Taking Drugs in Pregnancy

By Dr. Okechukwu Amako, MBBS (Ibadan)
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Pregnancy is a normal condition, but many factors can make it abnormal both for the mother and the unborn baby. One of such factors is drugs. Pregnancy is a very delicate period because that is when the foundation of a new life is laid. Drugs are chemical compounds which can be poisonous to life at this early phase in the womb because many drugs can cross the placenta from the mother's blood and enter the blood circulation of the unborn baby. This is the reason doctors advise that pregnant women avoid taking drugs unless there is a very strong indication for it and a doctor has assessed the woman to prescribe the medications.

No matter how harmless a drug may sound, like vitamin supplements, every pregnant woman should ask her doctor before taking them. Some medications exert much of their harmful effects at certain stages in pregnancy so taking a seemingly harmless one like a vitamin may cause harm if the pregnancy is at the stage where this supplement has the greatest potential of being harmful.

Also, being guided by a doctor about taking a needed medication while pregnant will ensure the woman takes such a medication for the medically recommended duration and at the right dosage to prevent taking it longer than recommended or taking an overdose.

While the ideal objective is to avoid drugs throughout pregnancy for the sake of the unborn baby, there are situations that may require the woman to take medications and some medications have been found to be beneficial to the healthy development of crucial areas in the baby such as the brain and the spinal cord.

1. Before a woman becomes pregnant, like 3 months before she starts having sex without contraception with her husband, one of the things a doctor will recommend for her, if she goes for preconception care, is folic acid supplements.

Folic acid helps in the proper development of structures in the baby that go on to form the brain and the spinal cord. Taking this supplement before pregnancy and continuing it in pregnancy till around the 12th week as directed by the doctor will lower the risk of the unborn baby developing any defect in the brain or spinal cord region.

2. One of the medications an obstetrician and gynaecologist will recommend for pregnant women in this part of the world is what is known as intermittent preventive therapy in pregnancy (IPT) for malaria. This is because malaria is very common here and the malaria parasites can be harmful (anaemia in the woman, premature delivery, baby have low birth weight) to both the mother and her unborn baby if the mother is not proactively treated against malaria.

IPT consists of sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine) tablets which are given to the pregnant woman at each routine antenatal clinic visit (which the woman will be expected to take in the clinic in some cases), beginning from the second trimester (from the 13th week onwards).

3. The pregnant woman will likely receive immunisation for tetanus about 3 times during pregnancy, getting the first dose on the first antenatal clinic visit, the second dose 4 weeks after this first dose, and the third dose 6 months after receiving the secon dose.

4. If a pregnant woman has medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes or epilepsy which are known to adversely affect the unborn baby, her obstetrician and gynaecologist will plan the management of her pregnancy with other specialist doctors who are experts in treating these conditions. These will ensure the woman is placed on the necessary medications and that both the woman and her baby are continuously followed up and monitored to minimise the risks associated with the medications.

Pregnant women should always consult their doctors before taking any drugs.

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Published Wednesday, May 24th 2017

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