Contrary to what you might expect, prescription medication use among pregnant women is very common. A new study reports that, from 2000 to 2007, over 82% of pregnant women were dispensed at least one prescription medicine during the course of their pregnancy.1
Pregnant Women get Sick
Pregnant women get sick and sick women get pregnant.2 Many women need to use medications for various conditions ranging from migraine headaches to congestive heart failure. They need meds to keep themselves and their babies healthy.
While no one should take medication during pregnancy unless it is necessary, sometimes the medical condition can be way more harmful to the pregnancy than the medication that is used to treat it.
That being said, since drugs are not tested on pregnant women, it is difficult for women to know what is safe and not safe to take during pregnancy. And your health care providers may not know much more than you.
This study found that:
- Infection was the most common condition for which medications were dispensed (prescription filled)
- Younger pregnant women were more likely to be dispensed a medication than older pregnant women
- White pregnant women were more likely to be dispensed a medication than pregnant women of color
Even medications that were considered to be potentially harmful to the fetus were dispensed to 42% of the pregnant women in the study. These included codeine, ibuprofen, hydrocortisone, and warfarin. We don’t know if they were prescribed before the woman or her health care provider knew she was pregnant, or if they were ordered without realizing they might be harmful, or if they were considered to be the best treatment available considering the needs of the particular pregnant woman and her specific condition.
We Need Better Information
But any way you look at it, prescription medications are often necessary to treat pregnant women’s conditions and this study reminds us that more and better information is needed to help them and their doctors and midwives to know which treatment option is safest and most effective for each woman and her baby.
The study authors rightly point out that without good data, a medication that might be helpful and safe may not be used — or a medication that might be helpful to the mother but harmful to the baby may be used instead. We should be able to do better than that.
Although it is difficult to study medication effects in pregnant women, it is not impossible. Many women’s health champions are advocating for improved research on medications that are needed to be used by pregnant women.
Help yourself – and each other
The next time you are pregnant and have to take a medication to treat your illness, be sure to:
- Discuss your medication options with your doctor or midwife
- Look up the medication’s safety information yourself (go to iodine.com or www.drugs.com)
- Share your pregnancy information with researchers in a pregnancy registry
- Ask your health care provider if there is a study you can join.
Pregnant women who are taking medication can help other pregnant women who are, or will be, in a similar situation in the future. Together, we can help each other.
Palmsten K, Hernández-Díaz S, Chambers CD, et al. The most commonly dispensed prescription medications among pregnant women enrolled in the U.S. Medicaid Program. Obstet Gynecol. 2015; in print.
Baylis F. Opinion: pregnant women deserve better. Nature. 2010;465:689-70.