We hear so much in the news about the dangers of medicines for unborn babies. Because of these concerns, many women suffer through colds and headaches without any medicine at all. Some medicines are safe to take when pregnant, and some are not. This handout answers the most frequently asked questions about taking medicines during pregnancy.

Which Drugs Are Safe?

The US Food and Drug Administration has a safety class system for all medicines. Medicines are classified by category; they may be category A, B, C, D, or X. These categories refer to what we know about the effect a medicine has on a developing baby during pregnancy.

  • Category A—Studies have been done with pregnant women. There is no known risk to the growing baby.
  • Category B—Studies have been done with pregnant animals and shown no risk, but there are no studies in women; OR studies in animals showed some risk, but studies in pregnant women did not find any risk.
  • Category C—Studies done with pregnant animals show some risk, but there are no studies in women; OR no studies have been done in animals or humans, so the risk for a pregnant woman is not known. Medicines in this category are often prescribed during pregnancy if you need the medicine. Even though studies have not been done on the medicines in this class, most of them have been used by pregnant women for years without any problem.
  • Category D—Studies have shown this medicine can harm a developing human baby during pregnancy. However, there are benefits of these drugs for mothers who have a serious illness. This may make them worth taking in spite of the risk. If you need a medicine in this class, your health care provider will talk to you about the pros and cons for both you and your baby.
  • Category X—Studies have shown these medicines can harm developing human babies during pregnancy. There is no benefit to the mother that makes taking these drugs worth the risk.

Unfortunately, most medicines are category C. Not many studies have been done in pregnant women. We just don't know very much for certain about medicines in pregnancy.

What Are the Category X Medicines?

There are a few medicines on the category X list. The most common are: hormones used for birth control, Isotretinoin (Accutane) which is prescribed for acne, some of the drugs used to control hyperlipidemia, warfarin (Coumadin) which is used to help prevent blood clots, misoprostol (Cytotec) which is an ulcer medication, and vaccines for measles, mumps and smallpox.

Are There Some Times in Pregnancy When it is More Dangerous to Take Medicines?

Your baby is developing most rapidly in the first 15 weeks of your pregnancy. This is the time you most want to avoid being exposed to anything that could harm your baby. To be safe, check with your health care provider before taking any medicine at any time during your pregnancy.

I've Been Taking Medicines That My Health Care Provider Gave Me Before I Got Pregnant. Can I Keep Taking Them?

If you are taking medicine and thinking about getting pregnant, talk with your health care provider. If you are taking medicine and just found out you are pregnant, tell your health care provider as soon as you know you are pregnant. Some medicines are so important to your health that you will need to keep taking them. Some medicines can be changed to a lower dose or different medicine to cut down on the risk to your baby.

Are Medicines I Can Buy Without A Prescription (Over-the-Counter) Safe to Take During Pregnancy?

Some medicines that you can get over-the-counter are safe to use during pregnancy and some are not recommended. Check with the pharmacist or your health care provider before you take anything. This handout lists the most common over-the-counter medicines that are safe to use during pregnancy.


Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS)

Information on the effects of drugs, chemicals, and other exposures on mothers and babies during pregnancy. Fact sheets can be downloaded from the OTIS Web site ( or you can call toll-free (866) 626-6947 for more information.


Motherrisk offers information about the effects of medicines during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Fact sheets about many concerns during pregnancy can be downloaded from the Motherrisk Web site (http:www.motherisk.orgindex.jsp). Each fact sheet lists which drugs are safe and which are not. You can also call Motherrisk toll-free at (877) 327-4636 (for information on alcohol and substance use) or (800) 436-8477 (for questions about morning sickness).

This page may be reproduced for noncommercial use by health care professionals to share with clients. Any other reproduction is subject to JMWH approval. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JMWH suggests that you consult your health care provider.