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Medicine cabinet 101: What not to take while pregnant

Here's an important mission for you, mom-to-be: Head to your bathroom after reading this. Your task is to round up everything in your medicine cabinet. 

Next, you'll want to run those medicines (and any others you may have around in your purse, bedroom or elsewhere) past your provider. Ask if taking them is safe for your growing baby.

What's the matter with meds?

When you're pregnant, some medicines can be harmful to you and your growing baby. Some may put your baby at risk for serious birth defects. Others may increase your chances of having a miscarriage or a baby that is born too early, for instance.

And we're not just talking prescription meds. The same precautions apply to over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, as well as vitamins and herbal supplements. 

What's in your medicine cabinet?

What follows is by no means a complete list of medicines that might be risky. That's why it's best to tell your provider about all of the medicines you're taking or thinking of taking while pregnant. 

Checking the label can help you understand if a drug may be safe to take while you're pregnant. But even then, it's important to make sure your provider approves.

Let's go through some of the medicines you should be careful with:

OTC medicines. As experts note, even popular headache or pain remedies may be problematic when you're pregnant. One example is ibuprofen, which can cause your baby to have blood-flow problems if used after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.  

Vitamins. Prenatal vitamins help supply you and your baby with essential nutrients. But you can get too much of a good thing. Some may contain an excess of certain nutrients. This could make taking them unsafe. You can help avoid any problems by having your doctor recommend a prenatal that meets your needs.

Herbal supplements. From St. John's wort to ginkgo biloba, herbs may be natural, but are they safe for moms-to-be? Until research provides more answers, you should avoid them. 

Prescription drugs. Not all prescription medicines are safe for baby. Here are a few that may increase risks like birth defects, miscarriages or newborn withdrawal symptoms: 

  • Isotretinoin (an acne medicine). 
  • Warfarin (a blood thinner). 
  • The antidepressants fluoxetine (Prozac) and paroxetine (Paxil).
  • Prescription painkillers, like codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone and other opioids. 
  • The antiseizure drug valproic acid. 
  • The blood pressure medicine enalapril.

Don't toss any meds just yet 

None of this means you should toss any of your medicines just yet. Like many moms-to-be, you may need them to treat a serious health problem. Quitting them suddenly could do you (and your baby) more harm than good. 

Talking to your provider will help you figure out the best plan. He or she may even be able to suggest another drug that's safer while you're pregnant.  

More pregnancy news

Morning (or afternoon or evening) sickness is one of the earliest pregnancy discomforts. Get our top tips for feeling better.  

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; March of Dimes 

Reviewed 12/13/2023

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