Research on Medicines and Pregnancy

Group of scientists studying health data

CDC and partners study medicine use in pregnancy to understand how specific medicines might affect pregnancy. Results of these studies provide better information on the safety and risks of using specific medicines before, during, and after pregnancy. This information supports an individual’s ability to weigh the risks and benefits of medicines and make decisions about treatment options based on the best available information.

Studying Medicine Use in Pregnancy

We know little about the effects of taking most medicines in pregnancy, because pregnant people are often not included in studies that determine the safety of new medicines. However, listed below are a few ways CDC and other researchers work to find out more about the effects a medicine might have when taken during pregnancy.

Studies from the Centers for Birth Defects Research and Prevention

CDC funds the Centers for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, a collaborative group of research centers across the nation that are conducting large studies, such as the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (births 1997-2011) and the Birth Defects Study to Evaluate Pregnancy exposureS (BD-STEPS) (2014-present). These studies work to

  • Identify factors that may increase the risk for birth defects and
  • Answer questions about medicines taken during pregnancy.

Commonly used medications that CDC has studied included antihistamines, over-the-counter pain medicines, and various types of antidepressants. Notable findings from our work are used to help update guidelines and recommendations for medication use during pregnancy.

Adverse Event Reports

Drug companies are required to report problems with medicines to the FDA. Healthcare professionals, researchers, and the public, including pregnant people, can report suspected problems directly to the FDA MedWatch Program.

Pregnancy Registries

Pregnancy registries are systems for tracking outcomes in pregnant people who take a particular medicine or receive a particular vaccine.  After these people give birth, researchers compare the health of their babies to the health of the babies of people who didn’t take the medicine. Pregnancy registries are a useful way to study the effects of a particular medicine and gather health information during pregnancy and after delivery. For a list of current pregnancy registries and how to enroll in them, visit the FDA Pregnancy Registry website.

Are you a healthcare professional?

You play an important role in reviewing safety information and making shared decisions with your patients about treatments before, during, and after pregnancy.

  • Before prescribing medicines to a person of reproductive age, ask them if they are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant. If they are not planning a pregnancy, discuss effective birth control options.
  • Discuss current medicines with your patients, especially people who are newly pregnant, those who are planning a pregnancy, and those who could become pregnant during the course of treatment. Include prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as well as vitamins, supplements, and dietary or herbal products in your discussion.
  • Work with your patients to ensure that they are taking only what is necessary.
  • Emphasize to patients that borrowing prescription medicines from others could harm them or their developing baby.