Timing is everything, especially when it involves a pregnant woman taking medication. The article in the New York Times by Jane Brody reminded me of the countless discussions I’ve had with pregnant women about the need for exercising precaution when taking medicine in the first trimester. The conversation usually occurs as a result of a visit to the emergency room (ER) where the patient is treated for a non-life threatening illness such as a urinary tract infection. Quite often, the patient is very early in her pregnancy and recently discovered that she’s pregnant. In a knee-jerk response, the ER doc gives her a prescription for antibiotics and then advises her to see her physician or midwife as soon as possible and when the patient arrives, I cringe. “Did the ER doc know that you were pregnancy?” I would often ask to which the patient will say “Yes.” “And he still gave you the prescription?” OMG.
The first 12 weeks of pregnancy are critical, especially during weeks 6 to 10 when the brain and nervous system are developing. This is not the time that you want your developing baby to be exposed to substances that could potentially harm it.
Brody discusses the Thalidomide tragedy that resulted in severely deformed babies. Pregnant women were prescribed Thalidomide to help them sleep not knowing that it produced absent legs and arms. I remember seeing pictures in the newspapers as a young child and feeling horrified. Here’s what’s also horrifying: 79% of medicines made in the U.S. from 2000 to 2010 did not have any studies documenting their safety in babies according to Brody’s article. Also be careful about taking medicines over-the-counter. Don’t assume their safe because they may or may not be. Ibuprofen is not safe to take during pregnancy because it causes problems with fluid around the baby.
Before taking any medicine, especially during the first trimester, please consult with your physician or midwife. A great resource that will help you decide whether a drug is safe during pregnancy are the fact sheets produced by the Organization of Teratology Specialists (aka) OTIS that is available online. Please use it. It could mean the difference between having a normal baby, or one born with problems.
Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mom who knows what to do.