Drug Risks for Pregnant Women
What you need to know about medication when you’re expecting
Before taking any drug -- prescription or over-the-counter -- talk to your doctor. The times to be most cautious about medication are during the first trimester of pregnancy (when organs are being formed) and during the last two weeks, when final development in utero takes place, according to Donald Sullivan, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacy practice at Ohio Northern University and author of The Expectant Mother's Guide to Prescription and Nonprescription Drugs, Vitamins, Home Remedies, and Herbal Products (Macmillan). Listed below are drugs your doctor may recommend to treat specific conditions during pregnancy.
Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is the drug of choice for treating headache and fever during pregnancy, says Gideon Koren, M.D., director of Motherisk, a research and consulting center on the safety of drugs in pregnancy. Aspirin is never recommended in pregnancy.
Cough and Cold
Even if you've used over-the-counter products during a previous pregnancy, check with your doctor before taking anything, as information may have changed, advises Dr. Koren. It's also important to see a doctor because a persistent cold may actually be an infection that requires an antibiotic. To treat a stuffy nose, Sullivan recommends a short-acting nasal spray for a few days, as only two percent of the drug is absorbed in the body. Be sure to check with your doc first.
Asthma and Allergies
Many asthma drugs have been shown to be safe in pregnancy, especially inhaled medications, which are less likely to reach the baby, says Michael Schatz, M.D., chief of allergy at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. For allergy relief, Benadryl appears safe for occasional use, although it may make you drowsy, says Sullivan.
If you have a preexisting skin condition, check with your dermatologist before continuing to use any product during pregnancy. The acne medication Accutane, for example, can cause severe birth defects. To alleviate the itching that can be common during pregnancy, use a moisturizer that does not contain any medication or try soaking the affected area in an oatmeal bath.
About 20 percent of reproductive-age women are diagnosed as being clinically depressed, says Dr. Koren. And up to 15 percent of women will become depressed during pregnancy. Antidepressants in the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor family (such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil) are considered generally safe during pregnancy, though most is known about Prozac, according to Sullivan.
Fortunately, both the government and advocacy groups are taking major steps to learn more about the effects of medications during pregnancy and to do a better job of disseminating the information that is already available to pregnant women and their doctors. You can become an advocate for your own health by seeking out this information before taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs during pregnancy.
Francesca Lunzer Kritz is a freelance writer.