Drug Use During Pregnancy; Safe or Dangerous?

Drug use during pregnancy

Drug use during pregnancy is inevitable because mothers go into pregnancy with conditions requiring medications (for example, diabetes, asthma). Also, in pregnancy new complications may develop and old ones may become worse (for example migraine). This makes total avoidance from drugs during pregnancy not possible or even dangerous. 

What is a Drug?

A drug is defined as a chemical substance of known structure other than a nutrient or an essential dietary ingredient, which when administered to a living organism produces a biological effect. 

Drugs taken by pregnant women reach the foetus by crossing the placenta. The placenta serves as means of transport of oxygen, minerals and nutrients needed by the foetus from the mother. It also serves as a means of transfer of waste products from the foetus to the mother.

Dr Gloria Ben-Okoh: Drugs That Are Safe During Prefnancy

There are no drugs that are considered 100% safe for use in pregnancy. Some of these drugs can cause harm to the fetus, either by causing irreversible developmental damage or even the death of the fetus. 

Hence why it is important to always consult a doctor before you take ANY drug during pregnancy. 

However, there are some commonly prescribed drugs that are needed for the proper development of your child. They include;

  • Folic acid
  • Iron,
  • Vitamin B complex, 
  • Vitamin C, 
  • Omega 3 Fatty acid amongst others

Do note that, even the “safe” drugs shouldn’t be used without doctor consultations. The effect of a drug on the foetus depends on the stage of development of the foetus, the time of administration, type of drug and the dose of drug administered. 

A safe drug can be dangerous if administered at the wrong time and in the wrong dosage. 

Drugs That are Not Considered Safe During Pregnancy

In Nigeria, alcohol and tobacco are common drugs of abuse and there’s this common notion amongst us that ‘if my mother took it and I turned out well, then it cannot harm my child as well.


Alcohol is the most common of these drugs.  Foetal alcohol syndrome is a disorder that is caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy. This syndrome occurs in 2:1000 live births. It is characterised by; facial and cardiovascular defects, foetal growth restriction and neurologic dysfunction. It is a leading cause of intellectual disability. 

Babies born to women who drink alcohol during pregnancy may suffer from behavioural problems such as anti-social behaviour and attention deficit disorder. There is no safe limit of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. No amount is risk free. 

Tobacco (Cigarette Smoking)

Only 20% of women who smoke quit smoking during pregnancy. Carbon monoxide and nicotine found in cigarettes causes hypoxia and vasoconstriction respectively. This increases the risk of spontaneous abortion. Smoking leads to a reduction of birth weight in the foetus and the loss of weight is proportional to how much the mother smokes. 

Babies whose mothers’ smokes are likely to have anencephaly, congenital heart defects, orofacial clefts, sudden infant death syndrome, deficiencies in physical growth and intelligence and behavioural problems. 

Other Drugs of Abuse

Caffeine which is found in tea, coffee, chocolate, etc. poses little or no risk to the foetus when consumed in low doses. In high doses it may stimulate the foetus causing an increase in heart rate, low blood flow to the foetus and decrease absorption of iron precipitating anaemia. 

Opioids such as morphine, heroin, cross the placenta easily and can result in withdrawal Syndrome in the foetus 6-8 hours after birth. Marijuana has not been found to pose any harm to the foetus. 

It is important that you always seek the advice of a doctor before the use of drugs in pregnancy; supplements, or “agbo” during pregnancy. The Doctors at Doktorconnect are available to guide you 24/7. 

Author- Favour Aroghene Okoro

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