The Effects of Medications on Your Baby during Pregnancy - dummies

The Effects of Medications on Your Baby during Pregnancy

By Joanne Stone, Keith Eddleman, Mary Duenwald

During your pregnancy, you’ll probably experience at least a headache or two and an occasional case of heartburn. The question of whether you can safely take pain relievers, antacids, and other over-the-counter medicines is bound to come up. Many women are afraid to take any medicine at all, for fear of somehow harming their babies. But most nonprescription drugs — and even many prescription drugs — are safe during pregnancy.

During your first prenatal visit, go over with your practitioner what medications are okay to take during pregnancy — both over-the-counter medications and medications prescribed to you by another physician. If another physician is treating you for a medical condition, let her know that you’re pregnant, in case any adjustments need to be made.

Don’t stop taking a prescription medication or change the dosage on your own without talking to your doctor first.

Many medications are labeled “Don’t take during pregnancy” because they haven’t been adequately studied in pregnant women. However, this warning label doesn’t necessarily mean that adverse effects have been reported or that you can’t use these medications. Whenever you have a question about a particular medication, ask your practitioner for advice.

Don’t be surprised if opinions vary among practitioners, especially between non-obstetric medical people and obstetricians. Many non-obstetricians are hesitant to prescribe many medications because they’re uncertain, whereas your obstetric practitioner may be more secure.

Certain medical problems, such as high blood pressure, pose more risk to the growing fetus than the medication you would take to treat it does. Even a common headache, if it’s bad enough to cause you to miss a traffic signal when you’re behind the wheel, can be more dangerous than a little acetaminophen (Tylenol), which actually isn’t dangerous at all when taken in therapeutic doses.

The fact is that many pregnant women suffer needlessly with common symptoms that could be treated with medications that are safe for the baby.

If you took any teratogenic medications before you knew you were pregnant — or before you knew that the drugs could pose a problem — don’t panic. In many cases, the drugs do no harm, depending on when during pregnancy you took them and in what quantities. Some medications can cause problems in the first trimester, but are totally safe in the third trimester, and vice versa.

In fact, relatively few substances are proven to be teratogenic to humans, and even those that are don’t cause birth defects every time. Discuss with your practitioner the medications you’ve been taking and what tests are available to check on your baby’s growth and development.

You can also call or go to the website of a number of medical information services, including those in the following list, for more data about teratogenic substances. These services get their information from medical databases (also listed), so if the information you get over the phone or on the website is overly technical, ask your practitioner to interpret for you:

  • Micromedex, Inc., REPRODISK (REPROTEXT, REPROTOX, Shepard’s Catalog of Teratogenic Agents, and TERIS), Greenwood Village, Colorado

  • Reproductive Toxicology Center, REPROTOX, Bethesda, Maryland; phone 301-514-3081

  • Teratogen Information System, TERIS and Shepard’s Catalog of Teratogenic Agents, Seattle, Washington; phone 206-543-2465