Medication and Pregnancy

Knowing what's best for you and your baby includes determining what medications are safe to take during pregnancy. Many women need to take prescription medications while pregnant to treat health conditions like diabetes or asthma. Others might simply reach for a bottle of ibuprofen when they have a headache and question if it is safe for their baby. There is also the question of whether a medication is safe to take while breastfeeding.

It is best to avoid medication if at all possible while pregnant or breastfeeding, particularly during the early months of pregnancy when the baby's organs are forming. This is partially because scientific research on the safety of medications during pregnancy is incomplete. Pregnant women have typically been excluded from drug studies to avoid harming their babies.

This doesn't mean that you should never use medication while pregnant. If you regularly take a medication for a health problem, do not stop talking it without first speaking with your doctor. In fact, most women will use a prescription or over-the-counter drug at some point during their pregnancy. Though some medications have been shown to have no adverse effects on babies, you should always ask a doctor before starting a new medication.

How Do I Know Which Medications Are Safe?

Medications that may affect your baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding include prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal and dietary supplements, and vitamins. It's important to find out which medications are safe because certain medications increase the risk of birth defects, prematurity, disabilities, and pregnancy loss.

To understand which medications are safe, it's vital to speak with your doctor. She can discuss the risk factors of anything you take or might take and create a plan that works for you. When making her recommendation, your doctor will weigh the risk of taking a particular medication against the risk of not taking that medication. For example, a urinary tract infection may present a greater risk to the baby than the antibiotic with which it is treated.

Additional information can be provided by your pharmacist. Labels on medications will say if they are considered risky for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Certain online resources also provide reliable information.

To lookup a drug, visit the FDA's website.

Find recommendations for treating health conditions during pregnancy at the CDC's website.

When using the internet, be sure to get information only from trusted organizations. It is still necessary to double check with your doctor before starting any medication.

Common Over-The-Counter And Prescription Drugs

Below is a selection of the drugs that are known to be dangerous to use during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Avoid these common over-the-counter medications:

  • Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol)
  • Pseudoephedrine or Phenylephrine (Sudafed, Preparation H, etc.)
  • Aspirin (Bayer, Alka-Seltzer, Excedrin Migraine, etc.)
  • Ibuprofen or Naproxen (Advil, Aleve, etc.)
  • Guaifenesin (Mucinex, Robitussin, etc.)

If you take any of these prescriptions, contact your doctor immediately, as they are known to negatively affect pregnancy:

  • Codeine
  • Enalapril (Vasotec)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Isotretinoin (Accutane, etc.)
  • Morphine
  • Benazepril (Lotensin), Lisinopril (Qbrelis), etc.
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Tramadol (ConZip, etc.)
  • Warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven)
  • Valproic acid (Valproic)
  • Some antibiotics (Doxycycline, Tetracycline, etc.)
  • Methotrexate (Trexall, etc.)
  • Lithium
  • Alprazolam (Xanax), Diazepam (Valium), etc.
Medications Designed For Pregnancy

Certain medications are prescribed specifically to pregnant women. Prenatal vitamins are essential to ensure the mother and baby are getting the extra nourishment they need. A prenatal vitamin which includes things like iron, folic acid, calcium, vitamins, and zinc can prevent defects and anemia.

Folic acid is especially important. It is a B vitamin which the body uses to make new cells. Our skin, hair, and nails need folic acid to grow. Likewise, a fetus benefits from folic acid as it develops vital parts of its nervous system. To get enough folic acid, take a vitamin that supplies 400 mcg.

Certain grain foods, like bread, cereal, and corn flour, are intentionally fortified with folic acid by food manufactures. Public policy requires them to do this with the aim of preventing neural defects in babies.

Persistent nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, commonly known as morning sickness, has various treatments. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends a combination of vitamin B6 and an antihistamine (doxylamine succinate and pyridoxine hydrochloride).

What If I'm Thinking About Getting Pregnant?

Talk to a doctor if you are trying to get pregnant. Since the first few months of pregnancy are critical for a baby's development, taking prenatal vitamins and addressing potentially harmful medications early on is a good idea.

If you didn't know you were pregnant during the first few months of pregnancy, discuss with your doctor what medications you took. She can help you address any concerns you may have.

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