Women's Health

Understanding medication safety for expectant parents

Young, pregnant woman reading holding a medication bottle and reading information.


By Mauricio La Rosa de los Rios, MD


Pregnancy is a time of immense joy and anticipation, but it also comes with a heightened sense of responsibility, especially when it comes to the health and well-being of both the mother and the developing baby. One crucial aspect expectant mothers must consider is medication safety. While medications can be essential for managing various health conditions, their use during pregnancy requires careful consideration to minimize potential risks to the unborn child.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 out of 10 women take medication during pregnancy, which translates to 5.4 million pregnancies exposed to medications each year. Yet, fewer than 10 percent of all medications have enough information to determine fetal risks.

The importance of medication safety during pregnancy

During pregnancy, the body undergoes significant changes, including hormonal fluctuations and physiological adaptations, which can impact how medications are metabolized and their potential effects on the fetus. Additionally, certain medications have been associated with an increased risk of birth defects, pregnancy complications or other adverse outcomes when used during pregnancy.

Drugs or medication taken in pregnancy can cross the placenta and impact the developing baby. There are a range of possible effects that may include infant withdrawal from substances, low birth weight, premature birth, miscarriage and stillbirth.


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Risks and considerations

Before taking any medication during pregnancy, it is essential for expectant mothers to consult their healthcare provider. Some medications may be deemed safe for use during pregnancy, while others may need to be avoided or replaced with alternative treatments.

Categories of medication risk:

Known risks:
Some medications have well-documented risks associated with their use during pregnancy. These include certain antibiotics, anticoagulants and medications for treating chronic conditions like epilepsy or psychiatric disorders.


Uncertain risks: For many medications, the data on their safety during pregnancy may be limited or inconclusive. In such cases, healthcare providers must weigh the potential benefits of the medication against the possible risks to both the mother and baby.


Prescription and over-the-counter medications: Both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications have the potential to affect pregnancy outcomes. Even seemingly harmless OTC medications, such as pain relievers or cold remedies, can pose risks if used improperly during pregnancy.


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Guidelines for medication use during pregnancy

To ensure medication safety during pregnancy, here are some essential guidelines for expectant mothers to follow:

Consultation with healthcare provider:
Always consult a healthcare provider before taking any medication during pregnancy. This includes prescription medications, OTC drugs, herbal supplements and vitamins. In addition, if you already take medication and abruptly stop, this can also pose risks. Consult your doctor before making any changes.

Consider alternative treatments:
In some cases, alternative treatments or lifestyle modifications may be recommended instead of medications, especially for conditions that do not pose an immediate threat to the mother or baby.

Risk-benefit analysis:
Healthcare providers will assess potential risks and benefits of medication use during pregnancy on a case-by-case basis. They will consider factors such as the severity of the mother’s condition, the gestational age of the fetus and the available data on the medication’s safety.

Follow prescribed dosages:
If a medication is deemed necessary during pregnancy, it is crucial to follow the prescribed dosages and instructions provided by the healthcare provider. Avoid self-medicating or altering dosages without medical supervision.

Monitor for side effects:
Be vigilant for any potential side effects or adverse reactions to medications during pregnancy. Report any concerns or unusual symptoms to your healthcare provider promptly.


Learn more about CDC guidelines for treating and managing health conditions during pregnancy.


The bottom line: Ensuring medication safety during pregnancy requires proactive communication between expectant mothers and their healthcare providers. While some medications may be deemed safe for use during pregnancy, others may need to be avoided or replaced with alternative treatments to minimize potential risks to the developing baby. By following guidelines for medication use and maintaining open dialogue with healthcare providers, expectant mothers can prioritize the health and well-being of themselves and their babies throughout the pregnancy journey.


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Dr. La Rosa is a double board-certified OBGYN and a Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist. He sees patients at Nuvance Health Medical Practice – Maternal Fetal Medicine in Poughkeepsie.