Posted by on 02/20/2017

Remember the first OB visit when you initially found out you were pregnant? You likely faced an information overload from your clinician that was impossible to retain. The doctor often rattles off a long list of medications to avoid now that you’re expecting, which may have resembled a frazzled waitress listing off 15 different salad dressings. Once you hit the first five, they don’t seem to stick. Despite the joy and excitement of pregnancy, it can quite literally be a pain! Lower back aches, hip pain, knee pain, or even stubbed toes are all common complaints of expecting moms. If you have some moderate aches or pains that are common to pregnancy, it’s important to know your options for relief. We will discuss some safe pain relief choices for pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Pregnancy

Medications That Are Definitely Not Safe

For those who are not pregnant, ibuprofen (Advil & Motrin) is an easy fix for pain, fever, and swelling relief. Unfortunately, ibuprofen is completely off the table for expecting mothers. It can cause fetal kidney problems, heart valve issues, miscarriage (in early term), and even reduce fertility in those trying to conceive. Similarly, that whole class (or family) of medications called NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) can have the same negative effects. NSAIDs include ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, meloxicam, and salicylates. These must be avoided during pregnancy.  It is important to note that some pain relieving creams, such as Bengay, contain NSAIDs as well.

What Is The Best Option?

I say best, because there is no perfect option. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is generally the safest pain reliever on the market, but it does have its issues, as well. Expecting moms can take 650mg every 4-6 hours, with no more than 5 doses in 24 hours. Acetaminophen can safely reduce pain from simple aches and injuries.

What Are The Issues?

If used long term for about six weeks or more, Tylenol may be a link to behavioral issues for your child down the line. It’s best to use acetaminophen only if absolutely necessary and for the shortest possible time. If you’re in need of greater or longer  pain relief, you should be treated by a doctor.

Since acetaminophen is generally considered safe, it is often found in many products such as cough and cold medications, sleep aids, and stomach remedies. The list is daunting! Because it’s so common, it’s really important to never exceed more than 4,000mg per day. Liver toxicity from acetaminophen is one of the most common overdoses in the US.
Always analyze the ingredients when you take over-the-counter or prescription medications in combination with acetaminophen so you don’t ‘double up.’

Non Drug Alternatives

If you want to start out with options that don’t involve medications, there are quite a few to choose from. We also have a few natural tips for the big event itself.

Exercise

If permitted by your physician, light exercise is a great way to ease pains from pregnancy, especially in the back and hips. Movement promotes blood flow to your muscles and can reduce stiffness in the joints. Activities such as walking, swimming, or yoga can greatly ease the stress on your body. Prenatal yoga classes are also a great way to meet other expecting moms in your community! If you’re in need of more help, a physical therapist may be able to suggest specific exercises to best target your sore spots.

Heat & Ice

Never apply heat to your belly!

If you have specific problem areas, use cold packs for 15-20 minutes several times per day, followed by heat for the same duration for existing ailments. Lavender Hot Packs also provide some much appreciated aromatherapy. Do not apply either ice to hot packs directly to the skin – always use a towel or other fabric barrier. As always, check with your provider before beginning a new regimen.

Massage

Whether it’s the relaxation element or muscle tension relief, massage can be a great tool to reduce aches and pains. A trained massage therapist can help target problem areas and relieve stress.

And besides, who doesn’t want a prenatal massage?

Posture & Sleep

As your belly grows, your posture will change to accommodate your shifting center of gravity. This puts a huge stress on your spine. Belly belts can provide added support so you’re not hunching over to compensate. It’s important to keep your spine aligned while you’re sleeping, too. It is also best to sleep on your side, but having your knees together pulls at your hip. A pillow between the knees is an easy fix for a good night’s rest!

Breastfeeding

Having to choose the right medications to take when you’re breastfeeding can be intimidating, too. Your options have generally opened up now that your baby is his own little person. You likely received very strong pain medications in the hospital and were given a prescription for the weeks following. This class, called opiates, should be limited to only the most severe pains associated with childbirth or cesarean sections. These medications are transmitted through breastmilk and have a myriad of side effects, as well as the potential for abuse. Acetaminophen is still a better option, and ibuprofen is now considered safe at 400mg every 4-6 hours, with no more than five doses in 24 hours. Although found in breast milk in very trace amounts, neither product is shown to cause any harm to your newborn.

Relief in sight!

Don’t let those pregnancy aches get in the way of enjoying this experience. Always check with your healthcare provider and be confident and educated that you’re making the right decision when you open up that medicine cabinet.

Have a pharmacy question for me?
Post it in the comments!

Recently settled in Vermont, Stephanie is a registered Pharmacist and full time homemaker for her husband and beautiful baby girl.

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