Improving Maternal and Child Health Outcomes by Examining Medication Use During Pregnancy

March 9, 2015

Medications are a daily part of life for millions of people. Whether they are supplements or prescriptions written by physicians, medications have been proven to help people sustain a healthy body or ward off unwanted illnesses and pain.

For pregnant women or women of reproductive age, prescription use is far more complicated.

Medications taken before or during pregnancy can incite health risks that impact birth outcomes, often before a pregnancy is confirmed. Furthermore, as of 2011, fewer than 10 percent of medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 1980 to 2010 have not been adequately studied to determine their impacts on birth defects.

As the nation prepares to observe National Poison Prevention Week beginning this upcoming Sunday, experts from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and other national public health organizations are raising awareness about poisoning and negative health outcomes potentially caused by medication use during pregnancy.

In October 2014, the Maternal and Child Health Journal published a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study that examined the frequency of prescription medication use among pregnant women and non-pregnant women between 1996 and 2006.

The study indicated 1 in 4 pregnant women between ages 15 – 44 reported using prescription medication in the last 30 days including insulin and antibiotics, as well as nausea, allergies and stomach condition medications. Another CDC study from 2011 found that between 1976 and 2008, women taking four or more medications during the first trimester of pregnancy more than doubled during that time.

“Medication use during pregnancy has increased over the past 30 years with up to 90 percent of women taking at least one medication during pregnancy,” said Seema Csukas, M.D, Ph.D., DPH Maternal and Child Health Section director. “While we know medications are sometimes needed during pregnancy, they also increase instances of poor birth outcomes. By gaining a better understanding of this issue, we can implement clinical practices that combat infant health conditions connected to medication use such as pre-term birth, low birth weight and spina bifida while optimizing the mother’s wellbeing.”

As part of its work to raise awareness about this issue, the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Development Disabilities (NCBDDD) launched Treating for Two. This initiative assists pregnant women and health providers in identifying safe treatment options through a three-pronged approach: better research, reliable guidance and informed decision.

Treating for Two aims to accelerate research studies on medication use and pregnancy outcomes, provide clinical guidance based on that research and share evidence-based information with health industry stakeholders to encourage more informed decision-making practices for pregnant women.

“Whether taking over-the-counter drugs or prescriptions, even one dose of a medication not taken as prescribed could have profound health impacts for pregnant women,” said Terri Miller, Safe to Sleep Campaign coordinator, DPH Injury Prevention Program, Division of Health Protection and Safety. “Through our public health programs and research efforts, we are working to help women and their physicians understand treatment options that minimize their risk for negative health and birth outcomes.”

National Poison Prevention Week is celebrated annually during the third week of March to raise awareness about the dangers of poisoning for adults and children. If you are concerned about poisoning in your community or would like more information about National Poison Prevention Week, contact the toll-free Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222 or visit

Visit the CDC online to learn more about medication use during pregnancy and the Treating for Two initiative.

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