Drugs can have beneficial or harmful effects not only on a pregnant mother but also on her unborn child.
If drugs — including tobacco, alcohol, everyday medicines such as painkillers, as well as prescribed medicines and illegal drugs — are taken by the mother they are passed on to the fetus through the placenta.
The effect that drugs have on an unborn child depends on factors such as the amount taken, the stage of pregnancy and also on the mother’s individual body makeup. A baby is at greatest risk during the first three months of pregnancy so be extra careful at this stage.
In some cases, your doctor may decide it is better for your health and your baby’s to prescribe you certain drugs but only your doctor can make that decision.
The greatest precaution a woman can take by herself to ensure the best outcome of her pregnancy is to give up smoking for the whole pregnancy. However, stopping smoking at any stage will benefit the baby. Partners should also stop smoking because it is just as easy to absorb smoke in the air which is in turn passed to the baby.
Normal weight gain and development of a baby depend on a good oxygen supply. Nicotine and carbon monoxide cut down the supply and retard a baby’s growth.
Smoking mothers take higher risks with their pregnancy and the chance of problems occurring to you increases with the number of cigarettes that you smoke each day.
It is now thought that a regular intake of more than a small amount of alcohol (more than two standard drinks a day) can cause damage to a developing baby. Regular and heavy drinking, especially in the first three months, may cause mental retardation and slow physical growth.
The main drug in coffee, tea, cola and chocolate drinks is caffeine, but you have no reason to worry about tea and coffee if you drink normal amounts.
However, some research has found a link between caffeine and miscarriage when 600mg or more is consumed daily. The amount of caffeine in tea and coffee varies, but on average this amounts to six cups of percolated coffee, eight cups of instant coffee and 12 cups of medium strength tea. If you regularly drink more than this, then cut down.
A good balance of vitamins and minerals is very important during pregnancy but too much or too little of certain vitamins may harm your baby. The ones to be careful of overdoing are the fat-soluble vitamins — A, D, E and K. Also, large doses of vitamin C (more than 1000mg daily) should be avoided as problems sometimes arise when the baby’s supply of vitamin C is reduced at birth.
A nutritious and balanced diet including green and yellow vegetables and normal exposure to sunshine will give you all the vitamins and minerals you require. The only supplements that may be necessary are folic acid and iron so ask your doctor about this.
Everyday medicines can include cough medicines, diet pills, antihistamines and laxatives. Because they are easy to obtain they are not usually thought of as drugs but some of them are suspected of being harmful during pregnancy if taken in large doses.
Try to avoid antihistamines, which are in some cough medicines, and allergy tablets, especially during the first three months of pregnancy.
To be on the safe side, always ask your chemist when buying medicines to recommend a brand that is safe for pregnancy, read the contents on labels, and try natural remedies such as a diet with plenty of fiber.
Pains such as backache and headache are common during pregnancy but before turning to painkillers try some drug-free remedies first.
- To ease headaches ask someone to massage the tense muscles at the back of your neck.
- Put your feet up more and rest or have a short nap during the day.
- Avoid drinking tea or coffee and other things that contain caffeine as they make headaches worse.
- Ask about relaxation techniques for backaches and special back exercises at pre-natal classes.
Prescribed medicines include tranquilizers, sleeping pills, antihistamines, antibiotics, tablets to treat vaginal infections, vaccinations, drugs for epilepsy and diabetes.
Certain drugs that were prescribed for you before you were pregnant and which were safe to take then may not be safe now. Before taking them ask your doctor whether they are safe to use during pregnancy.