National Birth Defects Prevention Month Spotlights Medication Use During Pregnancy

Contact: Kelly L. Niebel (517) 241-2112
Agency: Community Health

January 18, 2011 In recognition of January as National Birth Defects Prevention Month, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) is encouraging women of childbearing age to talk with their doctor about which medications are safe to take while pregnant.

More than 350 members of the National Birth Defects Prevention Network are sharing this message because medication use during pregnancy is common.

"A baby's organs, such as the heart, brain, and spine begin developing very early in pregnancy, even before a woman may realize she is pregnant. That is why it is important for women to have conversations with their health care providers about medications before they become pregnant," said Dr. Greg Holzman, Chief Medical Executive of the MDCH.

Two out of every three women take prescription medications during pregnancy. While most women use medications to treat chronic conditions that may impact pregnancy, many also take over-the-counter medicines and may not be aware of potential problems they pose during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

According to the 2008 Michigan Prenatal Risk Assessment Monitoring System, 1 out of 10 pregnant women in Michigan do not discuss medications they are taking with their health care providers.

"Women of childbearing age should discuss any medications they are using, whether prescription or over-the-counter, with their doctor," said Joan Ehrhardt, MDCH Birth Defects Program Coordinator. "Though many women know that certain prescription medications can cause birth defects, they may not be aware that some dietary supplements and herbal remedies may not be safe during pregnancy."

Some medications should be continued during pregnancy but may need to be changed or adjusted. Medical conditions such as diabetes, influenza, and asthma need to be managed during pregnancy and may harm both mother and baby if left untreated. In some cases, doctors may need to weigh the benefits of a medication against potentially harmful effects. It is recommended that a pregnant woman does not stop taking a medication until she has discussed these issues with her health care provider.

In addition to making any needed changes in medication, every woman should take a multivitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid daily, starting before pregnancy, to improve the likelihood of delivering a healthy baby. Pregnant women also should eat a healthy diet, avoid alcohol and smoking, and get a flu shot.

The MDCH Birth Defects Program works with many prevention partners, including the March of Dimes; Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies; and the National Birth Defects Prevention Network to identify preventable birth defects and educate individuals, communities and professionals about prevention strategies.

To learn more, please contact the MDCH Birth Defects Program at (866) 852-1247 or Information also is available at or