By Jennifer Dawson

Which medications should you avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding, unless prescribed by a medical professional?

76.4% of UK women reported using medication, either prescribed or over-the-counter (OTC), to treat at least one of the eight most common pregnancy conditions. While pregnancy will present plenty of symptoms that will make you want to reach for some remedies in the hope of relief, not all medications are safe during pregnancy or if you’re breastfeeding, including over-the-counter ones. Learn what to avoid and whether you should continue medications for certain conditions for a happy and healthy pregnancy.

During Your Pregnancy

Painkillers are a common drug found in most people’s homes and it’s almost instinct to reach for them when experiencing aches and pains during pregnancy. However, codeine has been found to cause withdrawal symptoms in babies, Aspirin is a blood-thinner that has been linked to placental abruption and can affect the baby’s growth and Ibuprofen can lead to miscarriages, delayed labour and haemorrhaging. The NHS says that paracetamol is usually safe to take, but consult your GP or midwife first. Anti-allergy medications and OTC cold remedies should also be avoided, and instead increase your fluid intake. Heartburn, indigestion and an upset stomach are all common in pregnancy, but medications to treat them should be avoided. Instead, alter your diet, drink plenty and eat little and often to try to combat these conditions.

Which medications should you avoid during pregnancy

Should You Stop Current Medication?

The answer to this really depends on the medication you’re taking and what would happen if you stopped taking it. In 2017, it was reported that Sodium Valproate, a drug used to treat epilepsy, had a 10% increased risk of causing birth defects and a 40% risk of developmental problems. Shockingly, 1 in 6 were not made aware of the risks. In contrast, researchers from the University of Oxford have found that it can be dangerous to stop medications, particularly for epilepsy or severe mental illnesses, and medication doses should be adjusted to find a happy medium or an alternative medication should be used instead. It’s also been revealed that not much research has been done into medications effects during pregnancy and a lot of advice is based on using a known safe alternative, rather than taking a risk.

While You’re Breastfeeding

In general, most medications are safe to take while breastfeeding. That being said, a small amount of any drug you take can pass onto your child through your milk, but the amounts are very low and shouldn’t be unsafe to take. You should always speak to you GP or a pharmacist before taking anything if you’re not sure. A few medications that you should always avoid include Codeine Phosphate, nasal decongestants and Aspirin, unless prescribed. Antihistamines for allergy symptoms should also be discussed with your GP before taking.

While it is ultimately up to you what medications you decide to take throughout your pregnancy and during breastfeeding, it’s important to have all the information to be able to make an informed decision. If you’re ever unsure, always consult with your GP, midwife or a pharmacist before taking any medication.