Birth Defects from Drugs - Which Mediations?

Medication for Pregnant WomanToday there is generally widespread public awareness of the fact that using illegal drugs and alcohol during pregnancy can cause serious developmental birth defects. However, the use of certain prescription drugs during pregnancy can also cause major birth defects. Below is a general list of various types of prescription medications that have been linked to birth defects.

Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors 

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are some of the most widely utilized drugs in the field of mental health. Millions of people take SSRIs for treatment of depression and for anxiety. Until fairly recently SSRIs were consider safe for use during pregnancy. However, in 2006 a number of studies were released which demonstrated that use of certain drugs in the SSRI category during pregnancy created a risk of newborn hypertension; spina bifida; heart defects; and other birth defects. The SSRI drugs that causes these problems include: Zoloft, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, Symbax, Fluvoxamine.


Benzodiazepines are psychoactive drugs that have been in use since the 1950s. Benzodiazepines work by boosting the effectiveness of certain chemical electrical activities within the brain that trigger feelings of calm. Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed for treatment of various mental health conditions such as anxiety and insomnia. They are also used to control seizures in people with epilepsy or cerebral palsy. Use of benzodiazepines during pregnancy has been definitively linked to developmental birth defects involving lack of muscle control and respiratory problems.


Accutane is a synthetic form of Vitamin A that is primarily prescribed for the treatment of severe acne. Accutane can be very dangerous if taken during pregnancy. Isotretinoin is the active ingredient in Accutane and numerous studies have demonstrated that it can cause major birth defects and even stillbirth if used during pregnancy. According to the FDA safety data, continued used of Accutane during pregnancy will result in a 35% chance of having a baby born with a major birth defect. The chances of having a baby with a birth defect normally are less than 1%. In fact, Accutane is so potentially hazardous that it strongly recommended that women stop using the drug 3 years prior to any planned pregnancy.


Most first-generation antibiotics are completely safe for use during pregnancy. These include well known drugs such as amoxicillin, penicillin, ampicillin and clyndamicin. However, recent studies have established a potential link between a particular group of advanced antibiotics and certain developmental birth defects including: cleft lip, heart defects, and a skull malformation called anencephaly. The specific antibiotics linked to these birth defects are listed below:

  • Nitrofurantoin: a newer type of antibiotic that is often used to treat chronic or difficult urinary tract infections. The drug is also used for the treatment of bladder inflammation.
  • Sulfonamides: sulfonamides are actually one of the earliest form of antibiotics. Known as bacteriostatic antibiotics they contain chemicals from the sulfonamide group. They work by preventing bacteria cells from synthesizing folic acid which they need in order to grow and multiply. Popular drugs in this group include: Gantrisin; Bactrim (Septra); Sulfadiazine and Zonegran.
  • Tetracyclines: tetracyclines are broad spectrum polyketide antibiotics that are particularly effective against certain types of bacteria. Use of tetracyclines has decreased in recent years because of problems with resistance. These antibiotics are primarily used for the treatment of acne rosacea and certain sexually transmitted diseases. Popular brand name drugs of this type include: Solodyn; Doryx; Vibramycin; Oracea; and Monodox.
Fluconazole / Diflucan

Fluconazole (brand name Diflucan) is a very popular antifungal medication that has been in use since the 1990s. Fluconazole is usually prescribed for the treatment of yeast infections in women and other types of fungal infections. When used during pregnancy fluconazole can significantly increase the risk of having a miscarriage.


NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) include many of the most widely used over-the-counter pain fever reducing medications in the world. Millions of people used NSAIDs on a regular basis. NSAIDs include any ibuprofen based pain relief drug. The most popular over-the-counter NSAIDs include: Motrin; Aleve; and Excedrin. Prescription strength NSAIDs include: Diclofenac; Lodine; and Meloxicam. Some studies have shown that NSAIDs present a small risk of neural tube and other birth defects. Although these risks are very small, women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should probably use alternative medications such Tylenol.


Anticonvulsants are drugs are used to help prevent or control various types of seizures. Research has shown that a handful of anti-seizure medications are linked to increased rates of certain birth defects such as organ abnormalities, cleft lips, and developmental delays. The particular anticonvulsant drugs linked with this risk include Tegretol, Depakote, Lamictal, and Dilantin. Unfortunately controlling seizures in pregnant women is also important to the health of the baby because certain types of seizures are known to trigger miscarriages.

Additional Information About Drugs & Pregnancy

For more detailed information about drugs and birth defects, including the research and studies behind various safety warnings, visit the Centers for Disease Control's web page on safe medication use during pregnancy.