How to treat a cough during pregnancy

11Aug08

I had a cough a few weeks ago, and am still trying to get rid of it completely.  When I first came down with the cough, my wife suggested that I keep to myself and keep away from her so that she could avoid catching anything.  Are you kidding me?  I can’t keep away from my wife.  If I catch something, invariably she’ll catch it too, sooner or later.

And so it was with this cough.  She’s got it bad. She’s been drinking tea to try to calm her throat or ease her congestion.  But now we’re at a point where we’re considering taking something like Robitussin to help manage the symptoms.  She’s pretty adamant that regular Robitussin does nothing for her, but the DM stuff does.  So the question then is, is Robitussin DM safe during pregnancy?

I found this drug classification system that the FDA developed to help people recognize the potential effects of medicines.  Bottles are meant to be labeled with one of these categories, “A” being the safest.  The problem is that only medicines released after some date, it seems like it was some date in 1979, are required to be labeled.  Anything release before that date does not.  Unforunately, Robitussin DM was developed before the cut-off date, so it doesn’t require labeling.  Why wouldn’t retroactive labeling be a requirement?  Stupid system.

Anyway, are there studies on the effects of Robitussin DM on pregnancy?  This study concludes that “The use of dextromethorphan [that’s the DM in Robitussin DM] for cough during pregnancy does not appear to produce an increased risk of congenital malformations in newborns. Similar data with guaifenesin [another ingredient of Robitussin DM] also suggests it is safe to use during pregnancy. However, in general, the use of drugs should be minimized whenever possible during pregnancy. Because the efficacy data supporting the use of guaifenesin as an expectorant is scant, the use of a dextromethorphan-only cough suppressant … should be considered. Additionally, patients should be advised to avoid cough preparations that contain alcohol.”  Another study found that dextromethorphan was safe, or at least failed to increase the rate of malformations.

So

  • avoid cough medicine with alcohol
  • chances are that Robitussin DM (with guaifenesin) is okay, but why take the chance
  • other cough medicines with dextromethorphan (and without guaifenesin) are better
  • it’s probably best to try to avoid taking any drugs during pregnancy
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7 Responses to “How to treat a cough during pregnancy”

  1. im 28 weeks pregnant and ive come down with a sore throat and a horrible cough and my doctor prescribed Cilamox (anti-biotic) to treat it but people say that you shouldnt take any antibiotics during pregnancy?

  2. 2 expectingdad

    I did a few quick searches … Cilamox is a form of amoxicillin which, according to Wikipedia, is a pregnancy category B drug. Category B means “Animal reproduction studies have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus and there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women OR Animal studies which have shown an adverse effect, but adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women have failed to demonstrate a risk to the fetus in any trimester.”

    So if this is correct info, there is a risk that taking this will harm your baby. It’s a low risk, but it’s greater than zero. It does seem though that this drug has achieve Category A in Australia, which has essentially the same description as the US Category A.

    I can tell you that my wife has decided to take nothing at all, category A or not.

  3. 3 mars

    I am 23 weeks pregnant and i have had a nagging, non-productive cough for 1 week. No fever and no other symptoms. I called my OB and he told me to take Robitussin DM for no more than three days. Is this okay?

  4. 4 expectingdad

    Hi Mars –

    Congratulations on making it to 23 weeks! My wife is at 25 weeks as of last Friday. Very exciting times!

    As far as whether you can take Robitussin DM for a few days, it’s a tough decision to make. There’s so much information out there … which makes it very difficult to know who to trust and what could be potentially harmful to your baby.

    While I can’t say that I know all of the answers, from what I’ve read, I’d say that it’s probably fine to take Robitussin DM for a few days. Studies have shown that Robitussin DM’s active ingredients – dextromethorphan and guaifenesin – are safe to use during pregnancy, although there is less research on guaifenesin than dextromethorphan. You might be better off finding a dextromethorphan-only cough suppressant if you can. When you’re at your pharmacy, have a quick look at the active ingredients section on the packaging. If it has both dextromethorphan and guaifenesin, see if you can find another one that has only dextromethorphan.

  5. I was once told that I took the easy way out when I told someone that I had to have an emergency c-section after 22 hours of labor!!!

  6. 6 brittney

    I’m 21 weeks and I’ve come down with.a terrible cold! My husband went to the pharmacy and they suggested Rob dm. I’m nit taking it yet. I want to ask my doctor..

    • 7 expectingdad

      Brittney – It seems that Rob DM is safe, but there are no guarantees. You should do whatever you feel comfortable with. If you don’t want to take the chance, then don’t do it. You’re smart to ask your doctor.


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