Medicine and Pregnancy Don't Always Mix

No one can say for sure that taking medicine during pregnancy is safe. When you find out you're pregnant, check with your healthcare provider before you take – or stop taking – any medicine. Together, you can weigh the risks and benefits and decide what to do.

Read labels

Medicines sold in the United States are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA also ranks them on how safe they are during pregnancy. Warnings for pregnant women may be on the packaging.

But some products haven’t been studied well on pregnant women. Even if a medicine doesn’t have a warning, it may still carry risks. This also is true for herbs and supplements. These products aren’t regulated by the FDA. It isn't known if they are safe for pregnant women. So, it's best not to use them. 

Over-the-counter medicine may not be safe

Some over-the-counter (OTC) medicines aren’t safe to take during pregnancy.  Ask your healthcare provider before taking any OTC medicines. These include pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen. They also include antihistamines and decongestants. They also include cough and cold remedies, antacids, and medicines for diarrhea.   

Some OTC medicines are known to be risky when used during pregnancy. These include nicotine replacement products. Nicotine can harm your unborn baby. However, these products are considered safer than smoking. Still, experts say that pregnant women should try other ways to stop smoking before turning to medicines. Check with your healthcare provider before using any nicotine replacement product.

If you get sick when you’re pregnant, don’t assume you can’t take any medicine. You don’t need to suffer. Ask your healthcare provider how to get relief.  For instance, saline drops or sprays are a safe way to ease a stuffy nose. If your healthcare provider says it's OK to take an OTC medicine, follow his or her advice on how much and how often to take it.  

Of course, you should keep taking your prenatal vitamins and folic acid.  

A word on maintenance medicines

If you have a chronic health problem, pregnancy poses special challenges. These include asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure. You may need to take medicine for your condition. If so, see your healthcare provider before you get pregnant so you can plan ahead. If you haven’t seen him or her, do so as soon as you get pregnant. Sometimes, stopping medicines that you need could be more harmful to you and your unborn baby than taking them.

In some cases, sticking with your current medicines may be best. For instance, controlling your blood sugar if you have diabetes may lower your risk of miscarriage. And, keeping asthma or high blood pressure in check can help prevent problems with your baby. Other treatments may need to be fine-tuned. Your healthcare provider may give you a lower dose or switch you to a different medicine.

Whatever you do, don’t stop taking medicine on your own. Talk about your medicine and your pregnancy with your healthcare provider first. If the medicine helps you stay healthy, it may be the best choice for you and your baby.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bowers, Nancy, RN, BSN, MPHFoley, Maryann, RN, BSN

Date Last Reviewed: 4/12/2016

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