Can You Take Benadryl While Pregnant?

The tried-and-true antihistamine is generally considered safe during pregnancy, but there are some things you should know before popping this pill.
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Published August 10, 2022
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Before becoming pregnant, you probably didn’t think twice about taking Benadryl when you were having a minor allergic reaction. But now that you’re expecting, even some over-the-counter medication is suddenly off limits. So can you take Benadryl while pregnant? The short answer is yes—but there are a few things to keep in mind before popping that pill. Here’s what you need to know about taking Benadryl during pregnancy.

Reasons People Might Want to Take Benadryl While Pregnant

According to MedlinePlus, Benadryl is a brand name for diphenhydramine, an antihistamine that’s used to relieve symptoms caused by hay fever, allergies or the common cold (think itchy, watery eyes, scratchy throat, sneezing and runny nose). It can also be used to quell a cough, prevent and ease motion sickness and even treat insomnia. The medicine specifically works by blocking the action of histamine, a substance in your body that causes allergic symptoms.

Benadryl is similar to Unisom (doxylamine), another antihistamine that has been extensively studied for use in early pregnancy and is often recommended to help reduce nausea and vomiting, says Jonathan Schaffir, MD, an ob-gyn at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. Essentially, many use it reactively for allergies and proactively to curb bouts of morning sickness.

Is Benadryl Safe During Pregnancy?

If you check the official label for Benadryl, you’ll see a disclaimer that recommends asking a health professional before taking the drug while pregnant or breastfeeding. That said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that Benadryl and many other antihistamines have been extensively tested and pose little to no danger during pregnancy when used appropriately. It’s important to follow the dosing recommendation, and talk to your doctor about frequency of use.

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Still not convinced that you can take Benadryl while pregnant? If you heard about some older studies linking Benadryl and other antihistamines to a slight increase in the risk of birth defects like cleft lip and cleft palate, know that more recent research has found no such correlation.

Can you take Benadryl in the first trimester?

It’s natural to want to be especially cautious about what you put in your body during the first trimester of pregnancy, which is a critical time for baby’s development. But large-scale research has found no association between antihistamine use during pregnancy and any risk to baby—including when it’s taken during the very early weeks of gestation.

“Generally, it’s safe to take Benadryl in the first trimester,” says Matthew Carroll, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. That said, he recommends being judicious about its use. “Since it crosses the placenta, our best advice is to use the lowest dose for as short a time as possible,” says Carroll.

Potential Side Effects of Taking Benadryl While Pregnant

If you’re taking Benadryl during pregnancy, know that there are no side effects unique to expectant women. However, there are potential side effects that could affect you, pregnant or not. The most common one: drowsiness. “Some people are more susceptible than others, but until you know how it will affect you, it’s probably best to avoid driving or operating heavy machinery when you take it,” advises Schaffir. There’s also the possibility of dry mouth, Carroll says. “Very rarely, I’ve seen patients have urinary retention and blurred vision,” he adds.

Alternatives to Taking Benadryl While Pregnant

If you need to take Benadryl at some point during pregnancy, rest assured that it’s fine. But there are other options if you can’t take Benadryl for whatever reason (or simply prefer not to). If you’re looking for relief from allergies or cold-like symptoms, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that the following over-the-counter antihistamines are also considered safe to use during pregnancy:

  • Chlorpheniramine
  • Dexchlorpheniramine
  • Hydroxyzine

FYI, you’ll want to check specific brand labels, as some medications have a mix of active ingredients.

For sleep or nausea, remember that Unisom is considered safe. You can also talk to your doctor about other prescription medications.

If you’d prefer to go medication-free, there are other simple options worth trying. Carroll recommends a saline nasal spray to help with nasal issues. And if you’re using it to get some shut-eye? “For sleep, we have data that improving sleep hygiene and behavioral therapy can be helpful if there’s not an underlying cause for the insomnia like reflux, anxiety or restless legs syndrome,” he says.

If you’ve been asking yourself, “Can I take Benadryl while pregnant?”, rest easy knowing that you can safely use it to curb some pesky symptoms. Ideally, though, you don’t want to take it every day, so try to avoid any allergic triggers, maintain a balanced lifestyle and talk to your doctor if you feel like you need more specific help managing your symptoms and health.

About the experts:

Matthew Carroll, MD, is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He received his medical degree from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Jonathan Schaffir, MD, is an ob-gyn at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. He received his medical degree from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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