When you find out you’re pregnant, you start to realize perhaps more than before, the importance of being mindful of what you’re putting into your body. Some substances are harmful to unborn babies and are linked to birth defects and other adverse outcomes.
Most people know that substances like alcohol and marijuana can be potentially harmful, but the same can be true of prescription and even over-the-counter medicines.
Around 90% of women take at least one medicine of any kind while they’re pregnant, and an estimated 70% take at least one prescription medicine.
So how do you know what’s safe and what’s not?
Your primary source of information should always be your health care provider, but some of the things to know in general about medication during pregnancy include the following:
Medicines When Trying to Get Pregnant
Some women who are thinking about getting pregnant or are actively trying may wonder if they should continue taking medicines.
If you are planning to get pregnant, talk about any medicines you take with your health care provider.
Some medicines can cause defects even before you know you’re pregnant, very early on.
If you’re proactive and you talk to your doctor before you get to this point, it can make for a healthier pregnancy and baby.
Whether you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, go over everything you take with your doctor.
This includes not just prescriptions, but even seemingly common OTC medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.
Your doctor will likely help you determine the risks versus the benefits of medicines you may need to keep taking. For example, if you have a health condition like epilepsy, your doctor might tell you that the risks of stopping your medicine outweigh the possible benefits.
If you are taking medicine for a pre-existing condition, such as blood pressure medicine, your doctor will likely try to get you on the lowest possible dose that’s still effective. Sometimes, higher doses can be linked to a greater likelihood of side effects.
There are some instances where your doctor will prescribe new medicines while you’re pregnant, and if they think it’s best for you, then you should follow their advice. For example, if you were to get a urinary tract infection during pregnancy, and it remained untreated, it could cause long-term complications for you and your baby.
It’s common throughout pregnancy to experience various aches and pains, including headaches and muscle aches. It’s best to try a non-medicinal approach to treating the pain first, such as a cold compress.
If that doesn’t work, you might speak to your doctor about taking acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in commonly used OTC medicines like Tylenol.
Ibuprofen and naproxen are not recommended for use during pregnancy because they can cause a decrease in amniotic fluid levels in your third trimester. Advil may lead to a vessel in the baby’s heart to close too early, which can lead to developmental issues.
There’s some evidence that taking NSAIDs close to conception or early in a pregnancy can increase the risk of birth defects and miscarriage.
Again, if you get a cold or allergy symptoms during pregnancy, try non-medicated remedies first. For example, use a saline nasal spray, get a lot of fluids, and rest.
If that doesn’t work, most cold medicines are considered safe during pregnancy, but only take them after talking to your doctor.
Try to avoid combination cold and allergy medicines, and instead choose single-ingredient products that target your specific symptoms.
Allergy medicines usually rated as safe during pregnancy include Benadryl and Claritin. Cold medicine active ingredients that may be safe in pregnancy include guaifenesin and dextromethorphan.
There are many prescription medicines that can cause birth defects and other complications.
Your doctor again will have to go over every medicine that you take and determine how the costs versus the benefits weigh against each other.
Prescription opioids are an example. Opioids are powerful pain relievers, but many people are physically dependent on them. If you stop taking opioids suddenly when you are dependent, then it can cause sudden withdrawal symptoms, which can be harmful to you and your unborn baby.
Your doctor might advise that you either gradually stop using a medicine that can cause withdrawal or perhaps that you switch to a less potent medicine.
Some prescription drugs can cause the following complications:
- Premature birth, which is a baby being born before 37 weeks
- Low birth weight, which is classified as a baby being born less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces
- Birth defects
- Neonatal abstinence syndrome which is when a baby is exposed to a drug in the womb and then goes through withdrawal when they’re born
- Behavioral and learning problems later on in life
- Stillbirth which is when a baby dies after 20 weeks in the womb
- Miscarriage, which is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks
- Sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS
Examples of Dangerous Medicines During Pregnancy
There are certain medicines that we know are dangerous during pregnancy and shouldn’t be used.
Accutane is one example.
Accutane is an acne medicine, and if it’s taken during pregnancy it can put you at high risk of having a baby with birth defects, which may be severe. The FDA advises women even considering getting pregnant in the relative near future not take Accutane.
Diflucan is a prescription drug for the treatment of yeast infections, and it’s taken orally. Research found that taking Diflucan during pregnancy led to a significantly higher likelihood of a miscarriage or stillbirth compared to women who didn’t take it.
If your doctor prescribes you medicine that’s known as being unsafe during pregnancy, you may have a case of medical malpractice.
Also, while some medicines may be considered safer than others or not have known negative effects, the safest option overall is to avoid medicines whenever possible unless your doctor tells you otherwise during pregnancy. Any substance can come with unknowns while you’re pregnant.