The rule of thumb for pregnant women has always been to avoid taking medication — over the counter or prescription — whenever possible during pregnancy. But for many women who suffer from illnesses such as depression, epilepsy or high blood pressure, avoiding medication is not an option.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, 64 percent of pregnant women use at least one prescription drug during pregnancy and, on average, women use three to five. The bad news is that there is often little information to go on when it comes to evaluating the safety of medication for pregnant women, primarily because no one wants to subject a pregnant woman and/or her baby to potentially risky medications in the interests of collecting data.
Still, there are a number of medications, such as isotretinoin (for acne) and thalidomide (for certain skin diseases), that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recommends that women avoid during pregnancy and others, such as phenytoin (for epileptic seizures) that it advises pregnant women against taking unless they have spoken with their doctors about the potential health risks.
The FDA recently added some new medications to this list and strengthened its warnings for a few that were already on there.
The agency strengthened its warning to expectant mothers who take topiramate (brand name Topamax), for migraines or to control seizures. According to the FDA, taking topiramate during pregnancy increases a woman's risk of giving birth to a baby with a cleft lip or cleft palate.
The FDA also advised pregnant mothers who take antipsychotic drugs such as Haldol, Zyprexa, Seroquel and Abilify, that their babies are likely to suffer withdrawal symptoms such as agitation and difficulty breathing and feeding for hours or days after birth.
Another medication that has raised concerns recently is the asthma medication terbutaline. The FDA warns that this drug should not be used by pregnant women due to the potential for maternal heart problems or death.
And finally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that taking pain relievers that contain opioids, such as Vicodin, OxyContin and Tylenol with codeine, in early pregnancy (or even right before a woman becomes pregnant) could increase her baby's risk of developing congenital heart defects, glaucoma and other problems.
Check out the WomensHealth.gov website for more info about the FDA's guidelines for pregnant women and medications.