Consider this scenario: For many years you’ve been taking a prescription medication for asthma and, to your surprise, just discovered you’re pregnant. The medication is not recommended for pregnant or nursing mothers because it could cause birth defects. Should you stop taking your medication immediately?
“The first thing any woman should do prior to stopping medications is to discuss their risks and benefits with her obstetrician,” said Dr. Stephen Bacak, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital. “If medications are stopped, many times there would be a significant risk to mom’s health, which could pose a risk to the pregnancy.”
Your provider might switch the type of medication you’re taking or change the dosage to still address your medical needs, while also lessening the risk to your developing baby. He or she also may look to change the course of treatment by incorporating other methodologies, including acupuncture or behavioral techniques.
“In some cases, women are advised to continue their current medication even if it is known to cause birth defects,” said Dr. Bacak. “Many times the risks of birth defects are extremely small. More commonly, the infant may be at risk of temporary medication side effects after they’re born.”
Many medications are relatively safe to use during pregnancy for common conditions, including asthma, high blood pressure, epilepsy, diabetes, anxiety and depression. In fact, about 70 percent of pregnant women report taking at least one prescription drug during pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But on the flip side, there are prescription drugs that can cause complications during pregnancy, including preterm labor, birth defects, low birth weight or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). A recent study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found certain antibiotics, especially those in the class quinolones, taken during pregnancy may increase the risk for birth defects.
Each medication has a risk factor classification for pregnant or nursing women. Discussing these risks to the fetus, as well as an evaluation of the risks versus benefits to you in taking the medication, will help you and your provider determine what steps to take.
“Ideally, if patients are on medications for a chronic condition, they would discuss stopping them or changing to a safer medication prior to becoming pregnant,” said Dr. Bacak. “While there are some medications that patients should stop when pregnant, many are relatively safe.”
He offers these tips to ensure a healthy pregnancy for you and your developing baby when it comes to prescription medications.
- Always consult your doctor before starting or stopping any medications.
- Read the label to look for pregnancy or nursing warnings, as well as potential allergic reactions.
- Be aware of the side effects. Some medications may cause drowsiness, headaches or vomiting, which can be enhanced due to pregnancy hormones.
- Keep track of when you’re taking your medications to avoid overdosing or skipping doses.
“Most women on medications for chronic illnesses will conceive and go on to have a healthy pregnancy,” said Dr. Bacak. “However, it’s important for women to discuss with their obstetrician the safety of their medications prior to becoming pregnant or early in their pregnancy.”