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Moms, Medications, and More

Updated: Oct 21

Some medications, infections, or other exposures can affect how a baby develops.


What type of exposure during pregnancy can cause birth defects?


Most babies are healthy. However, all pregnancies have a risk of birth defects of 3-5%. In addition, there are certain things that a mother can be exposed to during pregnancy. Some but not all medications, drugs, infections, or substances can affect how a baby develops. The effect on a baby depends on the substance, the timing, and the amount. Also, keep in mind that a mother’s health is important during pregnancy, and prenatal care providers need to balance the mother’s health with the chances that a substance, like a medication, will affect a baby.


How do I avoid substances that could be harmful to a baby during pregnancy?


Many pregnant women wonder whether something they take or do during pregnancy could affect their babies’ development.  There isn’t really a rule of thumb. Some medications are safe during pregnancy and others can increase the odds for a birth defect. Other types of exposures, like maternal illness and infections during pregnancy, also vary widely in how they affect a developing baby. 


Women and their prenatal care providers need to look at what data has been collected on the specific substance or exposure. To personalize the information for your current or future pregnancy, you can use Mainstream Genomics’ Family Screens. For general information, a woman can use a not-for-profit, free resource called MothertoBaby, which provides excellent information sheets for individual substances. 


What do I do if there is a risk to the baby?


Most often, the chances for the baby to have a problem because of something the mother takes or does during pregnancy is small. However, if there is a higher chance for a physical birth defect, a specialized ultrasound may be helpful. Mainstream Genomics’ Family Screens generate a Personalized Screening Plan that will tell you whether any special screening is needed, what type, and when.


However, keep in mind that there is no perfect test that can detect all birth defects. Ultrasound can’t see non-physical problems and will miss some physical birth defects, too. Genetic testing is not helpful for risks from exposures because most substances that affect developing babies do not cause any changes to DNA. They instead affect the formation of the babies’ body and organs. Like building a structure from blueprints, sometimes the construction doesn’t always go perfectly even if the plans are perfect.




Sources and Resources:

Center for Disease Control https://www.cdc.gov/pregnancy/index.html

Mothertobaby https://mothertobaby.org/

March of Dimes https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/is-it-safe.aspx



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