Many women are commonly treated for medical conditions during pregnancy. Before you start taking any type of prescription or non-prescription medicine or herbal remedy, it is very important that you speak to your doctor. This is important throughout your pregnancy, particularly during the first trimester, when the baby’s major body systems are forming. Do not stop taking or change your medication schedule on your own. Prenatal vitamins are safe and important to take when you are pregnant. Ask your doctor about the safety of taking herbal remedies and supplements.
Some of the reasons why you may need medicines during pregnancy are:
- Cold and flu
- First aid
- Heartburn, gas and bloating, stomach upset
- Pain relief, headache and fever
- Cuts and scrapes
- Yeast infections and other fungal infections
Remember that cold remedies contain alcohol which is harmful for the foetus. The decongestants pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine can affect blood flow to the placenta must be avoided.
Though medications for the above are safe to take during pregnancy, check with your doctor before taking these during the first trimester. No drug can be considered 100% safe to use during pregnancy.
Many pregnant women take prescription or non-prescription drugs or use social drugs like tobacco, sometime during pregnancy. Drugs taken by the pregnant woman reach the foetus primarily by crossing the placenta. This is the same route taken by oxygen and nutrients, which are needed for the foetus’s growth and development. This affects the foetus in several ways:
- They can act directly on the foetus, causing damage, abnormal development, leading to birth defects, or death.
- They can alter the function of the placenta, usually causing the blood vessels to constrict, thus reducing the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the foetus from the mother. This can cause the baby to be underweight and underdeveloped.
- They can cause the muscles of the uterus to contract forcefully, indirectly injuring the foetus by reducing its blood supply or triggering preterm labour and delivery.
- They can also affect the foetus indirectly. For example, drugs that lower the mother’s blood pressure may reduce blood flow to the placenta and thus reduce the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the foetus.
Given below is a list of drugs that can cause problems during pregnancy.
- Anti-anxiety drugs like Diazepam.
When the drug is taken late in pregnancy, it may cause irritability, shaking and exaggerated reflexes in the newborn.
- Antibiotics like streptomycin, trimethoprim, sulphonamides etc.
Causes the breakdown of red blood cells and may cause damage to the foetus’s ear resulting in deafness. May cause jaundice and possibly brain damage in the newborn; slow bone growth and permanent yellowing of teeth and occasionally, lead to liver failure in the pregnant mother.
- Anticoagulants like Heparin and Warfarin
May cause thrombocytopenia that results in a decrease in the number of platelets, which help the blood clot in the pregnant woman, resulting in excessive bleeding. Warfarin may cause birth defects.
- Anticonvulsants like Carbamazepine, Phenobarbital, valproate
Can cause bleeding problems in the newborn. There may be a risk of birth defects, including a cleft palate, defects of the heart, face, skull, spine and limbs.
- Sex hormones like Danazol and Diethylstilbestrol
When taken very early in pregnancy, it may result in masculinization of a female foetus’ genitals, abnormalities of the uterus, menstrual problems and an increased risk of vaginal cancer. There may be complications during pregnancy. There may be abnormalities of the penis of the newborn male child too.
- Skin treatments like Etretinate and Isotretinoin.
Birth defects such as heart defects, small ears and hydrocephalus or water in the brain may appear in the newborn child. The possibility of intellectual disability and risk of miscarriage are noted too.
- Thyroid drugs like Methimazole, propylthiouracil
Such drugs may cause an enlarged or underactive thyroid gland in the foetus, destruction of the thyroid glands and scalp defects.
- Vaccines for Rubella or German measles, chickenpox, measles, mumps polio or yellow fever.
There may be a potential infection of the placenta and developing a foetus.
If you were taking a prescription medication for a diagnosed medical condition before you became pregnant, you should tell your doctor about it regarding the safety of continuing this medication.