Prescription medicine during pregnancy

KEY POINTS

  • If you take them during pregnancy, some prescription medicine can cause problems for your baby, like premature birth, NAS and birth defects. 

  • Tell your provider about any prescription medicine you take. You may need to stop taking a medicine or switch to one that’s safer during pregnancy.

  • Don’t stop taking a prescription medicine without talking to your health care provider first. 

  • Make sure any provider who treats you with prescription medicine knows that you’re pregnant.

What is prescription medicine?

A prescription medicine is medicine a health care provider says you can take to treat a health condition. You need a prescription (an order from your provider) to get the medicine.

Many pregnant women (about 7 in 10 or 70 percent) take at least one prescription drug during pregnancy. For example, they may need a medicine to treat a long-term health condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure. But not all prescription medicine is safe to use during pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, check with your health care provider before you take any kind of medicine to make sure it’s safe for you and your baby.

How can prescription medicine harm your baby during pregnancy?

Some prescription drugs can cause problems for your baby, including:

  • Premature birth. This is when your baby is born too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies born too soon may have more health problems at birth and later in life than babies born full term.
  • Low birthweight. This is when your baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
  • Birth defects. A birth defect is a health condition that is present at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, in how the body develops, or in how the body works.
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (also called NAS). NAS happens when a baby is exposed to a drug in the womb before birth and then goes through withdrawal after birth. NAS can cause problems for your baby, like low birthweight and breathing problems. NAS most often is caused when a woman takes opioids during pregnancy. Opioids are painkillers your provider may prescribe if you’ve been injured or had surgery. 
  • Learning and behavior problems later in life
  • Miscarriage. This is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Stillbirth. This is when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS). This is the unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year old.

How can you make sure a prescription drug is safe to take during pregnancy?

Ask your health care provider. She can tell you if a prescription medicine is safe to take during pregnancy. She may want you to stop taking a medicine or switch to one that’s safer for you and your baby. Don’t stop taking a prescription medicine without talking to your health care provider first. And make sure that any provider who prescribes medicine for you knows that you’re pregnant. 

To find out more about the safety of prescription medicines during pregnancy, go to: mothertobaby.org or Treating for Two

Can taking prescription drugs during pregnancy cause birth defects?

Some prescription drugs — including the ones in this list — can cause birth defects in your baby. If you’re pregnant and taking any of these medicines, call your health care provider immediately. You may need to stop taking it or switch to a different drug or dose that’s safe for your baby. (Brand names are listed in parentheses.)

  • Captopril (Capoten®)
  • Carbamazepine (Carbatrol®, Epitol®, Equetro®, Tegretol®)
  • Codeine
  • Enalapril (Vasotec®)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac®)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®)
  • Isotretionoin (Accutane®, Amnesteem®, Claravis®, Sotret®)
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil®)
  • Thalidomide (Thalomid®)
  • Tramadol (ConZip®, Ryzolt®, Ultram®)
  • Valproic acid (Depacon®, Depakene®, Depakote®, Stavzor®, Valproic®)
  • Warfarin (Coumadin®, Jantoven®)

To find out about other prescription medicines can cause birth defects, go to: mothertobaby.org

What is prescription drug abuse?

Prescription drug abuse is when you use a prescription drug in a way other than ordered by a health care provider. Prescription drug abuse is a serious and growing problem. Nearly 1 out of 5 people (20 percent) in the United States say they abuse prescription drugs. The most commonly abused prescription drugs are painkillers called opioids.

Abusing prescription drugs during pregnancy can cause serious problems for both you and your baby. If you’re pregnant and you abuse prescription drugs, tell your health care provider right away. She can help you get treatment to quit abusing these drugs.

When your health care provider gives you a prescription for medicine, he tells you exactly how much to take, how often to take it and how long to take it. If you abuse prescription opioids (take them differently than your health care provider says), it can cause serious health problems for you and problems for your baby if you’re pregnant.

When you take any medicine:

  • Don’t take more medicine than your health care provider says you can take.
  • Don’t take it with alcohol or other drugs.
  • Don’t use someone else’s prescription medicine.

If you need help to stop abusing prescription drugs, talk to your health care provider. Or contact:

More information

Last reviewed: July, 2016