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Drugs and prescriptions in pregnancy

Taking drugs during pregnancy can have an effect on your baby, whether they are prescription, over-the-counter or recreational. Find out about which drugs to avoid here.

During pregnancy you will need to be careful about what you consume and this is particularly true when it comes to the use of drugs. The word 'drug' is used to mean any kind of:

The word 'drug' is used to mean any kind of:

  • tablet
  • medicine
  • suppository
  • inhalant
  • ointment
  • oil

Drugs can be prescribed by a GP or other practitioner; bought legally or illegally. 

As well as considering your own health, your baby is particularly vulnerable to the impact that taking drugs in pregnancy can have. Your baby’s rapidly developing body is very sensitive to substances in her environment and her liver is not ready to deal with drugs that you might take entering her body. For these reasons you need to be especially careful with medicines and taking drugs while pregnant.

Taking drugs and medicines safely in pregnancy

In order to be as safe as possible when taking medicines and drugs during pregnancy:

  • Avoid buying over-the-counter medicines for yourself without first checking with your doctor or pharmacist. They will be able to recommend alternative drugs if needed and the safest treatment for you and your baby.
  • Always tell your doctor, pharmacist, dentist, or anybody else advising you on your health, that you are pregnant. They will be able to help you make decisions by balancing your health needs against any possible risks to your baby.
  • Always check with your doctor, pharmacist or a qualified herbalist before taking any herbal medicines or tablets. Fruit and herbal teas sold in supermarkets are generally safe – but be careful with preparations brewed by family or friends, or more unusual teas sold only in health food shops.
  • Check when using large quantities of fresh herbs in cooking – some plants can have strong effects and affect pregnancy.
  • Always check with your doctor, pharmacist or a qualified practitioner before using any homeopathic remedies, aromatherapy preparations or massage oils.

If you are taking any prescription drugs, you will need to speak to your doctor about whether these are likely to have any effect, preferably before you become pregnant. Some drugs increase the need for vitamins such as folic acid, which is vital in early pregnancy. In some cases, you may be advised to change your prescription to something that is safer during pregnancy.

Drug addiction in pregnancy

If you feel that you have a drug problem in pregnancy then do speak to your midwife or doctor. It can still be possible to give up taking drugs during pregnancy, although you will need skilled support. There are a number of specialist maternity departments across the country that care for women who have a problem with drug use. Many hospitals also have staff specially trained to understand and help drug addiction.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.  We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

NHS Choices has information about drugs and alcohol in pregnancy.

The website FRANK offers anonymous help with drug addiction, and can put you in touch with local support organisations.