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
"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
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.