Is Phenylephrine Safe While Pregnant?

Why You Should Avoid Phenylephrine if You’re Pregnant

Phenylephrine is not safe to take if you’re pregnant. Learn why it's not and about some safer options for relieving your cold and sinus congestion during pregnancy.

What Is Phenylephrine?

Woman blowing her nose on couch

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Phenylephrine is a decongestant that can relieve congestion by reducing swelling in the nose, ears and sinus cavities. It is often used by cold and allergy sufferers as well as by those afflicted with sinusitis and bronchitis.

Phenylephrine’s Pregnancy Category

Phenylephrine is designated a pregnancy Category C medication. This means the studies conducted on pregnant animals have shown adverse effects on the fetus, although no well-controlled studies have been conducted on actual pregnant women.

Why Phenylephrine Isn’t Safe During Pregnancy

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Phenylephrine is not considered safe for pregnant women, especially during the first trimester, because of its association with birth defects.

Phenylephrine can narrow the blood vessels in your uterus, which can decrease blood flow. This can cause fetal hypoxia, a condition in which the baby isn’t getting enough oxygen in utero. Fetal hypoxia can slow the baby’s heartbeat and cause birth defects.

Alternatives to Phenylephrine

Luckily, phenylephrine isn’t the only decongestant on the market. If you’re currently pregnant, at least two congestion-relieving medications are available. As with any cold remedy or medication, always check with your doctor first to be on the safe side.

  • Sudafed: Sudafed, also known by the generic name pseudoephedrine hydrochloride, is another decongestant often used instead of phenylephrine. Sudafed is also a Category C medication.

    Some doctors will give the green light to take Sudafed during pregnancy

    as long as it’s not during the first trimester and you don't have hypertension. Other doctors may advise against Sudafed during pregnancy because of its Category C designation. Check with your OB as to whether Sudafed is a safe option for you.

    * Menthol Rub: If you’re congested because of a cold or sinusitis, try rubbing a bit of menthol rub, such as Vicks VapoRub or Mentholatum, on your chest. You can also dab some of the rub on your temples and under your nose.

When to Call Your Doctor

If you’re pregnant and suffering from cold or sinus congestion, let your doctor know. Your OB might have some other suggestions to help you find relief.

It’s also important to get in touch with your doctor right away if you’re pregnant and your cold or sinus issues are accompanied with any of the following:

  • Chest pain/pressure
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • High fever
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Severe vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Breathing difficulty