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Smoking, alcohol and drugs

  • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs during pregnancy.
  • These can cause lifelong health problems for your baby.
  • If you need help to quit, tell your health care provider.
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Prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, supplements and herbal products

Most women take some kind of drug or medicine during pregnancy to treat a health condition. For example, you may take a drug to treat a headache or a runny nose. Or you may need a drug to treat a long-term health condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure. It’s OK to take a drug or medicine during pregnancy if your health care provider says it’s OK. 

Not all drugs, herbal products or supplements are safe to take during pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, talk to your provider to make sure what you’re taking is safe for you and your baby.

Are prescription drugs safe to take during pregnancy? 

Some prescription drugs are safe to take during pregnancy, but not all. A prescription is an order for medicine given by a health care provider. Prescription drugs are used to treat all kinds of health conditions. About 7 in 10 pregnant women (70 percent) take at least one prescription drug during pregnancy. 

If you’re pregnant, talk to your provider about any prescription drug you take. Don’t stop taking a prescription drug without talking to your provider first. Don’t use any prescription drug unless it’s prescribed for you by a health care provider who knows that you’re pregnant.   

Some prescription drugs can cause birth defects if you take them during pregnancy. A birth defect is a health condition that is present at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, in how the body develops, or in how the body works. If you’re pregnant and taking any of these drugs, tell your provider immediately. You may need to stop taking it or switch to a different drug or dose that’s safe for your baby. It’s best to talk to your provider about all the drugs that you take before you get pregnant.

  • ACE Inhibitors (enalapril or captopril)
  • Androgens and testosterone by-products
  • Anti-cancer drugs
  • Anti-folic acid drugs, like methotrexate or aminopterin
  • Carbamazepine
  • Lithium
  • Phenytoin
  • Retinoids, including Accutane®, Amnesteem®, ClaravisTM and Sotret® (isotretinoin)
  • Revlimid® (lenalidomide)
  • Soriatane® (acitretin)
  • Streptomycin and kanamycin
  • Tetracycline
  • Thalomid® (thalidomide)
  • Trimethadione and paramethadione
  • Valproic acid
  • Warfarin (Coumadin® and Jantoven® )

What is prescription drug abuse?

Prescription drug abuse is when you use a prescription drug in a way other than ordered by a health care provider. Prescription drug abuse is a serious and growing problem. Nearly 1 out of 5 people in the United States say they abuse prescription drugs. 

Abusing prescription drugs during pregnancy can cause serious problems for both you and your baby. If you’re pregnant and you abuse prescription drugs, tell your health care provider right away. She can help you get treatment to quit abusing these drugs. 

Are over-the-counter drugs safe to take during pregnancy?

It depends. The label on most over-the-counter (also called OTC) medicines tell pregnant women to talk to their provider before using. This is because some OTC medicines may cause certain health problems during pregnancy. For example, the pain reliever aspirin (such as Bayer®) may increase the risk of bleeding problems during pregnancy or childbirth. The pain reliever ibuprofen (such as Advil®) can cause serious blood flow problems to your baby during the last 3 months of pregnancy. 

Most pregnant women can take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol®) to relieve pain if they follow the directions on the product label. But taking too much can lead to liver damage. Talk to your provider before taking any over-the-counter medicine to be sure it’s safe for you and your baby.

Are supplements safe to take during pregnancy?

A supplement is a product you take to make up for certain nutrients that you don’t get enough of in the foods you eat. For example, you may take a vitamin supplement to help you get more vitamin B or C. Or you may take an iron or calcium supplement. 

All pregnant women should take a prenatal vitamin with 600 micrograms of folic acid in it every day. Most prenatal vitamins contain this amount. But talk to your provider before taking any other kind of supplement. Some supplements may have too much or too little of the nutrients you need. And some may not be safe to take during pregnancy.

Are herbal products safe to take during pregnancy?

An herbal product is made from herbs. An herb is a plant that is used in cooking or for medicine. Examples are green tea and Gingko biloba.

We’re not sure if herbal products are safe for pregnant women. There’s very little research on how they may affect pregnancy. So it’s best not to use them while you’re pregnant. 

Last reviewed November 2013

Things to avoid

  • Alcohol, in any quantity
  • Smoking and secondhand smoke
  • Herbs or supplements not OK with your doctor
  • Medicines obtained without prescription
Talk with your doctor about all the medicines you take.

Most common questions

Can I keep taking all my prescriptions during pregnancy?

It depends on the drug. Tell your prenatal care provider about any prescription drugs you take. Some drugs may be harmful to a growing baby. You may need to stop taking a drug or switch to a drug that's safer for your baby. Don't take anyone else's prescription drugs. And don't take any prescription drug unless your prenatal care provider knows about it.

I drank before I knew I was pregnant. Is my baby hurt?

It's unlikely that an occasional drink before you realized you were pregnant will harm your baby. But the baby's brain and other organs begin developing around the third week of pregnancy, so they could be affected by alcohol in these early weeks. The patterns of drinking that place a baby at greatest risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are binge drinking and drinking seven or more drinks per week. However, FASDs can and do occur in babies of women who drink less. Because no amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy, a woman should stop drinking immediately if she even suspects she could be pregnant. And she should not drink alcohol if she is trying to become pregnant.

Is it OK to drink wine in my third trimester?

No amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy. To ensure your baby's health and safety, don't drink alcohol while you're pregnant. Alcohol includes beer, wine, wine coolers and liquor. If you need help to stop drinking alcohol, tell your health care provider.

Have questions?