Medications to avoid during pregnancy: Why these pills are no good


You may experience physical discomfort during pregnancy, but that shouldn't be reason enough to pop pills without the doctor's recommendation.

You may have noticed that your pregnancy has come with its own share of physical challenges. There is bloating, joint pains and even sleep deprivation. But any of these shouldn’t be reason to just pop pills without your doctor’s recommendation.

Pills that were seemingly harmless and helpful before pregnancy can be very dangerous for you and your growing baby during these nine months. This makes it crucial for you to know what medications to avoid during pregnancy.

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Medications to avoid during pregnancy: All you need to know

There is often a misconception that over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are safe to consume at all times – including during pregnancy. But some OTC medicines can pose a serious threat to the fetus.

So to help you make informed decisions, we have compiled a list of 13 medications to avoid during pregnancy.

1. Ibuprofen

You may know this OTC medication as Nurofen. It is a well-known pain reliever and even brings down fever. And while you may have used this before pregnancy, you are better off staying away from it now.

Ibuprofen is safe to use during the first few months of the pregnancy, but not after you hit the 30 week mark. That’s because it can close a crucial passageway in your growing baby’s heart.

This passageway remains open during pregnancy to help the baby grow and develop. But it closes up soon after birth. Results of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study prove that if you repeatedly consume Ibuprofen, it can cause serious damage to your baby’s heart and lungs. 

If you have fever or body aches, your doctor might recommend you to switch to paracetamol. Previous studies proved paracetamol (Tylenol in the US) to be safer and better for pregnant women than Ibuprofen. But newer studies reveal that even that is not safe for expecting mums, especially if consumed excessively.

However, you should note that too much of anything is bad, even medication. So if you can tolerate the pain, then it’s best to stay away from OTC medications altogether.

2. Aspirin

Similar to Ibuprofen, Aspirin (mostly used for headaches) is also not advisable for pregnant women.

A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology states that if you take it during the first trimester of your pregnancy, it can cause congenital disorders and even a loss of pregnancy.

Consuming it during the third trimester can increase the risk of brain hemorrhaging in the unborn child.

In rare cases, Aspirin can be given in a low dosage of 60 to 100 mgs per day. These rare circumstances are for pregnant women who suffer from preeclampsia, have clotting disorders, or a reoccurring loss of pregnancy.

It’s best to consult your doctor before taking this medicine to be on the safe side.

medications to avoid during pregnancy

Only opt for medications that are recommended by your doctor after your thorough physical test. | Image courtesy: Dreamstime

3. Naproxen Sodium (Aleve)

You should also try to steer clear of this medication (used for fever, swelling and stiffness) during your pregnancy.

The Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study and data from the Medical Birth Registry of Norway show that this non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) can increase the risk of a miscarriage, can cause embryo failure and might stop the foetus’ heart from functioning.

If it is taken during the third trimester, it can be even more dangerous. It can lead to high blood pressure, liver failure of the foetus and well as cardiac arrest. 

While you should completely avoid its use, if you do consume it after 30 weeks of pregnancy, it can reduce the blood flow to the fetus. So you should immediately let your doctor know.

4. Acne medicines

Many acne medicines including oral isotretinoin (Accutane, Amnesteem, Claravis) as well as topical retinoids are often used to treat acne during pregnancy.

But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) directives, these are medications to avoid during pregnancy.

Guidelines by the FDA (US) suggest that such medicines can increase the risk of birth defects in babies. These defects include fluid accumulation in the baby’s brains, heart defects, cleft lip, intellectual disabilities as well as facial dysmorphism.  

Instead, you should opt for natural home remedies to clear pregnancy acne. Since you will notice an overproduction of sebum (which is the culprit behind the acne), you may need to keep your face clean. You can shampoo regularly if you spot acne along your hairline.

If your doctor recommends it, you can use medications that include erythromycin (Erygel) and clindamycin (Cleocin T, Clindagel).

5. Ribavirin

This anti-viral medication is primarily used to treat Hepatitis C. So unless it has been recommended by your doctor, there is really no need to take this during pregnancy.

Studies show that pregnant women should practice caution while taking this medication. If not pregnant, they can try only after Ribavirin has been discontinued and a waiting period of six months is observed.

Although it is unclear if Ribavirin causes any birth defects, due to its strong effect on the body, Monthly Index of Medical Specialties (MIMS), Singapore reports that it is not prescribed to pregnant women. 

However, for some women with severe viral fever, a doctor might recommend this medication.

6. Vitamins

Now this may come as a surprise to you, but you already know that too much of everything is bad. Even vitamins. Yes, you read that right.

The American Pregnancy Association recommends that pregnant women should only take multivitamins after approval from their doctors. So even though they may not seem like the medications to avoid during pregnancy, they might just be.

A vitamin overdose can lead to itching, frequent urination, constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea, rashes, headaches, fatigue and even sensitivity to light. Not to forget, it can also cause irregularity of the feotal heartbeat.   

7. Antifungal medications

A study supported by the Danish Medical Research Council proves that oral antifungal medications are actually associated with increased risk of miscarriage.

The study especially focuses on the popular fluconazole medication.

In its release, the study states, “There was a significantly increased risk of spontaneous abortion associated with fluconazole exposure.” The authors also added a caution.

“Until more data on the association are available, cautious prescribing of fluconazole in pregnancy may be advisable,” they said in an issued statement. So if you do happen to take this medication, as always, report it to your doctor.

8. Anti-anxiety medications and anti-depressants

You may already know that pregnant women should not consume anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. That’s because they can cause birth defects, spina bifida and even increase the risk of miscarriage. This was quoted by The Schmidt Firm, PLLC, the law firm that worked on such cases.

But in rare cases, doctors recommend the use of medications like Lexapro. However, you should know that this is a Category C medication. This means you should not even look at it.

If you need to take anti-anxiety pills, it’s best to ask your doctor for recommendations. Do not look for OTC anti-depressants on your own.

9. Antibiotics

There are a few antibiotics that you may be advised to take during your pregnancy. These include penicillins, including amoxicillin, ampicillin, and cephalosporins, including cephalexin and cefaclor. Erythromycin as well as clindamycin may also be prescribed.

But certain other type of antibiotics fall into the category of medications to avoid during pregnancy. These include tetracyclines.

As per the Mayo Clinic, they can discolour your baby’s teeth and you should completely avoid it after the 15th week.

If an antibiotic is the best way to deal with your issue, then your doctor will suggest a suitable medication. So avoid going for OTC medications or those that you used pre-pregnancy.

10. Antihistamines

You may have used antihistamines to treat nasal congestions, dust mites or hives that appear due to pollen. But that was before you got pregnant. Now, you should stay away from antihistamines.

These are available OTC, but their easy availability shouldn’t make you opt to use them. That’s because they can cause premature births, severe morning sickness and even low birth-weight babies.

A recent study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests that “First generation antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine, hydroxyzine, and dexchlorpheniramine are the safest among antihistamines to be used in pregnancy.”

But “topical medications like bland emollients and systemic antihistamines should be avoided as none of the antihistamines are categorized as safe by the FDA.”

11. Migraine medications

Many pregnant women often suffer from migraine, and their preferred OTC medication is Topamax. But studies reveal that this migraine medication can cause serious birth defects in babies.

These studies were listed in the North American Antiepileptic Drug (NAAED) Pregnancy Registry and published by the FDA.

In 2011, the US Food and Drug Association (FDA) cautioned that “There is an increased risk for the development of cleft lip and/or cleft palate (oral clefts) in infants born to women treated with topiramate (Topamax and generic products) during pregnancy.”

This new revelation has placed this medication in Category C, making it one of the medications to avoid during pregnancy. If you are pregnant or planning to conceive and are on this medication, share this information with your doctor.

12. Sleeping aids

During pregnancy, some women suffer from insomnia and depend on medications such as Dalmane. But it is actually one of the medications to avoid during pregnancy.

A study published by the FDA proves that Dalmane is a category X drug and should not be used by expecting women. It increases the risk of mental retardation in a baby along with ADHD, and other learning disabilities

If you suffer from severe insomnia, speak to your doctor about natural ways to deal with it. These can include herbal tea, yoga and even meditation.

13. Bismuth subsalicylate

Bismuth subsalicylate or Pepto Bismal helps ease digestive issues such as diarrhea and heart burn. But you should steer clear of it during pregnancy.

The American Academy of Family Physicians suggest that pregnant women should not have Pepto Bismal during their second and third trimester.

It increases the risk of bleeding during pregnancy and also birth defects in some cases. 

The bottom line is that if you are pregnant or trying to conceive you should be cautious about the medications you consume. Similarly, you should also keep yourself updated with the medications to avoid during pregnancy.

However, if you still feel the need to reach for OTC meds, then bear a few things in mind.

medications to avoid during pregnancy

Avoid trying to self-medicate, and always speak with a specialist before consuming an OTC medication. | Image courtesy: Dreamstime

What to consider before you consume OTC medications

  • Try natural methods. You can reduce most of the physical discomfort during your pregnancy using natural remedies. For instance, for body aches and stress, you can try a massage and meditate. For fever and cough, you can try chicken soups and herbal tea and take adequate rest.
  • Consult with your doctor. Before you take any medication make sure to consult with your doctor. You should know most of these popular OTC medications have serious long-term affects. Ask yourself, are you willing to put your baby’s life in danger to get rid of that headache?
  • Avoid combination drugs. Do not take two different kinds of medications together. Only do this if your doctor recommends it. For instance, an anti-allergy drug and a pain reliever can be a deadly combination. So discuss this with your doctor as well.
  • Read labels. Always make sure to read the labels before you buy or consume an OTC medication. Many times, ingredients like alcohol and caffeine show unannounced. So be careful with what you purchase and share the information with your doctor, as always.

Remember to be up-to-date with the alternative medications available in the market. Sometimes pharmacies try to sell their products and suggest that it is safe. Do not go by hearsay, even from mums you trust. Always get your doctor’s approval first.

Sources: Familyshare, Healthline, Consumer report 

ALSO READ: Vitamins and supplements you need during pregnancy

Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore


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