How Drugs Cause Birth Defects

Unless medically necessary for the health and welfare of the mother or child, doctors typically recommend that pregnant women not take any prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications. The reason is this: Studies show that as many as 10 percent of all birth defects are caused by medications taken during pregnancy.

If you are pregnant or may become pregnant and you have not spoken with your doctor about potential risks associated with your current medications, you should do so right away. While some prescription drugs and OTC medications may be fine to take during pregnancy, you should speak with your doctor to be sure about your specific regimen.

What are the risks presented by taking medications during pregnancy?

Prescription and OTC medications cause birth defects in three primary ways. When they cause defects, they are referred to as “teratogens.” Teratogens can result in impairments and abnormalities due to:

  •       Causing direct damage to the fetus
  •       Compromising the placenta
  •       Triggering forceful uterine contractions

Each of these has its own set of potential complications. Direct damage, for example, can cause abnormalities such as spinal defects, cleft palate, and intellectual disabilities. Compromising the placenta causes the fetus to receive a reduced supply of oxygen and nutrients. This commonly leads to underdevelopment, which is a risk factor for birth defects. Forceful contractions can cause injuries and premature birth – which also present developmental risks.

When are medications most dangerous?

Medications are most likely to cause birth defects between the third and eighth weeks following fertilization. This is the time when the baby’s organs and systems are developing, and teratogens can have a significant impact at this stage. After the first twelve weeks (the end of the first trimester), OTC and prescription drugs are less likely to cause significant defects. However, it is possible for certain medications to cause problems at any time during the pregnancy.

What if I’m pregnant and need medication?

If you are pregnant and need medication, your doctor may be able to prescribe drugs that are safer for you to take during pregnancy. For example, women with diabetes who take hypoglycemic medications may be switched to insulin – as the latter is less likely to interfere with your baby’s development. Likewise, penicillin is considered to be a relatively safe antibiotic for pregnant women, while other antibiotics are known to cause serious harm.

Your OB-GYN should ask what medications you are taking at your pre-pregnancy check-up or during you first pregnancy examination. However, it never hurts to be prepared, so consider bringing your medications with you to your appointment. If you visit another doctor while you are pregnant, be sure to let him or her know that you are expecting a baby before they prescribe any new medications. With proper medical care, birth defects due to medication errors can be easily avoided.

Speak with a Birth Defect Lawyer Today

The attorneys at Carey, Danis & Lowe represent victims of medical malpractice in Missouri and Illinois. To schedule a free consultation, contact us today.

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