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Taking Medication While Pregnant

Safe or Sorry?

Setting the Record Straight continued...

Just as many medications may be safer than you think, some popular remedies also may be more dangerous to use during pregnancy than people think, says Filkins. For instance, popular megadose vitamins, which contain high doses of vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin, should be avoided, she says.

"There are people who feel that if a little bit of vitamins is good, more is better, but many women may not realize that very high doses of vitamin A found in the popular megadose vitamins could produce harmful effects," Filkins says. Pregnant women should avoid taking more than 5,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A daily, the amount contained in prenatal vitamins. Potential risks may occur at 25,000 IU or more.

Women should also consult their doctor or midwife before using herbs. Herbalists insist that pregnant women have been using herbal treatments with success around the world for years, and some herbs are standards among midwives, such as raspberry tea to prevent morning sickness and miscarriage and to strengthen the uterus.

But just because herbs are natural doesn't mean they're safe. Some trigger allergic reactions, others are toxic and some can be harmful in pregnancy, especially those that act as strong laxatives or promote uterine contractions. Among those to avoid: senna, cascara sagrada, buckthorn, mugwort, pennyroyal, juniper, rue, tansy, cottonroot bark, male fern, goldenseal, comfrey, sage in large amounts, coltsfoot, and black cohosh root.

In fact, a new study by researchers at Loma Linda University suggests that some popular herbs -- St. John's wort (used to treat depression), echinacea (used to strengthen the immune system and fight colds) and ginkgo (used to enhance memory) -- could block conception. But the researchers stressed that the test-tube study isn't proof that the same effects will occur in humans.

Choices

When deciding whether to take any medication during pregnancy, doctors and patients have to weigh the potential benefits against the risks. In many cases, the conditions may be serious enough to treat, including asthma, heart problems, high blood pressure and pneumonia, since the symptoms could pose a bigger threat to the mother and baby.

"It's in the fetus' best interest to have a healthy mother," says Roy Pitkin, MD, professor emeritus at UCLA Medical School and editor of the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. "This attitude of conservatism gets carried too far when women don't take drugs that are clearly necessary for their own health, either because their doctors are afraid or because they're afraid to take them."

He says that corticosteroids, which are used to treat medical diseases such as asthma, are relatively safe to use during pregnancy. "Yet women get denied the treatment because of the misguided feeling that it may be harmful." Inhaled corticosteroids are also effective therapy, since very little drug is absorbed by the baby.

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