Too many pills in pregnancy

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The early 1960s thalidomide disaster that left thousands of babies with deformed limbs because of a sleeping pill thought to be safe during pregnancy, was followed by a period of countless pregnant women avoiding medications out of fear for their unborn child. Today we are back to pills galore during pregnancy. Why and to what consequences?

We, as a society, either suffer from short term memory, or we simply forgot that drugs… are drugs, and pose risks:

  • Since the late 1970s, the proportion of pregnant women taking 4 or more medications has more than doubled and the use of prescription drugs during the first trimester of pregnancy (when fetal organs are forming) has grown by more than 60%
  • About 90% of pregnant women take at least 1 medication, and 70% take at least 1 prescription drug (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The Food and Drug Administration estimates that 10% or more of birth defects result from medications taken during pregnancy. Why? Multiple events or trends may explain or are to blame for this:

  • Medical progress has contributed to the rising use of medications to treat new conditions during pregnancy: depression, Type 2 diabeteshypertension
  • Automedication: women bypass their doctors and use the Internet to determine whether a medication is safe for an unborn baby.

Yet, there are multiple problems with online medical sources: inconsistency in the lists provided, nothing tailored to a pregnancy, lack or insufficient data to assess teratogenic risk (potential to cause birth defects), encouragement of medicine use even when not necessary, stage of pregnancy ignored in recommendation, lack of alternate options offered, no redirect to doctor’s opinion for confirmation before starting (or stopping) a treatment, inconsistencies in doctors’ recommendations themselves due to a poor training related to pregnancy medication.

Per Dr. Dolan, an obstetrician and geneticist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, author with Alice Lesch Kelly, of the March of Dimes’ newest book, “Healthy Mom Healthy Baby, weighing benefits and risks in deciding whether to take medication during pregnancy and which drugs to take is critical. Women taking medication and getting pregnant should try to get down to a single agent, look at her options to find the best, and never go by someone else’s prescription and be cautious about remedy labeled “natural” or “herbal” as virtually none have been tested for safety in pregnancy.

She adds that the following medications are to be avoided while pregnant:

  • Isotretinoin (Accutane and others) for acne
  • Valproic acid for seizure disorders
  • Lithium for bipolar disorder
  • Tetracycline for infections
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor antagonists for hypertension

A reliable online resource for both women and their doctors are fact sheets prepared by OTIS, the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists, which are continually updated as new facts become available:


Credit photo: Katherine Streeter


* Up for some thought-sharing on this topic?  

In anticipation of a pregnancy, a safe practice is to review any medication currently taken with your Doctor to assess compatibility, discuss the necessity to continue a treatment, review options and agree on a course of action. The fewer the medications, the better.

It is probably also safe to stay away from any so called natural supplement or vitamins pills. A well-balanced healthy diet goes a long way and just like many women did before our modern times, can be the base for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

. Were you under any medication during your pregnancy and did you confirm the safety of the treatment with your Doctor?

. Did you feel the need and used supplements during your pregnancy?

. Did you feel that the recommendations from your Doctor were justified and strong?

. Did you do any online reading and did you act upon the recos you read?

Let us know… 


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