Medication Use and Pain Management in Pregnancy: A Critical Review

Pain Pract. 2019 Nov;19(8):875-899. doi: 10.1111/papr.12814. Epub 2019 Aug 13.


Background: Pain during pregnancy is common, and its management is complex. Certain analgesics may increase the risk for adverse fetal and pregnancy outcomes, while poorly managed pain can result in adverse maternal outcomes such as depression and hypertension. Guidelines to assist clinicians in assessing risks and benefits of exposure to analgesics for the mother and unborn infant are lacking, necessitating evidence-based recommendations for managing pain in pregnancy.

Methods: A comprehensive literature search was conducted to assess pregnancy safety data for pharmacological and nonpharmacological pain management methods. Relevant clinical trials and observational studies were identified using multiple medical databases, and included studies were evaluated for quality and possible biases.

Results: Paracetamol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are appropriate for mild to moderate pain, but NSAIDs should be avoided in the third trimester due to established risks. Short courses of weaker opioids are generally safe in pregnancy, although neonatal abstinence syndrome must be monitored following third trimester exposure. Limited safety data for pregabalin and gabapentin indicate that these are unlikely to be major teratogens, and tricyclic antidepressants and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors have limited but overall reassuring safety data. Many of the included studies were limited by methodological issues.

Conclusions: Findings from this review can guide clinicians in their decision to prescribe analgesics for pregnant women. Treatment should be tailored to the lowest therapeutic dose and shortest possible duration, and management should involve a discussion of risks and benefits and monitoring for response. Further research is required to better understand the safety profile of various analgesics in pregnancy.

Keywords: analgesia; analgesics; headache; lower back pain; obstetric; obstetric pain; opioid; pain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetaminophen / administration & dosage
  • Acetaminophen / adverse effects
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Management / standards
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy*


  • Analgesics
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Acetaminophen