My husband and I had dated for 9 months before getting engaged, and 12 months later we got married. The next natural step in our relationship was to try for a baby. We always did our best with maintaining our fitness routines and supporting a healthy diet, but when it came down to it, we didn’t really know how long it might take to get pregnant. We had always assumed that we could have a kid, but you never really know until you try. Before trying to get pregnant, I wondered how the medications that I was prescribed would impact my future baby.
In the U.S., about 2/3 women have been prescribed some sort of medication within the past 12 months. Through my research on medications that could impact pregnancy, I came across some surprising advice that (had I not seen), could have negatively impacted our baby. With so many women being prescribed medications, I thought it would be worthwhile to share my experience.
My Challenge with Coming Off Birth Control
When we finally decided that we wanted to try to have a baby, I was still taking oral birth control pills every day. I had been told my entire life that I could get pregnant if I forgot to take my pill just one time. I’m not saying that this cannot happen, but conceiving is much more complicated than that.
When you take oral birth control, you’re essentially tricking your body into thinking that it ovulated. By increasing your concentration of certain hormones, your body “thinks” you released an egg. This process of hormone control is an impressive technology, but coming off of this medication right when you finally want to have a kid is not ideal.
When you stop taking oral birth control, your body has to figure out how to get back into a regular menstrual cycle. Your body has to re-learn how to produce those hormones at the right time in the right quantity. Without the proper hormones being produced, you won’t ovulate. And if you don’t ovulate, you can’t get pregnant!
Every body is different, but for me, it took 3 months for my period to regulate. This was shocking to me, considering my menstrual cycle had been extremely consistent my entire life. For the first three months, I didn’t get a period at all. My doctor said that was normal, but then provided a prescription to “jump start” my cycles again. It worked! It took another 3 months for my menstrual cycle to get to a point where I could accurately predict my ovulation. 6 months may not feel like a long time, but when you’re finally ready to have a baby, waiting half-a-year to even get a chance to really try to get pregnant is so disappointing.
Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
Ibuprofen (sometimes classified as NSAIDs – Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs), when taken during early pregnancy, has been shown to result in more birth defects than for women who took acetaminophen (Tylenol). Since acetaminophen is not classified as anti-inflammatory, it does not have the same negative impacts on the unborn baby.
More research needs to be done in order to truly determine if it is the ibuprofen or the patient’s pre-existing conditions that cause the birth defects. To be on the safe side, it’s best to stay away from pain-relieving medications unless absolutely necessary. If you have the option between the two, always choose acetaminophen when trying to conceive.
My story: during my first month of pregnancy, I would get terrible headaches. I knew that acetaminophen was an option, but I was able to tough it out on most occasions. There were a couple times when I would take some medicine to help get through the pain. These subsided after the first trimester thankfully. It’s important to note if you have bad headaches beyond the 20 week mark, to let your doctor know about this as this could be a sign of a pregnancy complication called pre-eclampsia – one that you definitely want to be on the look out for!
ADHD Medications (Vyvanse, Adderall, Ritalin, etc.)
In a CDC study, the number of women that had taken ADHD medication during pregnancy nearly doubled from 1998 to 2011. With more women taking medication every year, it’s worth looking into any potential side-effects.
In their study, the CDC found that women who had taken ADHD medication during their pregnancy were more likely to have a baby with a birth defect than women who had not taken medication. That being said, the number of people that were included in the study was too low to make any concrete conclusions. More research is needed to fully understand the risks of ADHD medication during pregnant.
Full-disclosure: I have been prescribed Vyvanse to help manage my ADHD since I was a teenager. After reading the CDC results, I made the personal decision to ween myself off of my medication in the year before we started to try for a baby. This was by no means an easy process, but I didn’t want my actions to be the reason for a possible birth defect in our baby. This isn’t the right choice for everyone, so you should definitely talk to your doctor about the risks vs. benefits for your specific situation. This applies to medications for other mental health concerns, like anxiety and depression. These once were considered absolute “no’s” during pregnancy, but more doctor’s are seeing the impact of stress, anxiety, and depression in pregnancy as a reason to continue with medication. Again, this is entirely personal and is something you should discuss openly with a doctor you trust!
As with most medications during pregnancy, it is usually best to avoid them unless medically necessary.
Vitamins (Daily & Prenatal Medications)
Prenatal vitamins are critical for your baby’s development because they include many important compounds. Arguably the most important nutrient that you need is folic acid. Studies have shown that by increasing your folic acid concentrations before becoming pregnant, you reduce the chances of your child developing brain or spinal defects. Some great food sources of folic acid are green leafy vegetables and nuts. In the 3 months before starting to try to get pregnant, I started a high-quality prenatal vitamin and really focused on eating foods rich in folic acid and other key nutrients. If you are a vegetarian/vegan, we recommend working with a nutritionist prior to trying to conceive so that you can ensure your future baby has all the nutrients they need to grow. You absolutely can have a healthy pregnancy without meat, but it may take a little extra work and dietary focus!
Penn Medicine recommends starting to take prenatal vitamins at least one month prior to conceiving and at least the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy. However, it takes your body up to 4 months to absorb enough folic acid and stabilize. I ended up taking folic acid supplements for 6 months prior to conceiving.
In conclusion, it is usually best practice to take medications only when medically necessary. An example of a necessary medication would be thyroid hormone medication. Thyroid disease can dramatically increase your chances of having a miscarriage, so in this scenario, it would be a good idea to continue taking that medication.
Another example would be medication to control depression. Always work with your provider to identify what is necessary for your health and the health of your baby. Creating a medication plan before you become pregnant is the best way to ensure that you (and eventually your baby) remain as healthy as possible!
Do you have a personal story that you’d like to share with our community? Let us know in the comments below!