Drugs in Pregnancy: The Issues, Explanations and Tips of Advice



Drugs in pregnancy are mostly harmful to baby’s growth and development while aggravating the symptoms of pregnancy for the expecting mom. Based on possible side effects profile, metabolism and absorption of drugs in blood, FDA has approved a few drugs in pregnancy while strictly prohibiting many others, unless the risk of serious complications is high if such drug isn’t administered.

Besides specific parameters like dosage and chemical composition, there are a few other factors that are very important in deciding what drugs to be consumed during pregnancy. It’s generally advised that drugs should be avoided in the first trimester of pregnancy, simply because all baby organs and internal systems begin to develop during this period. As such, abnormalities and defects may occur in the course of fetal development due to drug actions in your body.

What drugs in pregnancy are safe for consumption?

  • Most topical drugs are safe during pregnancy however caution must be taken as lethal levels can be achieved if too much drug is applied on skin.
  • You must continue all your medication for systemic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, asthma and other diseases; however you must consult your healthcare provider to substitute any medications that pose harmful risks to your pregnancy and the baby. A typical example of these medications is loop diuretics (indicated in hypertensive and cardiac patients)- it’s been associated with serious hearing defects in new born.
  • Nutritional supplements like iron, folic acid, calcium and Vitamins like B-complex and Vitamin C are safe during pregnancy.

What drugs are not safe in pregnancy and the risks?

Virtually all drugs except nutritional supplements mentioned above are contraindicated (to be avoided) in pregnancy. The risks of drugs in pregnancy include: miscarriage, low birth weight, premature birth, birth defects, intrauterine-growth retardation, congenital malformations, infant addiction and cravings, stillbirth, among other complications.

Let’s examine drugs that are associated with high risk congenital anomalies and other birth defects in babies.

Illegal and illicit drugs in Pregnancy:

These include heroin, marijuana, opium and opium products, cocaine and others. Each drug is associated with serious malformations in the baby’s development. It affects maternal physiology and endangers the life of your baby thus must be avoided in all circumstances.

  • Cocaine is associated with development of gestational hypertension, pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, placental abruptions and increase risk of pre-term labor during pregnancy. Even after birth, babies maternally influenced by cocaine tend to remain under-weight and neonatal growth delay, even develop behavioral problems in later childhood.
  • Consumption of heroin and other similar by-products in pregnancy may lead to facial anomalies, low birth weight, risk of pre-mature birth and sudden infant death syndrome. Heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs in pregnancy that not only affects the in-vitro course of development but also make babies born to heroin-abusing moms to be addicted to heroin by birth. Such baby may develop withdrawal seizures if not supplied heroin.
  • Amphetamines and met-amphetamines that some professional women consume to beat low energy levels at work as well as alleviate the symptoms of pregnancy. Studies have shown that this energy-boosting drug can lead to a number of complications like inappropriate blood supply to placenta or placental insufficiency.

Even if you’re taking these medications, before becoming pregnant, it’s better to quit before conceiving the baby as abruptly stopping the drug in pregnancy may constitute serious complications. Even in most cases where pregnancy continued to full term, risks of low birth weight and developmental defects in babies were very high.

Open drugs in pregnancy:

There are a number of drugs that are apparently legal and consumed by women of reproductive age. These include:

- Alcohol is a drug and one of the most commonly abused drugs that constitute a number of health issues in healthy people. If alcohol is consumed in pregnancy, it damages maternal system at a higher rate and eventually interferes with fetal development too.

As a pregnant woman, you must know that no amount of alcohol is safe in pregnancy. Don’t drink alcohol while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Infrequent intake of alcohol may lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which is marked by facial defects, mental developmental defects including varying degrees of mental retardation, small-sized baby head and intrauterine-growth retardation.

- Tobacco is also very dangerous to the utero- placental connection and smoking it may lead to placental insufficiency and other placental defects like abruption and pre-mature separation, birth defects and sudden infant death syndrome. Tobacco smoke interferes with the amount of oxygen your baby receives. Babies born to smoker moms are usually of low birth weight and small sized head.

If you smoke, your pregnancy is compelling reason for you to stop. Get all the help you need to quit now you’re pregnant! Also, stay away from places where there’s smoke because secondhand smoke is likewise dangerous. No-Smoking should be the RULE around you.

- Almost all pharmacological medications constitute detrimental effects in the long term. Such include antibiotics like sulphonamide (associated with blue muffin syndrome), tetracycline (associated with enamel defects), retinoic acid derivatives (used widely for severe acne), streptomycin ( associated with hearing loss), pain-killers (associated with utero-placental insufficiency), chemotherapeutic drugs ( associated with miscarriage), gold and bismuth salts that are taken for inflammatory joint conditions (fetal anomalies).

Aspirin - acetylsalicylic acid or acetylsalicylate (associated with birth defects) and many other drugs such as Phenylpropanolamine (PPA),

Accutane ( Isotretinoin) for acne treatment, Retin A, Thalidmide and Diethylstilbestrol (DES) for preventing miscarriage (associated with risk of vaginal cancer in baby in the long term, among other drugs in pregnancy.

Beware of these drugs that can harm you and your baby, even in small doses. Get your doctor’s approval before taking any medication, even if you’ve been taking it before you’re pregnant.

- Caffeine is a stimulant that can be derived from foods and beverages like coffee, tea, kolas, soda, chocolate and some medications. FDA has recommended since many decades that pregnant women should avoid caffeine. It’s not been proven to deliver any benefit for the expecting mom and her unborn baby even though there’s evidence that up to 200mg daily consumption of caffeine is safe during pregnancy.

Some studies have evinced caffeine usage and abuse is associated with harmful effects such as premature labor, infant death syndrome, miscarriage and stillbirth.

How to get information about consumption of drugs in pregnancy?

If this list is missing out any drug or if you have any questions about the dosage or usage of any drugs, prescription or over-the-counter medications, home remedies, herbal remedies during pregnancy, consult your doctor to guide you through. Using drugs puts not only your health, but also the health of your unborn baby at grave risks.

The medications and drugs an expecting mom takes into her body can cross the placenta and be passed into her baby’s circulatory system and quite a number can have devastating effects on your baby. If you have an alcohol, tobacco, caffeine or any other drug problems, you need help to quit or cut down because they’re harmful to you and your baby.

In many countries, drug support systems are in practice to help women with the challenge of drugs in pregnancy, especially in cases of clear addition. Check-out the support services available to you with your healthcare provider or sign-up for a drug-free pregnancy course.

Remember, you’re not only eating for two but also drinking for two. What you drink, your Baby drinks. Drink responsibly!

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