Taking Medication While Pregnant, Is It Safe?
If you are pregnant or plan to get pregnant, is it safe to take medications, or will they harm you and/or your baby? That’s a question that haunts many pregnant women and medical professionals alike, and it is one that a new research program plans to investigate.
The program is called the Medication Exposure in Pregnancy Risk Evaluation Program (MEPREP), and it is a collaborative effort of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and researchers at the HMO Research Network Center for Education and Research in Therapeutics (CERT), Kaiser Permanente’s multiple research centers, and Vanderbilt University. MEPREP will fund research to study the effects of prescription medications used by women during pregnancy.
Medication and Pregnancy
Everything a woman consumes during pregnancy passes through the placenta to the unborn child, so it is important to avoid medications if possible, especially during the first eight to ten weeks when the baby’s heart, lung, and brain systems are being formed. Some medications are considered safe to take during pregnancy, even though no medication is safe for 100 percent of the people. The effects of many other prescription and over-the-counter drugs on the unborn child are not known. Women who are taking prescription medications and who plan to become pregnant should talk to their doctor before they get pregnant to determine if and how safe it will be for them to continue their medication.
Safe Medications During Pregnancy
Prenatal vitamins are safe to take during pregnancy. Some other medications have not been found to be harmful during pregnancy if they are taken according to package directions. According to WebMD, some of these medications include but are not limited to Actifed, Benadryl, Fiberall/Fibercon, Gaviscon, hydrocortisone cream, Maalox, Metamucil, milk of magnesia, Monistat, Mylanta, Neosporin, Preparation H, Sudafed, Tums, and Tylenol. However, to be safe, women should talk to their doctor about any medications—over-the-counter and prescription—as well as herbal remedies that they are taking before they get pregnant or as soon as they learn they are pregnant.
How many women take medication during pregnancy? In a West Virginia University study, investigators interviewed 578 pregnant women and found that 95.8 percent took prescription medications, 92.6 percent self-medicated with over-the-counter medications, and 45.2 percent used herbal medications. Fifteen percent used ibuprofen. Medications that are contraindicated in pregnancy (e.g., ibuprofen) were used by the women at high rates.
The lack of clinical trials on the safety of medications during pregnancy is due to concerns about the health of the mother and child. Therefore, in order to arrive at some decisions about the safety of these medications during pregnancy, the MEPREP will evaluate information for mothers and their infants from 11 participating research sites that include health care information for about 1 million births that occurred from 2001 to 2007. Many of these women likely took medication during their pregnancies.
According to Gerald Dal Pan, MD, director of the Office of Surveillance and Epidemiology at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, “This collaborative effort creates a unique resource to study the effects of medication in pregnant women and their children,” an effort that does not place women or their children in jeopardy. The researchers hope that their results “will provide information for patients and physicians when making decisions about medication during pregnancy.”
Food and Drug Administration, press release, Dec. 30, 2009
Glover DD et al. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2003 Apr; 188(4): 1039-45