It is a myth that all medications should be banned during pregnancy and when breastfeeding. Because of that myth, many pregnant women are opposed to any form of medication and cope with discomforts for which effective and safe solutions exist.
How do I know?
What must be avoided at all costs during pregnancy and breastfeeding is self-medication, i.e. taking over-the-counter drugs without checking with your doctor or pharmacist if they are suitable for your situation. Prescribed drugs taken before becoming pregnant should also be given special attention, as they may not be adapted to your new condition and could have adverse effects on your health and that of your foetus.
Ema Ferreira, pharmacist at CHU Sainte-Justine and clinical professor at the Université de Montreal (Louis-Boivin family pharmaceutical Chair) was actively involved in the drafting of the Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Pocket Guide, which advises on drugs and other commonly used products. This useful guide addresses a real need, as many pregnant women and nursing mothers are unduly suffering from ailments for which solutions are available, while others think it is safe to use any product that is freely available. Ms. Ferreira says that we should always ask questions before taking or rejecting a medication. "There is a misconception that all drugs are dangerous, yet some are safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The most important thing is to talk to your health-care professional before taking any medication. The doctor can advise, of course, but also the pharmacist who should be informed that you are pregnant or breastfeeding.”
Are there medications that must imperatively be banished from a pregnant woman’s pharmacy?
"There is no general rule. Each woman’s overall health must be taken into account before making such a decision," says Ema Ferreira, who also added that a pharmacist should be consulted before using multivitamins or analgesics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Ms. Ferreira explained that many OTC products (products for fever and pain, for example) already contain acetaminophen, and their combination with another source of acetaminophen could be dangerous. "Your pharmacist will be able to advise you on the dosage, combinations and products that would be better for your health during pregnancy. In general, it is not recommended to use multi-symptom products. You should rather use the specific medication that you actually need."
Eight pregnant women out of 10 suffer from nausea during the first trimester of pregnancy. While most of the time, nausea is mild and fades quickly, it can become a serious health issue for others. "There are solutions to treat severe nausea and women should not wait to be in a really bad state before consulting. If you can’t eat, if you lose weight, if you have trouble doing your normal activities, see your doctor. If your follow-up appointment is too far back in time, see your pharmacist who could have a collective prescription or could, under the new law, prescribe a medicine against severe nausea" Ema Ferreira told us, adding that in some regions of Quebec, nurses also have these collective prescriptions and can therefore relieve you. "Don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare professional if your nausea is "normal". You don’t have to endure severe nausea and think that it is a normal side effect of pregnancy! "
Natural products and multivitamins
Natural products that you used before pregnancy or that were recommended by an acquaintance in good faith must also be validated: they are not all safe, far from it! So, before choosing multivitamins or any other natural product, ask a healthcare professional to advise you based on your health, the progress of your pregnancy, the effectiveness of the product and, more importantly, its safe use.
Special thanks to Ema Ferreira, pharmacist at CHU Sainte-Justine and clinical professor at the Université de Montreal (Louis-Boivin family pharmaceutical Chair) for her help in writing this article.