Ibuprofen and pregnancy should not mix: This pain medication has been linked to amniotic band syndrome, clubfoot, cleft lip, cleft palate, and spina bifida.
Ibuprofen is also known by its brand names Advil, Addaprin, Cap-Profen, Counteract IB, and more. It belongs to a class of painkilling medications known as “Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs,” which are commonly referred to as NSAIDs. These medications are some of the most popular drugs in existence. Prescription-strength Ibuprofen is most often used to treat mild to moderate pain, stiffness, and rheumatoid arthritis. Over-the-counter Ibuprofen can be used to reduce fever, treat mild headaches, the common cold, and backaches. Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs treat this wide range of painful conditions by inhibiting an enzyme that is involved in pain and inflammation.
Ibuprofen and Pregnancy
New research has found a link between Ibuprofen and the following types of birth defects. Experts warn pregnant women not to take Ibuprofen during pregnancy.
- Amniotic band syndrome: This birth defect was three times more common in babies born to mothers who took an NSAID during pregnancy. It affects the amniotic sac, which is the sac that surrounds a baby developing in the womb. Sometimes, parts of this sac detach. Sometimes, a developing baby becomes entangled in these bands, called Amniotic Band Syndrome. The severity of this birth defect varies, depending on what part of the developing infant becomes entangled in the amniotic sac, and how tight the baby is wrapped. Minor cases may be symptomless. Other times, the baby may have fingers or limbs amputated. In severe cases, it can cause death to the infant.
- Clubfoot: This birth defect can affect one foot or both feet, and occurs when the tendons and ligaments form abnormally. Clubfoot is not caused by the position of the baby inside the mother’s womb. When a baby is born with this birth defect, the foot is turned inward at a sharp angle, and may be twisted almost upside-down. Fortunately, clubfoot is readily treatable. Some children undergo surgery, though more and more are opting to undergo gradual stretching of the ligaments using bands and casts to shape the foot into a normal position.
- Anophthalmia / Microphthalmia: These two birth defects affect the eyes, cause blindness, and are untreatable. A baby born with anophthalmia has no eyes, and a baby born with microphthalmia has abnormally small eyes. Both conditions cause blindness, and are permanent and untreatable.
- Cleft Lip and/or Palate: A cleft lip, cleft palate, or oral cleft are birth defects that are 30-80% more common in babies born to mothers who took an NSAID during pregnancy. These birth defects can seriously affect an infant’s facial appearance and its ability to feed. Nearly all babies with a cleft will need assistance to feed, because they will not be able to receive enough nutrition through breastfeeding alone. A cleft can severely impair an infant’s ability to suck, swallow, and eat. Most parents decide to treat a cleft with surgery. Modern surgical techniques have greatly improved the outcome for babies born with oral clefts.
- Spina Bifida: This serious birth defect was 60% higher in babies whose mothers took Ibuprofen or other NSAID early in pregnancy. Spina Bifida occurs when the nerual tube, which is the protective covering for the spinal cord, fails to close. When “open” spina bifida occurs, there is an opening at the base of the skull that exposes the spinal cord to the amniotic fluid in the mother’s womb. Damage to the nerves in the spinal cord result in paralysis.
What is the problem with Ibuprofen?
Research in December 2011 found a link between Ibuprofen during pregnancy and several types of birth defects. The researchers looked at data from 15,000 women who had children with birth defects, and compared this information to 5,500 women who had children without birth defects. Though there was no link between most of the 29 birth defects that the researchers examined, there was a small link for a few birth defects.
The researchers concluded that Ibuprofen and pregnancy are not a safe combination, though the risk is still very small. Even a three-fold increase in the rate of a rare birth defect is a relatively small number. Though the evidence from the study does not conclusively prove that painkillers cause birth defects, they are a warning sign.