Nearly three quarters of women fear they’re unable to take any medication during pregnancy and end up suffering with minor illnesses, a small-scale study found.
The study of 1,100 women, published in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy, found 72.8% didn’t use paracetamol, ibuprofen or cough mixture during pregnancy.
A third of women who had suffered urinary tract infections (UTI) said they had not asked for antibiotics.
“There’s no need to avoid paracetamol at all. If you’ve got a raging headache, it’s perfectly fine to take it,” Michael Twigg, of the University of East Anglia, who led the research, said.
However, not all medical experts agree with Twigg and many urge for caution around taking medication when pregnant.
NHS advice states: “Ideally, you should avoid taking medicines, particularly during the first three months of pregnancy.
“If you take any medicine when you’re pregnant, you should use the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time. If the recommended dose doesn’t control your symptoms or you’re often in pain, get more advice from your midwife or GP.”
According to the NHS, if you do need to take painkillers while pregnant, paracetamol is the “preferred choice” to treat mild/moderate pain or a high temperature.
“Paracetamol has been used routinely during all stages of pregnancy to reduce a high temperature and for pain relief,” the NHS states.
“There is no clear evidence that it has any harmful effects on an unborn baby.
“However, as with any medicine taken during pregnancy, use paracetamol at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.”
Twigg said relatively few women questioned in the study said they took medication for nausea, constipation or sleeping problems while pregnant.
“One of the most worrying things we discovered was that many women who experienced a UTI did not take medication for it,” he added.
“If left untreated, UTIs can cause significant complications and harm the foetus.
“Overall, women who did not take medication perceived the risk to be greater than those who chose to take medication.
“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.”
Commenting on the study, the Royal College of Midwives’ director for midwifery Louise Silverton said women should be cautious about taking medication when pregnant.
“Women should avoid taking all medicine when pregnant, particularly during the first three months,” she explained to The Huffington Post UK.
“If women do take medicines such as paracetamol when they are pregnant, they should use the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.
“If the recommended dose doesn’t control their symptoms or they are often in pain, they should seek more advice from their midwife or doctor.”
Silverton added that minor conditions such as colds or minor aches and pains often do not need treating with medicines.
“If women feel they need to take medicines such as paracetamol when they are pregnant, they should talk to their midwife or doctor first. They can also get advice from their local pharmacy.”
Dr Helen Webberley, GP for www.oxfordonlinepharmacy.co.uk, said it is a “fine balance of risks versus benefits”.
“Sometimes it depends on the stage of pregnancy,” she told HuffPost UK.
“Some medicines may be potentially harmful to the young developing embryo, whereas others could cause damage to the developed foetus.
“Read the leaflet that comes with the medication, ask the pharmacist and discuss with your doctor if you are still not sure.”
Dr Webberley said all medicines will have clear guidelines on the instruction leaflet about their evaluation for safety for use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
“In some cases, the leaflet will be more uncertain, and say that you should only take it if the benefits outweigh the risks,” she added.
“Some anti-depressants, for example, are better not taken while pregnant, however, if the mother is at severe psychological risk from her depression, then it may be better to take them.”