Medications to avoid when pregnant

Doctors appointment during pregnancy.
Doctors appointment during pregnancy. 

Many over the counter and prescription medications are unsafe to take during pregnancy. These include medications for pain, flu, anti-acne or skin treatment preparations and those treating or protecting against certain infections.

While the best option when in doubt is to consult your doctor, here are some general guidelines as to the types of medications that are not suitable to take when pregnant:

Over the counter medications/products

  • Ibuprofen & Aspirin Tablets

These should be avoided. The Women’s and Children’s Health Network recommends that Paracetamol or those with added codeine is safe. Some pain medications come in the form of anti-inflammatory gels, most of these won’t be advised for pregnant women.

  • Cold & Flu tablets

MotherSafe advises that not all cold and flu tablets are safe.  Pharmacists will be able to give a definitive answer on which ones to avoid. They may also recommend other alternatives like nasal sprays or hot drink preparations containing Paracetamol.

  • Treatments for morning sickness

It is important to discuss the effect of nausea and vomiting with a doctor as over the counter medications, such as Pyridoxine and ginger tablets, even though deemed to be safe may not effectively control the morning sickness.

  • Acne and other skin preparations

Most acne creams are safe to use during pregnancy. However, skin preparations containing vitamin A should be avoided as this may cause birth defects in the developing foetus.

  • Oral Thrush tablets

These tablets, usually called Fluconazole are not recommended as the first line of treatment for pregnant women.

Prescription medications

While some prescription medications are unsafe during pregnancy, the Women’s and Children’s Health Network recommends that medications that have been prescribed for a chronic condition such as asthma should be continued. Your doctor may suggest a different medication that is safer in pregnancy, but stopping these medications altogether may cause more harm than good.

  • Antibiotics

Some types of antibiotics, such as Tetracyclines are best avoided after the 1st trimester. It is very important to advise your doctor if you think you may be pregnant, so that the right medication is prescribed.

  • Travel vaccinations

According to the Australian Immunisation Handbook, some travel vaccinations, such as most anti-malarial drugs should be avoided. Live viral vaccines such as Yellow fever and Varicella are usually contraindicated in pregnant women and should only be given to women who travel to endemic areas. Doctors may still advise to take these vaccines after weighing up the risks and benefits.

  • Hayfever/Allergies

Some prescription medications for hayfever and/or allergies are not recommended for pregnant women. Most commonly, corticosteroid nasal sprays are deemed to be safe in low doses, but owing to a lack of studies, a general recommendation of assessing the potential benefit versus the risks is recommended. A doctor may still prescribe some of these depending on the severity of the condition. Some antihistamines should not be taken in the third trimester as they may cause severe reactions in the newborn child.

  • Anti-depressants

Some anti-depressants are unsafe in pregnancy and studies show that specific ones such as those containing Paroxetine can cause birth defects in the baby if taken in the first trimester. As with all other medications, it is very important to discuss the suitability of all prescribed anti-depressants during pregnancy.

While there are some medications that may not be suitable at a particular stage of pregnancy, it may well be suitable at an earlier or later stage. Similarly, complications that arise in pregnancy may affect the suitability of a particular type of medication. While doctors and pharmacists should be your first point of contact, you could also ring the National Medicines Line to find out about the safety of the medication during pregnancy – 1300 MEDICINE.

For more on health during pregnancy, click here.

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