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Medication Use During Pregnancy

Medication use during pregnancy is fairly common. Understanding the effects of specific medications used during pregnancy is important for both the mother and her baby. We know that taking certain medications, such as thalidomide or isotretinoin, during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects. Such medications should be avoided by all women who are or might become pregnant. While some medications are known to be harmful when taken during pregnancy, the safety of most medications taken by pregnant women has been difficult to determine. Better information on the safety or risks of specific medications will allow women and their doctors to make informed decisions about treatment during pregnancy.

Recently, researchers from Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center, in collaboration with researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Harvard School of Public Health, published a new study describing medication use during pregnancy in the United States during the period 1976–2008. They analyzed data from the Slone Epidemiology Center Birth Defects Study from 1976-2008 to look at medication use over time and data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study from 1997-2003 to look at characteristics of mothers who reported medication use during pregnancy.

Data from the study showed that overall use of medications during pregnancy has increased during the last 30 years. During that time, the majority of pregnant women took at least one prescription medication during pregnancy. This study underscores the need for future research on the risks or safety of these medications during pregnancy.

Please Remember:

Pregnant women should not stop or start taking any type of medication that they need without first talking with a doctor. Women who are planning to become pregnant should discuss the need for any medication with their doctor before becoming pregnant and ensure they are taking only medications that are necessary.

For More Information About Medications and Pregnancy


Mitchell AA, Gilboa SM, Werler MM, Kelley KE, Louik C, Hernandez-Diaz S, and the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Medication use during pregnancy, with particular focus on prescription drugs: 1976-2008. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2011;205:51.e1-8.

Chart: Medication Use During Pregnancy

Chart: Medication use during pregnancy has increased during the past 30 years

More Information

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  • Page last reviewed: January 9, 2012
  • Page last updated: January 11, 2012
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs