Medication Birth Defects

Although birth injuries and defects caused by alcohol and drugs is well-known and talked of frequently in the United States, there are also prescription-based medications that have been linked with serious infant health risks if taken while pregnant or breastfeeding. Several medications are considered safe during pregnancy, but even so, physicians have the responsibility to ensure prescribed medication is absolutely necessary. Failing to ensure that pregnant women are safe from the harmful side effects of medication may lead to long-term, chronic medical conditions. Additionally, given the recent increase in interest, we have added information about the link between Zofran and birth defects?

SSRI Medications

Pharmaceutical chem equationSelective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, more commonly known as SSRI medication, are typically prescribed for depression and anxiety issues. Physicians have been prescribing certain SSRI medications to women for years, but in 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a public warning, stating that infants are at a heightened risk of developing persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) if exposed to certain SSRI medications in utero, including:

  • Lexapro
  • Zoloft
  • Prozac
  • Paxil
  • Symbyax
  • Fluvoxamine

In addition to PPHN, SSDI medications may also cause:

  • Limb abnormalities
  • Cleft lip and/or pallate
  • Heart defects
  • Spina Bifida
  • Craniosynostosis
  • Neural tube defects
  • Omphalocele

Other Medications Associated with Birth Defects

Although SSRI medications are the most widely-discussed drugs that may cause birth defects, there are a series of other medications linked to infant medical issues, including:


Benzodiazenes are typically prescribed for muscle relaxation, anxiety disorders, insomnia, seizures, and panic attacks. However, if taken while pregnant, certain benzodiazepine medications may cause infants to have poor muscle control, breathing difficulties, and problems with temperature regulations.


Several antibiotics are considered safe to take during pregnancy, including amoxicillin, penicillin, ampicillin, clyndamicin, and erythromycin. However, other antibiotics have been linked to anencephaly (malformation of the infant’s skull and brain), heart defects, eye defects, cleft lip and more: 

  • Nitrofurantoins
  • Sulfonamides
  • Tetracyclines


Accutane, a form of Vitamin A that’s prescribed to treat acne, should never be taken during pregnancy. Isotretinoin, the active ingredient in Accutane, has been linked to severe infant birth defects and in some instances, infant death. According to the FDA, at least 25 to 35% of all pregnant women who take Accutane will have an infant with birth defects. In fact, experts state that Accutane shouldn’t be used three years prior to conception.


Please see and its potential to cause birth defects, particularly miscarriages. Diflucan, or fluconazole as it is also known, is given to women with stubborn yeast infections. In pregnant women it has been linked to miscarriages.


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, more commonly known as NSAIDs, have been linked to a small risk of birth defects, including neural tube defects, limb abnormalities, microphthalmia, and more. The most common forms of NSAIDs are over-the-counter medications such as: 

  • Motrin
  • Aleve
  • Excedrin
  • Bayer

Prescription-based NSAIDs include:

  • Diclofenac
  • Lodine
  • Meloxicam
  • Relafen
  • Daypro

Although the risks of birth defects are small, be certain to talk to your physician before taking NSAIDs. Your doctor may recommend safer alternatives, such as Tylenol.

Seizure Medication

Pregnant women who experience seizures are in a difficult position as seizures have been linked to miscarriage, yet many of the popular medications used to control seizures have been linked to serious birth defects. According to research performed by the  American Academy of Neurology, the medications Tegretol, Depakote, Lamictal, and Dilantin have been associated with an increased risk of infants developing: 

  • Developmental delays in walking and speech
  • Organ deformities
  • Cleft lip and/or palate
  • Craniofacial defects
  • Hypoplasia

 Additional Tips and Information

It’s important to note that physicians have the legal obligation and medical duty to ensure that their patients are not given medication that may increase the chances of infant birth defects. However, if you have any questions or concerns, make sure to speak with your physician immediately before taking any drugs, whether prescribed or over-the-counter.

For additional information and resources regarding medication and pregnancy, contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).