Medications and pregnant women: where to go for help?
If you’ve been pregnant, you probably have been in this scenario before: it’s 9 p.m., you’re constipated, and you’ve tried everything you can think of to resolve “the situation”…yet nothing has worked. You page your doctor’s answering service, but haven’t heard back. Off to the pharmacy you go, where you receive a lecture from the pharmacist about how nothing you take can be guaranteed as safe. You are left wondering what to do, so you turn to Dr. Google, whose advice can be described as conflicting at best and downright terrifying at worst.
What’s a sick pregnant gal to do?
One such expectant mother went through a very similar situation, so much so that it led her to launch a line of products that are geared for pregnant women. Called Healthy Mama, this company markets medications and an energy drink to pregnant women with the goal that no one has to go through the run-around of not knowing what to take. The labels are clear in that these medications are safe for expecting mothers, and when perusing a pharmacy shelf they will easily jump out as being a safe option.
When I first heard of this company and the story that led to its launch, I have to be honest my reaction was not positive. As an OB/GYN, I receive pages many evenings from patients about what can be taken for a cold, cough, or constipation. Educating my patients about that is part of my job. To know that a mother couldn’t get a hold of her provider when she needed to (as the founder of healthy mama couldn’t) made me a little sad. We need to be that safety net for our patients.
It is also commonplace that many OB/GYN and midwifery practices give written “handbooks” about routine pregnancy questions and remedies to all patients at their initial prenatal visit. This would have been the exact time that such a handbook would have set this mama’s mind at ease and avoided such a run-around and undue stress for her.
Additionally, pharmacists are amazingly well-trained, and they know better. They have access to many medical references, both written and online, that can give evidence-based answers regarding medication safety to pregnant and breastfeeding women. Dr. Google shouldn’t be the only one willing to help in this situation. If your pharmacist says they don’t know, find another pharmacy.
So this company is awesome then, right? Well, I am not so sure.
I honestly took some issue with the healthy mama website itself. Essentially they have re-branded a handful of over-the-counter medications to capture the pregnant market. For example, the product called “eaZZZe the pain!” is really just Tylenol and Benadryl. They sell 40 pills for $10, when you can easily get 500-600 pills on Amazon for the same price. Some of their other products aren’t as marked up, but that one was pretty impressive.
Also, remember the recent stir about Tylenol in pregnancy? While I still think it is safe in moderation, a product that is named as casually as “eaZZZe the pain!” that is marketed specifically to pregnant women may just encourage reaching for the bottle more often than is recommended.
Lastly, this company also features an energy drink and states, “While you’re pregnant or nursing coffee…may be [a] no-no…enjoy an all natural lift with Boost It Up!” First of all, caffeine is fine under a certain limit, so why lay the groundwork for anxiety if a pregnant mama reads this and thinks, “Wait?! I thought it was OK?!” Also, this “all natural” drink boasts 11 grams of all natural sugar, while a comparable 8 oz cup of coffee with milk and sugar has only 4 grams. Sugar in excess is in no way healthy, and this labeling and advertising is a little misleading in my opinion.
Overall, this story has led me to believe we as doctors and midwives need to be sure we are there for our patients. We need to spend time educating and providing evidence-based answers, with written information that can be helpful at 2am. We must not subscribe to hyped products that may cost more (and subsequent guilt of not being able to afford “the pretty name-brand product”) when these are really just products that are already on shelves and are generic.
If you find yourself in a similar (constipated) spot as our hypothetical patient in the first paragraph, consider these resources. They are accurate and very reliable. Way better than Dr. Google!