Pregnant women overestimate the risks of taking over the counter and prescription medications and avoid taking them, including for potentially harmful UTIs, say researchers.
The team from the University of East Anglia, who collected online responses from women who were pregnant or had given birth within the past year, found that many women overestimated the risk for medicines, with over 70% of the participants saying they deliberately avoid certain medications including paracetamol, ibuprofen and cold preparations.
They also found that 65% of women reporting a UTI did not receive treatment, a result which the team say is ‘concerning’ due to complications to the foetus that can arise if the condition goes untreated.
Reasons for avoiding medications included fear of harming the foetus and that the medications were not recommended.
The paper, published in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy, concludes: ‘Beliefs and risk perception play an important role on medication taking patterns in pregnancy. Pregnant women should be encouraged to discuss their concerns about medicine taking with healthcare professionals in order to ensure they receive timely and effective treatment.’
Nearly 50% of respondents in the survey said that they thought they required more information about medicine use during pregnancy, with half of the women questioned turning to the internet for advice.
Current NICE guidance on managing common conditions in pregnant women largely recommends using diet and lifestyle modifications, but does suggest that antacids can be used for women with persistent heartburn and antihistamines for nausea in early pregnancy.
Antibiotics are recommended by NICE for managing UTIs in pregnancy and paracetamol can also be offered to relieve symptoms.
A total of 1120 women were included in the study, with the respondents asked about which common conditions they had experienced during pregnancy – including nausea, heartburn and sleeping problems – and their general beliefs about medicines, with women asked to rate their perceived risks of medications on a scale of 0-10.
Dr Michael Twigg, lead author of the study and independent research fellow at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘Women thought that taking paracetamol during pregnancy was risky and would avoid it. It is however perfectly safe.
‘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.’