Recently, the FDA has posted a list of drugs that they’re currently investigating for potential safety issues (read about it here). Many people are now complaining that this listing is inadequate (because it gives such little information beyond the name of the drug), and that it might cause some people to stop their use of the drug because the safety is being investigated, even if the drug turns out to be safe, or the complication is discovered to be limited to a specific subset of people (such as the contraindication between taking both Viagra and nitrates).
What does this have to do with birth? Not much, except…. It got me to thinking about drugs in general and drug safety in particular. Most people live under the assumption that drugs are safe. They aren’t, if by “safe” you mean that drugs do not cause any negative side effects, or do not have any rare potentially dangerous or even deadly side effects. If by “safe” you mean that more often than not drugs benefit than cause harm, then they may be considered “safe”… unless of course, you are one of the people who finds the harm greater than the benefit.
Take drugs for treating ear infections — if you’re currently pregnant with your first child, you may not be “initiated” into the Society of Otitis Media yet, but the odds are if you have typical medical care, your child will be diagnosed with multiple ear infections through his or her first couple of years of life. (Chiropractic care for kids may help with this — one family I babysat for, for eight years, had a child who had taken something like 9 rounds of antibiotics over his 10-month life, and was about to get tubes put in his ears, and my mom convinced his mom to try chiro. She was skeptical at first, but then his ear infection went away — although the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist she was seeing by that time absolutely declared that the only way it would go away is through yet another round of antibiotics and getting tubes put in — and he never got any more [he’s now 13]. Neither of my kids has ever been to the doctor for ear infections [at nearly 4 y/o and just over 2 y/o], but they did see my mom’s chiro soon after birth, and whenever they get a knock on the head [like falling on a hard floor while learning to pull up to stand]. Oh, and the kid above was exclusively breastfed for at least the first six months of his life, and continued to breastfeed though not exclusively for several more months, so formula-feeding didn’t play a role in these ear infections.)
Why am I bringing up ear infections? Because they are so common nowadays with children, and because so many doctors will just give the mom a prescription for an antibiotic. However, a large number of ear infections are caused by viruses, which antibiotics cannot cure. But doctors will still give the antibiotic — for a number of reasons — the doctor may be pressed for time, and he just scribbles it down to move on to the next patient; or it may be bacterial so it might help; or he recognizes the plain fact that many mothers “feel better” for having given “something” to the child, and if he doesn’t give something (even if he knows it won’t help), then she’ll take her business to another care provider who will give her something to make her feel better, even if it doesn’t help the child. So, we see that many times the “benefit” of this particular drug is nothing, while it still has all the risks — diarrhea, potential for allergic reaction, many other side effects depending on the particular antibiotic used, but mostly the fact that overuse of antibiotics is playing a role in drug-resistant bacteria becoming prevalent. These so-called “superbugs” are now very dangerous, because once they’re contracted, there is no known antibiotic that can kill them. My cousin recently contracted MRSA, and it was fortunately localized to one spot in her arm which they were able to remove. If it wasn’t, they were going to amputate her arm. So, “harmless” over-prescribing of antibiotics is anything but.
So, my main point in this whole long post is, make sure the real benefits of the drugs are worth the risks, before you use the drug. If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, or some other potentially deadly or debilitating disease, you need to take steps to mitigate it. One of those steps may be drugs. Don’t stop taking drugs if you need them. But make sure you need them first. There are many “natural” things you can do to control some disease states. For instance, if you change your diet and lose weight, your blood pressure and cholesterol will probably go back to normal. But it’s easier to pop pills than to be conscientious about your diet and scrupulous about exercise. But know that all drugs have side effects. Make sure you’re willing to risk the side effects of the drug before you start taking it. Obviously, if you’re dying of heart disease, and a pill will stop it, then the benefits definitely outweigh the risks. But (taking this back into the realm of pregnancy and birth), if you’re getting induced just because you’re tired of being pregnant, then be aware that this is not FDA-approved, because the risks of Pitocin exceed the benefit. There is no medical indication — no medically-recognized “risk” to continuing the pregnancy until you naturally go into labor, therefore the risks of Pitocin (which include contractions that are too long, too strong, and/or too close together, which may put your baby into fetal distress or rarely tear your uterus), are not counter-balanced by any medical benefit. If your baby’s life or health is being compromised by an unhealthy placenta (for example) then the risks of induction are outweighed by the risks of continuing the pregnancy.
Just be aware of the risks of drugs, because they all have side effects — unintended consequences. The severity of these consequences varies, as does the rate at which they happen, and the number of potential consequences. But all drugs carry this risk. When there is a clear benefit, then it makes sense to use them. But when there is no clear benefit, then you are taking all of the risks… for what?