What over-the-counter preparations are pregnant women taking? A literature review

J Adv Nurs. 2006 Dec;56(6):636-45. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2006.04037.x.


Aim: This paper presents an overview of current literature relating to over-the-counter and herbal preparations use, with a focus on pregnancy.

Background: Internationally, there has been a shift towards self-medication through over-the-counter release of many prescription-category drugs and wider acceptance and use of herbal preparations. The general community perception that these preparations are safe may lead to inappropriate use, especially during pregnancy.

Method: A range of databases was searched to identify papers addressing 'over-the-counter preparations/medications', 'non-prescription medications', 'herbal preparations' and 'pregnancy', including Medline, Cumulative Index to Nursing, Allied Health Literature, Proquest and Sciencedirect. Midwifery, nursing and scientific papers published from 2000 onwards were included, along with a small number of scientific papers published from 1995 onwards, and some key textbooks to clarify the definitions.

Findings: Pregnant women use a range of over-the-counter preparations, including analgesics, antihistamines, antacids and a variety of herbal preparations. However, in many cases, it is unclear whether their use is actually safe in the short- or long-term for mother or baby, owing to an inadequate evidence-base to support the use of these preparations during pregnancy.

Conclusion: While there is extensive literature on the use of over-the-counter preparations generally, less is available about their use in pregnancy. Further research is needed to explore the prevalence of use and effects of these preparations in pregnancy and neonatal outcomes, and to support midwives and nurses in harm minimization through the promotion of informed risk-avoidance behaviours.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Antacids / therapeutic use
  • Antidiarrheals / therapeutic use
  • Cathartics / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Minerals / therapeutic use
  • Nonprescription Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Phytotherapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pregnancy*
  • Vitamins / therapeutic use


  • Analgesics
  • Antacids
  • Antidiarrheals
  • Cathartics
  • Minerals
  • Nonprescription Drugs
  • Vitamins