Healthy Living & Wellness
Parents, to be: Can I take Co-codamol while pregnant?

Parents, to be: Can I take Co-codamol while pregnant?

14 Mar 2023
Stefano Mirabello
Stefano Mirabello
Medical Writer

As a pregnant woman, you may be experiencing pain and wondering if it is safe to take co-codamol while pregnant. Co-codamol is an over-the-counter painkiller used to relieve moderate pain. Before taking medication during any stage of pregnancy, it is important to understand the potential risks and benefits associated with this type of medication. This blog post will provide more information on the safety of taking co-codamol while pregnant.

What is co-codamol?

Co-codamol is a stronger painkiller than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin. It contains two different medications, codeine and paracetamol.

Codeine belongs to a class of drugs known as opioids which act on the nervous system and can help reduce feelings of pain or discomfort.

Paracetamol helps to lower fever and relieve mild to moderate pain from headaches, muscle aches, menstrual cramps, toothaches, and other conditions.

Co-codamol combines these two ingredients in one pill for easier dosing and faster relief from pain.

What are opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that act on the nervous system to reduce pain. Common types of opioids include oxycodone, codeine, fentanyl, tramadol and hydrocodone. The opioid in co-codamol is codeine.

An opioid is meant to be used for short periods to relieve acute pain or treat long-term chronic pain. Unfortunately, opioids can have serious abuse potential due to their ability as a depressant and high euphoric effects when taken in large doses. Methadone, an opioid derivative, is commonly prescribed to help manage opioid addiction but must be administered cautiously because it carries the risk of abuse and dependency. Opioids are effective analgesics when appropriately used by a qualified medical team.

What are the side effects of co-codamol?

Common side effects may include feeling drowsy or sick, constipation, and headaches. In some cases, more severe reactions such as slow and shallow breathing, confusion, anxiety and blurring of vision can occur. Understanding the potential side effects of any drugs you’re taking is important to know what to expect. If any worrying symptoms are experienced, it is best to consult your doctor immediately and stop using the medication immediately.


Risks Associated With Taking Co-Codamol While Pregnant

Paracetamol is generally safe during pregnancy. However, codeine can affect your baby, particularly towards the third trimester. For these reasons, co-codamol is not generally recommended.

Prenatal codeine use can have significant effects on expecting mothers and their babies. Maternal death, poor fetal growth, preterm birth, stillbirths and specific congenital disabilities can be associated with taking opioids during pregnancy; it may even lead to Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in some cases. Unfortunately, the long-term effects of such exposures remain largely unknown. Research continues toward gaining more understanding of possible outcomes related to this type of prenatal exposure.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is a condition that occurs in newborn babies when they experience withdrawal symptoms as a result of being exposed to certain substances in the womb. It is commonly seen after exposure to opioids such as co-codamol for pain relief during pregnancy. Signs of withdrawal usually begin within 72 hours after birth and may include the following:

  • High-pitched crying
  • Poor feeding
  • Jitteriness
  • Breathing problems
  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Difficulty sleeping

To treat NAS, doctors may use prescription drugs to wean the baby off the substance or adjust the dose accordingly. Depending on the severity, babies may require a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for monitoring and close supervision by their team of healthcare providers.

How much co-codamol can I take while pregnant?

While co-codamol can be taken during pregnancy under the guidance of a healthcare professional, other painkillers may be more suitable.

If you are prescribed co-codamol for pain relief, taking the medication for as short a time as possible is important. Generally speaking, the NHS advises that co-codamol should not be taken continuously for longer than 3 days. If your pain persists beyond that period, you should contact your doctor or pharmacist and ask if a different form of treatment is available such as an alternative painkiller or a referral to a specialist.

Long-term use of co-codamol can lead to an increased risk of dependency on it, so it is best to keep each course of treatment as short as possible whenever possible. For these reasons, co-codamol is not generally recommended for pregnant women.

Co-codamol and breastfeeding

Breastfeeding and taking co-codamol can be a tricky mix. While the paracetamol component of co-codamol poses no risk to your baby, detectable codeine levels enter the breast milk in small amounts and can cause breathing difficulties in babies. For this reason, breastfeeding moms are generally not recommended to take co-codamol while nursing.

Your doctor or healthcare professional will happily work with you to determine different safe pain relief options for you and your child. Discussing medication use with your healthcare team is essential before making any decisions.

Speak to a healthcare professional

As a parent-to-be, it’s important to consider the effects that co-codamol can have on your pregnancy. You should not self-medicate without speaking to your doctor or pharmacist first.

Prescribing medications during pregnancy is incredibly delicate, and NHS guidelines have been put in place to educate and inform healthcare professionals of the safest approach to this situation. Special knowledge must be acquired when it comes to prescribing drugs during pregnancy. The NHS stresses that drugs should only be given if the risks of not taking them outweigh any potential dangers to both mother and baby.

Tell your pharmacist or doctor if you take other medicines, including herbal remedies, vitamins or supplements. Also, inform them of your health conditions, such as high blood pressure or mental health disorders.


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