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Drug Use and Pregnancy

Are prescription drugs harmful to the unborn fetus?

They might be. It's necessary to monitor intake of prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) medications if you are pregnant. However, because it's unethical to test drugs on pregnant women, the effects of many drugs during pregnancy simply aren't known.

Pharmaceutical companies are required to report any problems with medications to the FDA. You and your doctor can also report problems with a medication to the FDA. The FDA has guidelines for drug companies to follow in labeling medications about their effect on pregnancy and the growing fetus. By reading the product information, you can learn more about how the medication may affect your pregnancy.

The FDA requires drug companies to conduct special studies called pregnancy registries. Women who take a certain medication may enroll in the study. After delivery, their babies are compared to babies of moms who didn't take the medication during pregnancy. When the data is compiled, these studies can help agencies monitor the effects of medications after they are made available.

Some women must take drugs during pregnancy. They may need to take them for pain or for a serious condition such as asthma, epilepsy, hypertension or depression. If you are concerned about using a prescription or over-the-counter medication during pregnancy, talk with your doctor and get more information about the drug's safety.

How many pregnant women abuse drugs each year?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 5.4 percent of pregnant women between ages 18-44 had used alcohol during their first trimester, 4.8 percent in their second trimester, and 2.4 percent in the last trimester of pregnancy. Similar numbers were seen with marijuana, cigarette, and binge alcohol use.

 

Are any drugs safe during pregnancy?

While a few prescription and over-the-counter medications are considered "safe" during pregnancy, most drugs are not. If you are taking medications for medical purposes, here are some safety tips to follow when you are pregnant:

  • Always read the medication label. Many of the products will tell you on the label if they are safe for use while pregnant. If you are unsure about taking an OTC product, call your doctor.
  • Natural dietary supplements -- herbs, amino acids, minerals, mega-vitamins -- might be considered natural, but that does not mean they are safe. Talk with your health care provider before taking any unproven or "natural" remedy.
  • According to the FDA, aspirin and ibuprofen should not be taken during the last 3 months of your pregnancy unless you are instructed by your doctor to take it. These drugs can cause problems for your baby or cause problems when you are in labor.
  • Talk with your doctor about special prenatal vitamins that are safe for mom and baby. OTC vitamins may have doses that are too high.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH on September 18, 2014
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