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Medication during Pregnancy: What’s Safe?

written by: Emma Lloyd • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 12/15/2008

Most of us take over-the-counter medications without any thought – but during pregnancy, it’s important to question even nutritional supplements before taking them.

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    When pregnant or nursing, it’s important to be sensible about what you eat and drink, ands it’s also very important to be cautious about the medications you take – even over-the-counter drugs and nutritional supplements.

    Historically it was thought that anything a pregnant woman ingested during pregnancy would not affect her baby – that the placenta provided an inviolable barrier that would prevent the passage of any harmful substance. However, this has long been known to be untrue, and in fact it’s possible for many substances to pass through the placenta from mother to child.

    There are other reasons for pregnant women to be cautious about the medications they take. During pregnancy, many organs—including heart and kidneys—work harder than usual, and it can change the way you metabolize certain drugs. And even before you are pregnant, medications can alter your ability to conceive, and affect the health of an unborn baby almost from the moment of conception.

    Many medications are safe for pregnant and nursing mothers, but equally so many are not – any doctor who prescribes medication for you should know you are pregnant. In general, it’s best not to take any medications at all during your first trimester, if possible, as this is the time when a developing baby is most vulnerable.

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    Over-the-Counter Medications

    Even over-the-counter preparations can be harmful to an unborn child – it is never safe to assume there are no risks, even with drugs such as aspirin.

    Aspirin and ibuprofen (including advil and motrin) should not be taken during the last trimester of pregnancy – these can cause problems, particularly during labor. These should be taken only on your doctor’s advice.

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    Nutritional Supplements and Natural Products

    Herbal supplements and other natural products are not proven to be safe for women during pregnancy, and these should not be used. Even if there is no evidence to suggest they are harmful, equally so there is no evidence for their safety.

    In addition, vitamin and mineral supplements should be used with caution. In high doses these can actually be detrimental to an unborn baby. These supplements should be taken only on your doctors advice – and ask about special vitamin formulations for pregnant women, as these are dose-adjusted for safety.

    References and Further Reading

    National Institute of Health Medline Plus: Pregnancy

    Food and Drug Administration Pregnancy Fact Sheet

    FDA Office of Women’s Health Links