Is cough syrup safe to take when pregnant? Can it help you conceive? Here's what health professionals say.
If you've ever considered taking medicine while pregnant -- or you've had the TV on long enough to hear the commercial line "tell your doctor if you're pregnant or breastfeeding" -- you'll know there's a giant disclaimer that comes with taking anything during pregnancy. Despite the big caveat and lack of medical research on pregnant people, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nine in 10 women will take at least one medicine during pregnancy.
With allergy season approaching, and COVID-19 still here, many people are reaching for over-the-counter medication in the hopes of relieving congestion or getting through a cough. What about one of the most popular ones, Mucinex?
Mucinex is a brand of over-the-counter cold and flu medication, with products for cough and chest congestion, sinus congestion and more.
For Dr. Gloria Bachmann, an OB-GYN and the director of the Women's Health Institute at Rutgers University, the rule to follow is the same one she advises all pregnant people stick to, no matter the health concern or question: check with your doctor (or midwife, practitioner or other care provider). This is important not only before you consume a new medication, according to Bachmann, but also to make sure you don't write off a more serious illness as a common cold, allergies or even a mild case of COVID-19.
"You always have to weigh the risk versus the benefit," Bachmann says. "Don't dismiss it."
Read more: 14 Doctor-Recommended OTC Medications You Should Have on Hand
There are a few different kinds of Mucinex (Mucinex, Mucinex D and Mucinex DM, for example) but some of the most common popular products contain guaifenesin, pseudoephedrine and dextromethorphan.
Pseudoephedrineis a common decongestant, found in Mucinex products such as Mucinex D, that works by narrowing the blood vessels in the nasal passages. And it's also one ingredient the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends against during the first trimester due to a small risk of birth defects in the abdominal wall.
Determining the risk of the other active ingredients found in Mucinex is a little trickier. Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant that works by interfering with the "cough" signal in your brain. Guaifenesin works by loosening the mucus in your chest. There are some reports of a small risk of neural tube defects linked to guaifenesin, but the evidence is inconclusive. It's listed in a report by the American Academy of Family Physicians as "might be unsafe during first trimester." In the same report, dextromethorphan is listed as "appears to be safe in pregnancy," but as is true for many drugs and ingredients, there isn't enough evidence to say conclusively either way.
Read more: Pregnancy Timeline: What Happens Each Month and Trimester
Mucinex may also contain acetaminophen, a really common pain reliever and fever reducer, which may be recommended to pregnant people but can also be harmful in large amounts.
Bottom line: Ask your health care provider before taking Mucinex or any cough medicine during pregnancy, so the two of you can weigh the severity of your symptoms with the potential risks (if any) of medication.
As Dr. Robyn Horsager-Boehrer wrote in a post for UT Southwestern Medical Center, avoid medication formulated for multiple symptoms during pregnancy, as they can contain unnecessary amounts of acetaminophen. Also, she writes, natural cough remedies like a spoonful of honey can be just as effective (or more effective) than medication.
Videos and posts of people taking Mucinex while trying to conceive have been spreading on platforms like TikTok. But while there are some anecdotal reports of fertility going up while taking Mucinex (specifically, Mucinex that contains guaifenesin), there isn't sufficient evidence to say it aids conception.
The reason some people think it might is because of guaifenesin's way of loosening the mucus in the respiratory tract. If it can thin and loosen that mucus, the hope is that it'll also loosen cervical mucus, which is naturally thin and accommodating during ovulation, or the "fertile window" of a menstrual cycle, to help sperm swim up to the egg.
But the cervical fluid associated with conception is from estrogen, which the body produces around ovulation when there is an egg available to be fertilized, Bachmann says. Meaning, you could have more fluid cervical mucus, but that won't change anything if there isn't an egg.
If you're trying to conceive, Bachmann recommends first making sure you're ovulating and tracking when it happens by measuring your basal body temperature or using an ovulation predictor kit.
"If I were going to spend my money, I'd spend it on an ovulation kit," she says.