15 Medications You Shouldn't Take During Pregnancy

As a pregnant woman you are always bombarded with facts and bits of advice – some useful and some just downright confusing. People – regardless of their level of expertise on the subject – feel that it’s their God-given duty to impart their wisdom – or lack of it – which can be rather annoying and infuriating at times.

Many of these individuals take what they read and hear as gospel, despite not having a shred of evidence to support their statements. People telling you to do this, eat this, don’t do this, avoid this and that are just repeating what they’ve heard along the grapevine, so it can be difficult to know which statements are facts and how to separate these from the fiction. This occurs when it comes to pretty much every aspect of your pregnancy. But when it comes to medication, even what may seem like an innocuous, everyday drug, could have dire consequences for your fetus and pregnancy. Go to your doctor, tell him/her that you’re pregnant and you won’t receive medication that could potentially have damaging effects. But over-the-counter drugs are a different story. Medications that are available to purchase at the pharmacy or drug store aren’t necessarily safe for pregnant women, so always be confident that what you’re planning to put into your body is completely safe before you go ahead.

We’ve identified 15 medications that you should avoid taking during pregnancy, so steer clear of these drugs and medications that may pose a risk to the fetus and your health during the pregnancy.

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

15 Aspirin

This is one drug that pretty much everyone has in their medicine cabinets. When you have a fever, a headache, some form of pain, you whip out the aspirin and take a couple – it’s just common practice, right? Sure, but not when you’re pregnant.

Some people even take an aspirin a day – it reduces the risks of clots forming, and is used in therapy for heart attack patients, but take it during pregnancy and it could pose numerous complications, including congenital defects and it could cause the premature closure of your fetus’ heart vessel, something that could stop your fetus’ heartbeat. But these risks are only with high doses of aspirin.

Low-dose aspirin medication is actually recommended in certain instances and can be used to prevent pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia.

But it’s important to reiterate, when it comes to aspirin, it’s all about the dose you take. Consult your medical professional before you consider taking aspirin for any prolonged period of time.

14 Caffeine

Pregnant woman sitting with cup of coffee

You’ve probably heard this one; limit the amount of coffee you drink during your pregnancy. But caffeine isn’t just ingested in drink form while drinking your favourite brew. There are numerous types of caffeine based medications out there, caffeine in supplements, diet medication etc. in which caffeine is the main ingredient.

But why is it necessary to avoid caffeine medications? Caffeine is used in medication as a stimulant and as a diuretic, to speed up your heart rate which in turn increases blood pressure. In terms of its use as a diuretic, caffeine increases the need and frequency of urination which can lead to dehydration. Both aren’t great at the best of times, but during pregnancy they could have watched disastrous effects.

Your body has the capacity to metabolize caffeine, but your fetus isn’t yet fully developed and so can’t metabolize large quantities of caffeine. Think about it; you wouldn’t want your fetus’ heart to start pumping at the speed of light would you? Small amounts of caffeine are fine, but again, it’s all about the dose you take.

13 Castor Oil

Castor Oil is an over-the-counter product that can be used for skin medication. It’s commonly used to keep skin smooth and hydrated and can even prevent excess hair growth. But take it while you’re pregnant and it could actually induce labour. It has the effect of being a stimulant laxative which when taken can wreak havoc on your bowels and cause them to contract, but if pregnant it can actually go a step further and cause uterine contractions, which may induce early labor. Of course this can have dire consequences for your fetus if you’re still in the early stages of pregnancy and your fetus still hasn’t yet fully developed – your fetus needs to stay in the protective surrounding of your womb.

However, when the time is right, when you’re expecting and your delivery date is fast approaching, many mothers use Caster Oil to help stimulate contractions and induce labor. This isn’t recommended unless you’re doing so under your physician’s guidance.

12 Bismuth subsalicylate

Bismuth subsalicylate is commonly used for treating a range of different ailments from heartburn and stomach aches to nausea and diarrhoea (it firms up the stool). But taking bismuth subsalicylate when you’re pregnant is a big no no.

It’s unclear why pregnant women should steer clear from bismuth subsalicylate. The salicylates though in this medication have been associated with congenital birth defects and can be toxic to your fetus. Although there’s been nothing concrete to report from animal studies looking into the effects of bismuth subsalicylate on pregnancy (can’t investigate the effects of medications on pregnant women for obvious ethical reasons!), salicylates have been investigated and there are a number of risks associated with taking this compound.

Salicylates can also be secreted into breast milk, so steer of such medication throughout your entire pregnancy and when your baby’s been born and you begin breastfeeding. You don’t want any toxic chemicals to be ingested by your new-born.

11 Bromphen-iramine

Bromphen-iramine is an antihistamine that’s used in the treatment of common colds and various different allergies. But this drug has a number of side-effects, effects that wouldn’t really put you off using the medication, but if you’re pregnant it’s another issue. You’ve got to think, with things that wouldn’t really cause you too much discomfort, the effects will be more severe on your fetus.

Bromphen-iramine exerts its effects on the cholinergic system, effects that may include an increased heart rate and dehydration. We’ve already mentioned what risks these two effects could have for your fetus, but worryingly another side-effect can be long-term cognitive impairment. There’s no data to suggest this particular side-effect could cause cognitive impairment in your baby, but there’s a risk of it effecting you. Loss of cognitive function while you’re pregnant – or at any time for that matter – could cause a number of problems and affect the way you behave and treat your body whilst you’re pregnant, thus potentially affecting your baby. This is the worst case scenario, but if you’re pregnant, why take the risk? Steer clear of bromphen-iramine medications.

10 Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen is one of the world’s most commonly used painkillers. You don’t need a prescription to get your hands on Ibuprofen – it’s readily available from all pharmacies and drug stores and is used to treat a variety of different aches, pains and other ailments. It’s a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and can be taken in a range of different forms, capsules, gels, liquids etc.

But unless recommended by a doctor, you shouldn’t take this painkiller whilst pregnant. Ibuprofen has been shown to have teratogenic effects – that is an agent that can increase the risk of congenital malformations from occurring. It can also be secreted in breast milk which can be toxic for your little one, so Ibuprofen isn’t the painkiller that’s recommended whilst you’re pregnant. Paracetamol is the safer alternative – the lowest possible dose for the shortest amount of time to treat symptoms such as moderate pain and high temperature.

9 Naproxen

Naproxen is another NSAID, and is used to treat or relieve pretty much everything from aches and pains to inflammation and stiffness brought about by other conditions such as arthritis. There are a number of people who shouldn’t use Naproxen; those with histories of heart-related problems, stomach ulcers, bleeding, asthma should avoid Naproxen, and pregnant women also fall into this list.

Unless doing so on medical advice, you shouldn’t take Naproxen whilst pregnant. If you have a condition that needs to be treated with naproxen, taking a small dose for a short period in the middle of your pregnancy is unlikely to do any harm. But taking this drug within the first three months of falling pregnant can seriously harm the development of your fetus and can even cause miscarriage. Naproxen can also be excreted in breast milk, so breastfeeding mothers, beware of the dangers when it comes to naproxen medication.

8 Isotretinoin

This is an oral drug that’s used in the treatment of acne vulgaris – or acne to use the abbreviated term – something that the majority of us have encountered at some point or other in our youth. As I’m sure many of you can testify, acne really isn’t a pleasant skin condition to have, and sufferers will usually try anything and everything to make the debilitating skin disease clear up. Isotretinoin is just one of the many acne medications out there, but if you take isotretinoin whilst pregnant, it too can have some pretty nasty effects.

Isotretinoin can actually double the likelihood of birth defects from occurring and it could lead to cognitive impairment. The drug is considered teratogenic to humans – leading to malformations.

With the large amount of acne treatments available, there’s no reason why you should be taking Isotretinoin when you’re pregnant. Pick up an alternative instead after speaking to your doctor.

7 Hay fever

Hay fever can be a real pain to have to endure. Summer approaches and you want to spend as much time outside as possible, but the itchy eyes, runny nose and that clogged up feeling you get just makes spending time in the sun a real nightmare. Thank God for hay fever medication then. Certain people are allergic to certain types of pollen, and thankfully for hay fever sufferers, there’s something to cater to everyone. Most hay fever medicine is available over the counter at pharmacies, but if you’re pregnant, you may have to give these a miss.

The problem with hay fever and pregnancy is that there’s a lack of knowledge on the subject. But knowing what we know – such as hay fever medication affects the immune system which is already into overdrive because it’s attacking the allergen – it may affect your pregnancy, so it’s best not to risk anything that hasn’t been tried and tested.

Steroid nasal sprays are the way to go if you suffer from hay fever, because unlike the pills, only a trace amount will go into your bloodstream, and therefore be passed to the fetus.

6 Vaccinations

Certain vaccines are absolutely fine to take whilst pregnant as they’ll help protect you and your baby. For example, the whooping cough vaccine is actually recommended for pregnant women; it’s not a live vaccine meaning there’s absolutely no whooping cough being injected into your bloodstream. These types of vaccines are safe to take when you’re pregnant, as your body will produce protective antibodies which will be passed on to your fetus and then baby, protecting you and your baby from whooping cough.

It’s the live vaccines that need to be avoided during pregnancy. In live vaccines such as yellow fever or MMR, a small amount of the live virus is injected into the bloodstream so that the body builds up immunity to it and can protect itself if it encounters the virus in the future. Even though the viruses in live vaccines are genetically modified and weakened, because they’re still live, they pose a great deal of risk to yourself – due to your weakened immune system during pregnancy – and your fetus, as it can pass to your fetus through the bloodstream.

5 Antibiotics

The use of antibiotics is common place in today’s society, that’s because they can be used to treat a range of different bacterial infections, infections that can’t be fought off by the body’s immune system. Antibiotics can be prescribed in various different ways; creams and lotions, oral pills and capsules, and even in the form of an injection, but if you’re pregnant you’ve got to pay even greater attention to what you take.

We’re not telling you that all antibiotics are unsafe and should be avoided during pregnancy. Many are perfectly fine, and your doctor will have no problems prescribing them to you in certain circumstances. But there have been studies over the past decade that have linked the use of antibiotics during pregnancy to an increased risk of your baby developing cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Studies have also revealed that using antibiotics during pregnancy – especially in the third trimester – increases the likelihood of your baby developing breathing problems.

We’ve got to reiterate that these studies aren’t clear-cut, but just heed your doctor’s advice and don’t take antibiotics for any longer than the prescribed course of treatment.

4 Anticonvulsants

These drugs, as the name suggests, are taken to prevent people convoluting, as a treatment for seizures during epileptic fits for example, and can be used to treat certain mental health disorders. They’re a pretty essential form of treatment for such disorders, but for those who are pregnant, it’s essential to lay off the anticonvulsants during pregnancy.

There’s been an increasing amount of evidence suggesting that pregnant women on anticonvulsants have a greater risk of giving birth to babies with malformations – structural malformations that may also affect cognitive development which in turn could lead to mental health disorders such as autism.

But it’s kind of a catch-22 situation. If you suffer from epilepsy or one of the conditions mentioned above, you’re pregnant and have a seizure – because you’re not taking your anticonvulsant medication – the seizure itself could seriously harm your developing fetus. So what do you do? You’ve got to speak to your doctor and come up with an alternative – preferably a non-pharmacological form of treatment.

3 Anti-depressants

Used in the treatment of clinical depression, but also in OCD, PTSD and anxiety disorders, anti-depressants are often only prescribed when other forms of treatment have been exhausted, such as cognitive behavioural therapy. They exert their effects by increasing neurotransmitter activity in the brain – chemical messengers that transmit messages leading to increased production of serotonin and noradrenaline – mood stabilizers that can perk you up and help increase your emotional wellbeing.

But anti-depressants, in particular a group of these drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been linked to an increased risk of your baby developing autism. The exact mechanism as to how this works is unclear, but SSRIs can impact the development of the fetus by passing through the placenta, resulting in possible autism, other mental health disorders and birth defects. There are other drugs which are considered safe for you and your fetus, but speak to your doctor and explore other options – drug medication should always be used as a last resort in the treatment of depression.

2 Tranquilizers

Tranquilizers are commonly used to treat anxiety disorders; those who suffer from anxiety and fear are prescribed tranquilizers to essentially help calm them down, to help declutter the mind and reduce the physiological effects of the anxiety.

If you’re displaying some of the effects of anxiety and fear, without actually having the disorder, such as an increased heart rate, you may be prescribed a tranquilizer such as diazepam for a one-time treatment. There’s been no evidence to suggest that a one-off dose of diazepam or a similar drug will be detrimental to the development of your fetus or your body during your pregnancy. But taking a course of treatment is a different story. Tranquilizers have been associated with babies developing cleft lip and palate, especially if the medication is taken during the early stages of pregnancy. If taken in the weeks leading up to your due date, it’s also been associated with low birth weight and respiratory problems, so discuss alternative forms of medication or treatment with your doctor.

1 Herbal medication

Many people prefer to use herbal remedies – natural herbs to get vitamins and nutrients as an alternative to synthetic capsules and other forms of medication. Although you’ll see the word ‘natural’ on many of these products, it’s impossible for the consumer to know how natural these products actually are. Herbalists may shun synthetic forms of medication, but the fact is that these drugs and treatments have been extensively tried and tested, whereas in the majority of cases, herbal medication has not.

It’s because of this, because of the fact that many herbal medicines have been produced in the far east and haven’t been subjected to the same amount of scrutiny, that you should be very careful when taking herbal medication, even if it’s over-the counter stuff.

There’s nothing wrong with preferring natural alternatives, but when it comes to medicine, take the medication prescribed by your doctor; certainly don’t take herbal medicines instead of your prescription.

Sources: ScienceDirect.com, Biomedcentral.com, Nhs.uk, Pharmaceutical-journal.com 



More in Did You Know...