed almost 51,000 mothers over the span of about 40 years. It gave safety ratings to medications that were commonly used during pregnancy. The highest rating a drug can have is “good” and the lowest is “none.”
This big study gave diphenhydramine a high passing rate of “fair.” For this reason, your doctor will likely tell you it’s best to only take Benadryl if you absolutely must in your first trimester of pregnancy.
As mentioned, some early studies reported that taking Benadryl and other medications with diphenhydramine could cause abnormalities at birth. These included cleft lip, cleft palate, and other problems with the development of the upper mouth and lower nose.
However, several recent medical studies have found that diphenhydramine doesn’t cause these or any abnormalities at birth at all. This research shows that taking Benadryl at any stage of your pregnancy, even the first trimester, is safe.
Benadryl is a drug, and it can still cause the usual side effects in anyone. You might be more sensitive to Benadryl while you’re pregnant than you usually are.
Take Benadryl sparingly. Try less than the recommended dose to see if maybe you don’t need anymore. It’s also worth noting now that once your little one arrives, you can pass Benadryl to them through your breast milk, so it’s not a bad idea to get used to taking less now.
The usual side effects of Benadryl are:
- headache pain
- dry mouth and nose
- dry throat
Less common side effects of Benadryl that can still hit like a brick wall while pregnant include:
- chest congestion
Whether you normally take Benadryl for allergy relief or to get some much-needed sleep, there are natural alternatives that might work for you.
Try these pregnancy-safe home remedies to help soothe allergy symptoms:
- using saline nasal drops
- using saline eye drops
- washing the nostrils with sterile water
- placing petroleum jelly (Vaseline) around the opening of your nostrils
- gargling salt water for a sore or scratchy throat
Always check with a doctor before taking any supplements, especially while pregnant. You may want to ask about:
- locally produced pasteurized honey
- pregnancy safe, low mercury fish oil supplements
Natural remedies to send you snoozing include:
- lavender essential oil
- chamomile essential oil
- meditation before bed
- warm milk
Benadryl is considered to be safe during pregnancy. Doctors and nurses recommend this OTC medication to help relieve allergy symptoms, even while you’re pregnant.
Recent studies have found Benadryl to be safe. However, always remember that no medicine — prescription or OTC — is ever 100 percent safe during pregnancy. Benadryl and other drugstore medications are still powerful drugs. They can also give you unwanted side effects.
Take Benadryl sparingly and only when you really need to. You may want to try natural remedies (after confirming their safety with your doctor) to help soothe your allergy symptoms instead.