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August 2013

Mothers-To-Be Need to Be Smart About Medicine

A mother and her unborn child share a vital bond. The fetus absorbs nutrients from its mother. In this same way, it can also be exposed to harmful substances-some of which you may be storing in your medicine cabinet. Not all medications are safe to use while pregnant. And finding reliable information about them isn't always easy.

Photo of a doctor holding a pill bottle, talking with a pregnant woman

Limited research

Nearly nine out of 10 women in the U.S. take at least one medication when they are pregnant. That includes prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) remedies for common ailments, such as colds, heartburn, and muscle pain. What's more, a growing number of women are on these medications during the first three months of pregnancy, an important time in a fetus' development.

What might this mean for a baby's health? Unfortunately, experts aren't always sure. A few drugs, such as some that treat depression or skin problems, have been found to cause birth defects. Widely used OTC medications also may harm the fetus. Aspirin, for example, may impair the fetus' blood flow when taken in the last three months of pregnancy.

For many medications, though, safety information for mothers-to-be isn't well known. Why? Before a drug can be sold, the FDA requires the manufacturer to test its safety. As a precaution, these studies typically don't include pregnant women. Consequently, it isn't always clear how the medication may ultimately affect an unborn child.

Reliable information

Many pregnant women ask their health care provider about medication use. That's the best source of reliable information on drug safety. However, according to a recent survey, 60 percent of women worldwide also scour the Internet. And unfortunately, their search results may be misleading.

In a recent study, researchers performed their own Internet search for lists of medications safe to use while pregnant. They pinpointed 25 sites with such postings. None of the sites included harmful drugs on their lists. But many failed to mention how little is actually known about drugs labeled as safe. Researchers concluded that these lists may falsely assure women of a medication's safety.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information. 

Expand your knowledge about drug safety during pregnancy with this quiz

 

The Best Medication Choice

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, here are tips to help you make an informed choice about medication use:

  • Always check with your health care provider first before taking any medications, including those available over the counter.

  • Never stop taking a medication without first consulting your health care provider. Some pregnant women need certain medications to manage conditions such as diabetes or asthma. In these situations, not using a drug may endanger mother and baby. With your provider, you can carefully weigh the benefits and risks.

  • Avoid herbal or dietary supplements. Like many medications, little is known about how they may affect a mother-to-be or her fetus.

  • Read the label. A drug will list any known risks for pregnant women.

  • Consult a pregnancy exposure registry. These ongoing studies track how certain medications interact with pregnant women. Find more details here: www.fda.gov/pregnancyregistries.

 

Online Resources

Organization of Teratology Information Specialists

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Daily Med

 

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