Most pregnant women use prescribed or non-prescribed drugs during pregnancy. The drug use in pregnant women may result in birth defects. Therefore unless it is imperative to use drugs, they should be avoided during pregnancy. This precaution is taken because any medicine taken by a pregnant woman reaches fetus by crossing the placenta, just like oxygen and other nutrients. The medicines may affect the fetus in several ways like causing damage to body parts, hampering development, or even causing death. At times, due to intake of drugs by a pregnant woman, the supply of oxygen and nutrients to fetus is restricted and the baby is born underweight and underdeveloped. Consumption of certain drugs causes a contraction in the muscles of the uterus and reduction in the blood supply to the fetus thus kick starting a preterm labor and delivery.
The dosage of the drug and the fetus development stage are the two factors which determine what affect a certain drug will have on the fetus. The fetus is very susceptible to birth defects between 3 to 8 weeks after fertilization. This is the time when its organs are developing and any harsh or wrong drugs taken at this time may give rise to irreparable damage or a miscarriage. Certain harmful drugs taken after 8 weeks of pregnancy may end up retarding the growth and function of the organs formed because this is the time when the organs of the fetus are already developed.
Different drugs have different effects on a pregnant woman and the fetus growing inside her. Always a safer drug is recommended to substitute the drug causes harm during pregnancy. For example oral hypoglycemic drugs are replaced with insulin during pregnancy. The safe drugs do not cross the placenta but control diseases. There are several drugs which cause birth defects even after 6 months of discontinuation of its use. This is because such drugs gets stored in fats beneath the skin and gets released eventually. Under such circumstances, it is best to wait for one year before planning a baby. A pregnant woman is not given liver virus vaccines and only in emergency conditions vaccines such as cholera, plague, rabies, and typhoid are given. Pregnant women may be given drugs like Antihypertensive to cure high blood pressure but after that the patient is closely monitored. It is best to avoid drugs that can cause damage to fetus. These drugs include Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) and thirazide diuretics.
A few risks involved in using drugs during pregnancy are:
- Anti anxiety drug – These drugs cause depression, irritability, and shaking in a new born.
- Antibiotics – Some of these drugs may cause damage to the fetus’s ear resulting in deafness, jaundice, brain damage, slowed bone growth, and yellowing of teeth in the new born.
- Anticoagulants – Some of these anticoagulants may cause birth defects and bleeding problems in fetus and pregnant women.
- Chemotherapy drugs – Some of these drugs cause underdevelopment of lower jaw and skull bones spinal and ear defects and abnormal before birth growth of the fetus.
- Mood stabilizing drugs –These drugs cause poor feeding, under active thyroid gland, lethargy, and birth defects of the heart in the fetus.
- Sex Hormones – These drugs if taken during pregnancy may lead to abnormalities of sex organs in newborn and menstrual problems in female babies when they grow up.
- Thyroid drugs – Some of these drugs cause an overactive or under active thyroid gland in the fetus.
Some social drugs like cigarettes, alcohol, and caffeine should be avoided during pregnancy. Smoking cigarettes may cause a reduction in the birth weight of the fetus and also can have a birth defect of brain, heart, and face. Consumption of alcohol can also cause birth defects and increases the chances of having a miscarriage. Drinking of caffeine during pregnancy in moderate quantities does little or no harm to the fetus. It is a stimulant which crosses over from the placenta to the fetus and may stimulate the fetus, increasing its heart beat and breathing. Over consumption of caffeine leads to decrease in absorption of iron by the body and restricts the flow of blood across the placenta.
Thus we realize that unless categorically imperative, drugs should not be consumed during pregnancy. But if they are equally essential for the health of the pregnant woman and fetus, then the patient should consult her health care provider about the risks and benefits of taking drugs and decide accordingly.