The use of decongestants during pregnancy is common. Most often, women who choose not to use over the counter medications are trying to protect the fetus from potential harm. Research completed during an ongoing birth defect study at the Boston University Medical Center reveals a potential link between over the counter decongestants and a reduced risk of premature birth.

Between January 1998 and September 2008, information was gathered from more than 3,200 live births in Massachusetts. Women who chose to take over the counter decongestants were 58% less likely to give birth prematurely compared to their non-medicated counterparts. Researchers noted women who chose to medicate were highly educated, older and married - in most cases.

The link between decongestants and premature birth is vague, at best. Researchers plan on doing further research to narrow down the ingredient in over the counter decongestants that could prevent premature birth. A 2006 study completed in Sweden came to the same results as the Boston University Medical Center study. Researchers could break down the ingredients in common decongestants and test those further to find a possible cause and effect relationship.

While the effect was found to be “potentially beneficial” and “surprising”, researchers are not suggesting pregnant women take decongestants in the second of third trimester to try and ward off premature labor. Non-prescription over the counter drug use should always be approved by an obstetrician.

Source: Rohini Hernandez, Allen Mitchell MD, Martha Werler DSC MPH. Birth Defects Research Part A Clinical and Molecular Teratology via Boston University Medical Center. 30 August 2010.