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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : Are there any medications a pregnant woman can take to control a cough?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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February 10, 2011
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A:

"Guaifenesin" is the active ingredient in many cough medicines, such as Robitussin. It is safe to use in pregnancy.

If a pregnant woman has a severe cough that doesn't respond to guaifenesin, her doctor can prescribe codeine and other narcotics. Some prescription cough syrups combine these ingredients.

Your question raises two important points:

1. A pregnant woman needs to be sure that her cough is not from a more serious problem, such as asthma or pneumonia.
A pregnant woman should call her doctor or midwife if:

  • She has other symptoms, such as fever, very bloody sputum or shortness of breath
  • Her cough lasts for days in spite of using medications

2. Information about the safety of medications in pregnancy is often limited.
Pregnant women and those caring for them often have to balance uncertainty (a drug seems safe although a small risk cannot be excluded) against the benefit the drug can bring.

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