Taking medications during pregnancy has always been a subject of concern for me. I tend to only take medications when I feel I have no other choice, such as when I had a migraine for over a week and finally took some prescription Tylenol with codeine. With a report that was released recently, I am thankful that I have always been very cautious when it comes to choosing pain medications while I am pregnant.
In the study “Maternal treatment with opioid analgesics and risk for birth defects,” which was published online on February 24, 2011, it is noted that an increase in birth defects is noted for women who use opioid analgesics during the first trimester of pregnancy or one month before becoming pregnant. The birth defects noted in the study include abdominal wall defects, heart defects, neural tube defects, glaucoma and hydrocephaly. The results of the study indicate a very small increase in the risk of the associated birth defects.
Some common opioid analgesics include codeine, hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone. These medications are often used to treat injuries, pain from chronic conditions or pain from a surgical procedure. In my case, I have used these medications to control the pain from Scheuermann’s Disease, a condition in which my spine didn’t form properly, and migraines.
For me, knowing the severity of these birth defects, I am not sure that there would be anything other than having to have a lifesaving surgery that would convince me to use an opioid analgesic during any stage of my pregnancy now. Each of the birth defects noted in the study can lead to a severely decreased quality of life for the baby. For example, hypoplastic left heart syndrome is noted. This is a condition in which the baby’s heart doesn’t fully form. A series of surgeries and usually a heart transplant are the treatments for this condition.
I am now pregnant with baby number seven. I am having migraines on a regular basis and still have pain associated with the Scheuermann’s disease, but I am not taking any prescription pain medication to manage these. Instead, I am taking only Tylenol when absolutely necessary. I also use a heating pad on low, warm baths and massages to help control my pain.
Only you and your doctor can decide if the risk of these birth defects is greater than the benefit you will receive from taking the opioid analgesics. In some cases, the medication benefits for you may be greater than the risk.