What Medicines Are Pregnant Women Taking?

By Rachel Walden — May 9, 2011

An increasing number of women are prescribed medications while they are pregnant, and unfortunately, far too often, too little is known about the safety of the medicines during pregnancy. A new article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology looks at what medicines pregnant women are taking, and how that has changed over time, with a goal of showing the need for further research on the risks of medication use during pregnancy.

Researchers used data on women and their children from the Slone Epidemiology Center Birth Defects Study and the CDC’s National Birth Defects Prevention Study. For these studies, mothers of children with and without birth defects reported what prescription and over-the-counter medicines they remembered taking while pregnant. They excluded vitamins, blood, oxygen, and topical and IV medicines.

Among the findings:

  • In 2008, 93.9% of pregnant women took at least one medicine; 82.3% used at least one medicine during their first trimester.
  • The average number of medicines used at any time during pregnancy increased from 2.5 medicines in 1976-1978 to 4.2 in 2006-2008.
  • The percentage of women taking 4 or more medicines during pregnancy increased from 23.3% in the early years to 50.1% in the most recent years.
  • Antidepressant use increased the most, with less than 1% women taking any antidepressant during pregnancy through 1988-1990, climbing to 7.5% of women in the most recent years.
  • The top 20 mostly commonly used medicines (in the first trimester) were identified, an include examples of antibiotics, the flu vaccine, allergy and asthma drugs, thyroid drugs, antidepressants, hormones, and a diabetes drug.

The researchers note that of course women’s recall of medication use may be imperfect. However, they conclude that the most commonly used medicines should have their risks and safety in pregnancy evaluated, and ongoing monitoring should be done to better inform women and their providers of potential risks of the medicines they use.

4 responses to “What Medicines Are Pregnant Women Taking?”

  1. Your article illustrates the importance of a healthy lifestyle to minimize the need for medications during pregnancy. While many conditions cannot be avoided regardless of how healthy a life style a woman may have, there are many medications that can be avoided. A healthy diet, exercise to help minimize stress and help with sleep and relaxation can be very beneficial for many medical conditions. Unfortunately, many medical practitioners do not have or take the time to educate their patients, and many patients do not or feel they cannot heed this advice.

  2. Anne, thanks for commenting. Honestly, I think it’s a mixed bag – there are some women who are absolutely going to to need to be on certain medications during pregnancy for different reasons, and for things that lifestyle changes will not fix or when these changes are not feasible/realistic for the woman. I’m sure there are some cases when women could potentially avoid one of these medications, too. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of good info to inform us about how serious the potential risks of continuing vs. stopping might be, when that is an option.

  3. Sorry, being late in replying to this.

    Yet again this is another example of what we have become as a society or whatever its called. Found that I’m total against practice. Unless if theres a real need for this to be done and I’m for it. Unsure what side I will eventually on. Haven’t really done any serious learning and researching on this or etc as well. Basically, its a huge subject and etc.

  4. There are certainly medications included on that most frequently used list that should absolutely not be stopped during pregnancy without serious discussion with a doctor, including asthma medications, psychiatric meds, seizure meds, and thyroid hormones.I wonder what other “hormones” are being talked about- progesterone? I have a luteal phase defect and needed progesterone supplementation during the first trimester. Women who have been through IVF also must have progesterone supplementation.

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