Something we’re commonly asked is whether a prescription, over-the-counter, vitamin or herbal medicine is safe to use during pregnancy.
Medication use in pregnancy is based on assessing the risk of the medication against the risk of not treating the medical condition or symptoms for both the pregnant woman and fetus.
In some cases, if a woman ceases her chronic illness medication during pregnancy, she will be putting herself and her baby at greater risk than if she continues to take that medication. It’s therefore important to discuss your use of any prescription medicines during pregnancy with your doctor, rather than simply stopping them out of fear.
The Australian categorisation system for prescribing medicines in pregnancy categorises medicines based on their risk. There are five categories, ranging from A (drugs which have been taken by a large number of pregnant women and women of childbearing age without any proven increase in the frequency of malformations or other direct or indirect harmful effects on the fetus) to X (drugs which have such a high risk of causing permanent damage to the fetus that they should not be used in pregnancy or when there is a possibility of pregnancy).
When multiple medication options exist for a condition, such as pain or an infection requiring treatment with antibiotics, a Category A medicine is the preferred option in pregnancy.
In between these two extremes, it can sometimes be difficult to compare risk because the categories don’t work on a strictly hierarchical basis and medicines within the same category don’t all carry a similar risk.
The categories also don’t cover complementary medicines and don’t consider factors such as the stage of pregnancy. This complexity highlights the need to speak to your health professional, who can balance the risks and benefits of particular medications for your own circumstances.
Equally, it’s a good idea to discuss any over-the-counter, herbal or vitamin medication with your doctor or pharmacist. Members of the public and health professionals can also contact the specialised Medicines Information Service at King Edward Memorial Hospital (6458 2723 weekdays 8.30am-5pm).
For more information on the Origins Project or to find out how you can get involved, visit originsproject.telethonkids.org.au.
Stephanie Dimitrov-Zeller is a pharmacist with Telethon Kids Institute, which is part of the Origins Project.
The Origins Project, a collaboration led by the Telethon Kids Institute and Joondalup Health Campus, is a long-term study into the health and development of 10,000 children expected to be born at Joondalup Health Campus over the next few years.
In this regular series, Community News features an Origins researcher explaining the project’s research or health issues that matter to parents and families.