Having a disease shouldn’t mean you can’t have a child. And being pregnant shouldn’t prevent you from getting treatment. However, there is still a big knowledge gap on pregnancy and medicine.
Where information exists, it is fragmented, difficult to find as well as understand and sometimes contradictory.
Attitudes to taking medication during pregnancy may have changed in recent years, but conflicting advice and a lack of clinical evidence means many expectant mothers are unsure what is the best thing to do for themselves and their baby.
The Safe Motherhood Week report published in 2016 surveyed women across seven different European countries on their attitude towards medication and pregnancy. The survey found that roughly one-third of women had taken one or more medication during their pregnancy; this may be indicative of a growing acceptance of taking medication during pregnancy or else an increase in the number of women with co-morbid medication conditions that require treatment during pregnancy.
Significantly, 10 per cent of those surveyed reported suffering from a chronic illness such as asthma, diabetes, and pain, among others. The survey also found that older women were more likely to take medication, and were more likely to have a chronic condition.
Yet there is a significant cohort of women who refuse to use medicines, even when it is medically appropriate and necessary. Many pregnant women are “overestimating the risks” of taking over the counter and prescribed medication, according to recent research carried out by pharmacists in the UK.
The research found that women are choosing not to treat common pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, heartburn and aches and pains with medications. It was also seen that mothers-to-be are choosing not to take medication for urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Lead researcher Dr Michael Twigg, from University of East Anglia’s School of Pharmacy said that many women were avoiding safe medications, while others were not treating conditions that could have an impact on the developing fetus.
“We also found that a large number of women thought that taking paracetamol during pregnancy was risky and would avoid it. It is, however, perfectly safe. One of the most worrying things we discovered was that many women who experienced a UTI did not take medication for it. If left untreated, UTIs can cause significant complications and harm the fetus.”
In general, women who did not take medication perceived the risk to be greater than those who chose to take medication. According to Dr Twigg, the results illustrate a knowledge gap and a wide range of misperceptions about medication use in pregnancy.
“What this all shows us is that women need more information about the safety of medications during pregnancy to encourage them to treat conditions effectively. Understanding women’s concerns is also essential to promote adherence to prescribed medications during pregnancy,” he said.