Medication and Pregnancy

Pregnant woman sick

During my last pregnancy, I struggled through nausea, severe allergies, sinus congestion, flu-induced fever, back pain and insomnia. Needless to say, it sucked. I spent most of my incapacitated moments fantasizing about all the medicine I couldn’t take.

Though I’m generally not a pill-popper – I’m the type of lady who will wince through a headache rather than take an Advil – I was such a mess that I often found myself salivating in the aisles of my local drug store. Tylenol’s red cap beckoned me. Claritin’s blue box called my name. And though my midwife, doctors (and Google!) all reassured me that it was OK to medicate during pregnancy, I couldn’t bring myself to take the plunge. While I was busy sneezing and aching, my baby was busy forming things like organs and bones. It seemed unfair to dose him with a Claritin-D or an Ambien. Instead I turned to natural remedies like hot water with lemon and therapies like massage and craniosacral.

And while I’m sure I’m not the only pregnant woman who coughed for three days straight rather than ingest a drop of Robitussin, it seems that I am in the minority when it comes to abstaining from medication during pregnancy. Jane E. Brody dug into this subject in a recent post in the New York Times’ Well Blog. She writes, “During the last 30 years, use of prescription drugs during the first trimester of pregnancy, when fetal organs are forming, has grown by more than 60 percent. About 90 percent of pregnant women take at least one medication, and 70 percent take at least one prescription drug according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Why are pregnant women medicating so profusely when the FDA has found that 10 percent or more of birth defects result from medications taken during pregnancy? My answer: doctors and the Internet. Women are told it’s OK to take most over-the-counter drugs while pregnant. I was. In fact, the allergist I visited after three consecutive months of debilitating sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes insisted that I take a Claritin every day until my symptoms decreased. I clarified: “So, you’re telling a pregnant woman to take drug that was once prescription-only (Claritin received over-the-counter status in late 2002) every single day?” The allergist looked at me hard and annoyed, “Yes,” he sighed. “That is exactly what I’m telling you.”

As for the Internet, “A study, published online last month in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, of so-called ‘safe lists for medications in pregnancy’ found at 25 Web sites revealed glaring inconsistencies and sometimes false reassurances or alarms based on ‘inadequate evidence,’” Brody writes. The authors of the study found that “Among medications approved for use in the U.S.A. from 2000 to 2010, over 79% had no published human data on which to assess teratogenic risk (potential to cause birth defects), and 98% had insufficient published data to characterize such risk.” The study also revealed that info on the web was often contradictory. “Twenty-two of the products listed as safe by one or more sites were stated not to be safe by one or more of the other sites.”

I may have spent the majority of my pregnancy as a nose-blowing, exhausted, cranky, coughing mess – and who knows, Claritin may have indeed been just fine – but as I look at my healthy baby boy today, I’m sure glad I went with hot water and lemon.