Posted by Hilary Parker on June 30, 2011
We’ve all heard the lectures: Taking depression medication while pregnant may result in your child experiencing any number of birth defects, from persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) to limb deformation. But just as you aren’t supposed to take aspirin or ibuprofen while pregnant, other drugs worry OBs, too.
And with good reason: A new study shows that more than 80 percent of pregnant women in the United States are taking one or more prescription or over-the-counter drugs… even though the drugs’ safety isn’t always well established during pregnancy.
“That’s not to say that these drugs are dangerous,” the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Allen A. Mitchell, Boston University Schools of Public Health and Medicine, told Reuters Health. “But we just don’t have enough information on them.”
The study also shows that half of the pregnant women participating used a drug during the first trimester, which is the point during pregnancy when OBs have the greatest concern about the potential effects of medications on a baby’s health.
Don’t be fooled: Our reliance on medication is a major shift in attitudes vs. even 30 years ago, when only around 30 percent of women used medication while pregnant, the study shows.
And this shift brings up a problem: Since medicines, as a rule, aren’t tested on pregnant women before they go on the market (for very sound reasons, including the fact that it’s unethical to expose a mother-to-be or her baby to a drug when you don’t know the effects), the only way to discover any safety issues is by surveying those women who take it upon themselves to use the drugs while pregnant.
And there can be plenty of reason to do so, Mitchell notes. Say a woman is using a drug to treat a chronic medical condition, such as asthma or depression; there likely would be risks associated with stopping the medicine during pregnancy as well as continuing to take it.
Mitchell is clear: The study “should not discourage women from taking the medications they need for chronic conditions.” Rather, women should talk to their OBs and weigh the risks vs. the benefits. Mitchell also notes that some classes of drugs have alternative medication forms that are suggested for use during pregnancy.
Instead, Mitchell suggested, these women should talk with their doctors about the risks and benefits of those drugs during pregnancy.
And, as far as over-the-counter drugs go, if a mother-to-be can manage her every day, minor symptoms without drugs, that’s not a bad idea, Mitchell says.
“If you don’t feel that you need the medication, then you might want to err on the side of caution,” he adds.