Are Pregnant Women Avoiding Medicine During Pregnancy for No Reason?

A new study looks at why women are avoiding taking medicines while pregnant, even when they shouldn't.
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When I was pregnant, the only medication I ever took was Tums for heartburn. I was scared to put anything else in my body because I believed it might harm my developing baby. So, I suffered through life-altering nausea, chronic back and sciatica pain, and plenty of other potentially treatable pregnancy-related ailments.

Now a new study, "Women's beliefs about medication use during their pregnancy: a UK perspective," published in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy, confirms I'm far from alone. In fact, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in England, pregnant women often overestimate the risks of taking over-the-counter and prescription medication for symptoms such as nausea, heartburn, and aches and pains, and therefore don't take them.

Of course, moms-to-be are warriors and can cope with some discomfort, but researchers say they are also not treating potentially serious problems like UTIs, which can cause significant complications and even harm a fetus if left untreated.

Researchers looked at 1,120 volunteers who self-reported which common pregnancy-related maladies they experienced, including constipation, colds, urinary tract infections, neck and pelvic pains, headaches, and sleeping problems. Yep, sounds like pregnancy!

The women were also asked whether they thought medications that treat these conditions were harmful or beneficial, and what medicines they purposefully avoided during pregnancy.

Michael Twigg, Ph.D., one of the study's authors and a research fellow at UEA's School of Pharmacy, revealed some study findings in a press release. "We found that just over three quarters of the women used some form of medication to treat at least one common condition experienced during pregnancy," he said, adding, "Relatively few took medication for nausea, constipation, or sleeping problems." Dr. Twigg said these types of symptoms can be relieved by adjusting one's diet and lifestyle.

"We also found that a large number of women thought that taking paracetamol (acetaminophen) during pregnancy was risky and would avoid it. It is however perfectly safe," he explained.

Other findings included:

  • 72 percent of the women reported deliberately avoiding certain medicines during pregnancy including paracetamol, ibuprofen, cough and cold remedies, antihistamines, and nasal decongestants due to the fear it could harm their babies.
  • 50 percent of the women said they used the Internet to source medical information. Pharmacists were another source of information.

"What this all shows us is that women need more information about the safety of medications during pregnancy to encourage them to treat conditions effectively. Understanding women's concerns is also essential to promote adherence to prescribed medications during pregnancy," Dr. Twigg said.

The takeaway: If you are pregnant, and dealing with severe pain or discomfort, it may be worth talking to your doctor about treatment options.

My take, however, is that it's best to avoid as many medications as possible because what we understand to be safe today can always change with more research. Besides, most women don't expect their pregnancies to be pleasant at every moment. That being said, if you experience discomfort or pain outside the scope of the occasional stuffy nose or indigestion, don't suffer for no reason! Your misery isn't good for your baby, either.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.

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