Pregnant women overestimate the risks of taking over the counter and prescribed medication, according to researchers.
As a result, they said women often choose not to medicate common pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, heartburn and aches and pains.
“Women need more information about the safety of medications during pregnancy”
Most worryingly, they noted that pregnant women were choosing not to take medication for urinary tract infections, which can cause significant complications and harm the foetus if left untreated.
The international research team, including academics from the University of East Anglia, sought pregnant women or new mothers via popular websites such as Bounty and the Pregnancy Forum.
A total of 1,120 volunteers completed an online survey that asked about which common conditions they had experienced during pregnancy – such as nausea, heartburn, constipation, colds, urinary tract infections, neck and pelvic pains, headaches and sleeping problems.
The women were asked about the extent to which they thought medicines to treat these conditions were harmful or beneficial.
They were also asked about whether they deliberately avoided any medicines during pregnancy, and if so which ones.
Finally, the women were asked to rate a range medicines, foods and other substances in terms of how harmful they thought they were for the foetus on a scale of 0-10.
A total of 72% of the women said they deliberately avoided using certain medicines during pregnancy – particularly paracetamol, ibuprofen, cough and cold remedies, antihistamines and nasal decongestants – for fear of harming their unborn child.
However, just over three quarters of the women used some form of medication to treat at least one common condition experienced during pregnancy.
Lead researcher Dr Michael Twigg said: “Relatively few took medication for nausea, constipation or sleeping problems. However, these symptoms can be alleviated by changes to diet and lifestyle.
Pregnant women ‘over-estimate’ risks from medicines
“We also found that a large number of women thought that taking paracetamol during pregnancy was risky and would avoid it,” he said. “It is however perfectly safe.
“One of the most worrying things we discovered was that many women who experienced a UTI did not take medication for it,” he noted.
He added: “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.
“Interestingly about 50% of women said they used the internet to source medical information,” said Dr Twigg, whose findings are published in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy.