Don't Take Decongestants While Pregnant: Birth Defect Risk

Summer colds are a bummer. Summer colds while pregnant are the worst! Sore throat, coughing, runny nose, sinus headaches—ugh! Normally, the first thing you'd do is reach for the nearest decongestant. But if you're pregnant, don't! Recent findings show that the use of a decongestant during the first trimester of pregnancy may raise the risk of certain rare birth defects in your unborn child.

Over-the-counter medicines, including phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine (which are commonly used in products like Afrin, Mucinex, Sudafed, Dristan, etc.) are linked to rare birth defects of the digestive tract, ear and heart. Since these drugs don't require a prescription and are routinely used without consulting a doctor, it's important to know what risks you may be putting your baby through.

Dr. Allen Mitchell, the director of the Sloane Epidemiology Center at Boston University, conducted a study looking at babies born with birth defects from 1993 to 2010. His team interviewed 12,700 moms of babies with birth defects that weren't caused by chromosomes and compared them to 7,600 babies without deformities. Moms were asked what medications they took while pregnant and in the two months before becoming pregnant.

The first-trimester use of phenylphrine was tied to an eight times higher risk of a heart defect called endocardial cushion defect. And phenylpropanolamine was linked to an eight times higher risk of defects of the ear and stomach. Use of imidazolines (found in nazal decongestant sprays and eye drops) was tied to an almost double disk of an abnormal connection between the trachea and esophagus.

I must stress that these cases are rare. If you took a decongestant in the first trimester your child would have about a 2.7 in 1,000 chance of having a defect. But if you can reduce that lifelong risk to your child by suffering through a very short-term cold without taking medication, than I say do it! If women can get through natural childbirth, they can certainly survive an annoying cold!

TELL US: Did your OB warn you about taking decongestants while pregnant?

Image of a woman taking medicine courtesy of Shutterstock.

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