When planning to start a family, you may question the safety of over-the-counter or prescription drugs. It is important to know the risks of taking certain medications.
When possible, think ahead. It is best to address questions about medications and vitamins before you are pregnant. Ask your healthcare provider first about the over-the-counter medications you currently use. These include drugs for everyday conditions, such as heartburn, allergies, or headaches. In addition, check with your healthcare provider about any prescription medications you are taking. Both types of medications may need to be either discontinued or changed before you get pregnant.
FDA Safety Rating
Because of fear of harming the unborn baby, drug companies cannot test new medication on pregnant women. We learn about these effects in women who take over-the-counter medication or must stay on their prescription medications while they are pregnant.
Currently, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that drugs be categorized according to their risk to pregnant women. The FDA uses Pregnancy Exposure Registries to help women and health professionals learn about the effects of medications on pregnancy. These registries record reported incidents of negative or positive reaction of medications in pregnant women. You can register and find information at the FDA website.
The Role of Teratology Specialists
What is teratology? It is the study of birth defects and abnormal development of the fetus during pregnancy. The Organization of Teratology Information Services (OTIS) provides expert information about prenatal exposures to medications, chemicals, and other substances. OTIS member organizations do not prescribe or recommend treatments; they provide objective information about the following:
- Medications a woman took before she realized she was pregnant
- Medications prescribed for an illness that occurs during pregnancy
- Medications for chronic conditions
Do not stop taking any medications, herbs, or vitamins until your healthcare provider says that it is okay. Stopping medication may be more harmful than taking medication. Some chronic conditions that require regular medications include:
Not long ago, many women with chronic conditions, such as lupus or diabetes, considered pregnancy to be too risky. However, because of advances in the fields of high risk obstetrics and internal medicine, many of these women now deliver healthy babies.
In some cases, such as when women have asthma, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, or HIV, stopping medication may be significantly more harmful to the fetus than taking the drugs during pregnancy. In these types of cases, OTIS can provide information about a specific drug and the risk to the fetus, based on timing during the pregnancy. Some drugs are potentially harmful early in the pregnancy, but not later on. Conversely, others present a greater risk around the time of delivery. OTIS can also inform you about the risk/benefit profile of medications that can help you manage your condition during pregnancy.
It may be a good idea to work with a teratology specialist who can help you coordinate a healthcare team to help you manage your medical condition along with your pregnancy.
Members of the team may include:
- An obstetric care provider who specializes in high risk pregnancies
- The doctor managing the chronic condition
- The primary care provider (if not managing the chronic condition or the pregnancy)