Although ibuprofen is a reliable and readily available pain medication, the FDA warns against using it and other NSAIDs during pregnancy.
Ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) belongs to a drug category called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs are among the most common pain relief medications available. These medications have been taken safely for decades to soothe headaches, lower fever and reduce inflammation.
When you have a sprain or strain, your body releases chemicals called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins increase swelling and pain. Ibuprofen, as an NSAID, blocks specific enzymes that the body needs to make prostaglandins. By reducing the production of prostaglandins, ibuprofen helps reduce your pain.
Discomfort During Pregnancy
It’s common to have pain and discomfort during pregnancy. There are many physical and hormonal changes happening in your body while your uterus and baby are growing.
If you feel aches in your back, groin area and thighs, you’re not alone. You may feel soreness in your back and pelvic area due to the increasing pressure of the baby’s head as it grows. Rapid weight gain can cause leg cramps, and hormonal shifts can cause headaches. A hormonal change also occurs that causes joints to loosen and relax in preparation for birth, causing tenderness in the pelvis.
Under normal circumstances, it’s fine to reach for ibuprofen, but pregnant women are warned to avoid it, particularly around and after 20 weeks gestation.
The Problem With Ibuprofen
Using ibuprofen around or after 20 weeks of pregnancy can cause a rare kidney problem in the unborn baby. The result is low amniotic fluid, the protective cushioning around the unborn baby. This fluid is needed to help the development of the unborn baby’s lungs, digestive system and muscles.
Around 20 weeks into the pregnancy, the unborn baby begins producing the amniotic fluid on its own through its kidneys. The use of NSAIDs can cause kidney malfunction that results in a condition called oligohydramnios (too little amniotic fluid).
Ibuprofen taken after 30 weeks of pregnancy can cause premature closure of the ductus arteriosus, a fetal artery connecting the aorta and the pulmonary artery. It will usually close within the first few days after birth. But premature closure before birth can result in heart dysfunction or failure.
One study showed a possible increased risk of asthma developing in children whose mothers took ibuprofen during the second and third trimesters.
Many women don’t learn that they are pregnant until halfway through the first trimester (six weeks). If you take ibuprofen before you realize you are pregnant, it’s important to note that it’s unlikely to harm your baby at that early stage. But you should stop taking the drug as soon as you learn you are pregnant.
Is Ibuprofen Okay While Breastfeeding?
Fortunately, ibuprofen easily breaks down and doesn’t build up in the body. Very little transfers to breastmilk, so the amount of ibuprofen transferred to the baby is almost untraceable. Ibuprofen is considered safe to use when breastfeeding.
Alternatives to Ibuprofen
Even medications deemed safe to take while pregnant might carry a minor level of risk. If you must take medication, even over-the-counter ones, you should always check with your doctor first. Do not take more than the recommended dose unless your doctor instructs you to.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is the most common pain reliever that doctors allow pregnant women to take. Even if your doctor says it’s okay to use, take as small a dose as possible and for the shortest time.
Acetaminophen isn’t associated with any problems that could risk the unborn child’s life, but research suggests that there could be effects after birth. Daily use of acetaminophen for long periods during pregnancy can put your baby at risk for mild developmental delays or ADHD (attention deficit disorder).
For backaches, pelvic pain and leg cramps, apply warm heating pads or water bottles. Warm baths are helpful and relaxing. A cold gel pack from the freezer can help with headaches. Get additional relief by supporting your abdomen with a pregnancy girdle or elastic sling.
In conclusion, it is advisable to consult your doctor for medications before trying any over-the-counter pain reliever during pregnancy. A healthcare professional will help you identify the proper medicines for treating different symptoms such as muscle aches or morning sickness that do not threaten your baby or developing fetus.