While some medications are safe to use before and during pregnancy, others can affect your chances of getting pregnant, cause problems during pregnancy, or harm your baby.
Your doctor will give you the best advice about what medications are safe to take before and during pregnancy and can often suggest safe substitutes to take while you’re trying to get pregnant.
It may be essential to continue using a medication, such as when the medication helps to manage a long-term condition like asthma, diabetes, depression, or seizures. Without the medication, your health or your baby’s health could be at risk.
There are some medications that should be used with caution or avoided when trying to get pregnant or when you are already pregnant.
Speak to your doctor about the safety of any medications and drugs you and your partner are taking, before you try to get pregnant.
How can medications affect the chance of pregnancy?
Medications used by both women AND men can reduce the chance of pregnancy.
- Some medications taken by women can decrease sex drive, affect ovulation and egg health, and increase the risk of miscarriage.
- Some medications taken by men can affect sperm health, decrease sex drive, or inhibit ejaculation.
How can medications cause harm during pregnancy?
Medications can harm the pregnancy in several ways.
- Some are transported across the placenta and can interfere with the baby’s development.
- Others can damage the placenta and restrict the amount of nourishment delivered to the baby.
- Some can increase the risk of pregnancy complications or bring on premature labour.
- Others may have side effects like drowsiness that affect the baby around the time of birth.
It’s important to ask questions about any medications you are taking as you plan your pregnancy to get the right information about whether they are safe to continue, should be substituted, or should be stopped.
What about complementary and alternative medicines?
Non-prescription products that you can buy at the supermarket, pharmacy, health food store or online may not be safe for use during pregnancy.
Complementary medicines (also known as ‘traditional’ or ‘alternative’ medicines) include vitamin, mineral, herbal, aromatherapy and homeopathic products. Many complementary medicines have not undergone the same level of research as prescription and over-the-counter medicines. That’s why less is known about their effectiveness, possible side effects and whether they are safe to take in pregnancy.
What if I need to take medications?
While some medications have the potential to affect an unborn baby, not taking them can be more harmful to both you and your baby.
If you have a chronic medical condition and need medication to treat it, it is important to have your condition assessed while you are planning for, or during your pregnancy. Your doctor is the best person to assess your medical treatment. Sometimes changes are needed to ensure the best possible health for you and your baby.
Where can I get more information about the safety of medications?
Traditional sources of information about medications such as “product information” leaflets often don’t provide detailed information about use before or during pregnancy. Health professionals are the best source of information to guide you about the use of medications during pregnancy.
The following websites contain fact sheets regarding medication use in pregnancy:
- UK Teratology Information Society: https://www.medicinesinpregnancy.org/Medicine--pregnancy/ (based in the United Kingdom)
- MothertoBaby: https://mothertobaby.org/ (based in the United States)
Both websites contain fact sheets related to paternal medication exposures.
Furthermore, if you are planning a pregnancy or are currently pregnant and have questions about medications, you can contact any of the following:
- Lassi, Z., et al. (2014). Preconception care: caffeine, smoking, alcohol, drugs and other environmental chemical/radiation exposure. Reproductive Health, 11(Suppl 3), S6.
- Sharma, R., et al. (2013). Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: taking control of your fertility. [Review]. Reprod Biol Endocrinol, 11(66), 1477-7827.