During this year’s annual Be Medicinewise Week, Australians are encouraged to ‘be medicinewise at all ages and life stages’ and the focus for the first day of the campaign is pregnancy and breastfeeding—a life stage where it is extremely important to be aware of the safe and appropriate use of medicines.
In a recent survey of Australian women who were pregnant or had a child 11 years or younger:
- 33% said they had taken prescription medicine during their pregnancy; and
- 33% said they had taken over-the-counter medicine during their pregnancy.
Calls about using medicines during pregnancy and breastfeeding are some of the most common fielded by the NPS Medicines Lines’ pharmacists.
The most regular queries from women during pregnancy are about cold and flu medicines, hayfever medicines and antidepressants. The top queries from breastfeeding women are about using hayfever medicines, cough and cold medicines and medicines for pain and fever.
Dr Jeannie Yoo, NPS MedicineWise Clinical Adviser says, “Be MedicineWise Week is a reminder for pregnant and breastfeeding women to ask the right questions and weigh up the risks and benefits before taking medicines.
“It’s a time in your life when you need to stop and think about what medicine you’re taking, why you’re taking it, and to seek the right advice.
“There are times during pregnancy when using a medicine is optional. For example, if you get a head cold or a sore throat you may decide to manage the symptoms without taking a medicine.
“At other times, it may be essential to continue using a medicine: such as when it helps to manage a long term condition like asthma, diabetes, depression, or seizures. Without the medicine the health of both mother and baby may be put at risk.”
She told consumers that it’s also important to remember when they are breastfeeding that the medicines they take may pass into their breast milk.
“Although many common medicines are relatively safe for breastfed babies, there are some medicines that either shouldn’t be used or need special care,” says Dr Yoo.
She reminded consumers that it is important to ask questions about complementary medicines during pregnancy and breastfeeding too.
Women who are planning pregnancy, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, need to remember that many complementary medicines have not undergone the same level of research as prescription and over-the-counter medicines, so often less is known about their effectiveness, possible side effects and interactions (both overall and during pregnancy and breastfeeding).
Although some vitamins and complementary products are designed especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women, other medicines that available from a supermarket, pharmacy, health food store or online may not be safe. She says women should always ask for guidance from their health professionals.
Women at this life stage should always carefully read the packaging, labels and information that come with their medicine as well as ask questions about their medicines to their medical practitioner and pharmacist.
Be Medicinewise Week runs from 12 to 18 October.