Excited about getting pregnant? You probably know that things like excessive weight or fibroids could impact your ability to conceive.
What you might not know is that some prescription and over-the-counter medications could also be a hindrance. Your menstrual cycle is highly controlled by the interaction between three entities: the brain, uterus, and ovaries (1).
Any health problems you have and medications you take might interfere with this interaction and lower your fertility. Read on to learn more about safe and unsafe medications if you are trying to conceive.
- Some medications can negatively affect fertility by interfering with ovulation or uterine receptivity.
- Over-the-counter painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen may increase miscarriage risk, while acetaminophen is generally considered safe.
- Antidepressants and antipsychotics can impact fertility for both men and women, but consult a doctor before changing medications.
- Avoid certain medications and vaccinations, such as yellow fever and anti-malaria, while trying to conceive, and always consult a doctor before taking any new medication.
How Does Medicine Affect My Fertility?
While some medications are safe before or during pregnancy, others might affect your chances of getting pregnant. To begin with, certain medications can affect your ovulation or uterine receptivity. If you are on any prescription drugs, the best option is to talk to your doctor so they can advise you on what to do.
Your health care provider will assess whether your medications or even supplements will interfere with conception. They could offer different ways of managing chronic health conditions during this time in case your medicine could interfere. They may also offer safe alternatives.
Let’s look at the different types of medications you might be taking and any known pregnancy risks associated with them.
Taking certain over-the-counter painkillers, such as aspirin, around conception or early pregnancy is not a good idea. Even in your early pregnancy, they may increase the chances of a miscarriage by up to 80% (2).
These findings might need further studies. However, according to the current research, it would be wise to avoid any anti-inflammatory painkillers during your conception attempts.
Acetaminophen seems to be the safest option for a painkiller. It is not anti-inflammatory and does not carry the risk. But you should only take it when necessary and only for a short time.
Editor's Note:Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM
Opioids are used to treat moderate-to-severe pain, and they are usually effective. However, they are classified as a narcotic, which might cause complications in pregnancy. Some of the complications they could cause include congenital heart defects and neural tube defects in your baby (6).
Women using opioids have a lower fertility rate, and it is advisable to avoid them entirely, if possible. Apart from this, opioids reduce libido, which is generally not desired when trying for a baby.
2. Antidepressants and Antipsychotics
According to research, one out of 10 adults in America alone take prescription antidepressants for mental or emotional health (7). While these medications may be effective, they may impact your fertility and overall health as a woman.
It is crucial you understand the impact psychiatric drugs could have on your reproductive system. You’ll want to be informed about any healthy alternatives you could take that would not interfere with your conception.
Antidepressants may interfere with general hormonal regulation during ovulation. They may also interfere with prolactin, a highly important hormone for conception.
The last thing that I want to do is inflict guilt, anxiety, or blame on anyone taking antidepressants. Mental health is a serious issue that may require a delicate balance of therapy and medication. To focus on becoming a mother or facing a fertility challenge, it’s important to care for yourself. Medications may be imperative to your journey — and we support you. A mentally healthy mother sets up a family for success.
Editor's Note:Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM
Women taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may take significantly longer to conceive. SSRI medications reduce efficacy and have been linked to preterm birth and miscarriage (8).
This does not apply to women alone because men using prescribed antidepressants are also at risk of sperm damage (9). Your failure to conceive could be the antidepressant your spouse is taking.
Antipsychotics could disrupt your menstrual cycle. It might not be possible to come off them. However, your doctor may have recommendations for the best antipsychotic medications to increase fertility. (10).
There may be safer ways to treat emotional health, anxiety, and other conditions that don’t interfere with your reproductive system. Other options include cognitive therapy, talk therapy, and health coaching (11). If cutting off medications entirely is not an option, your doctor can adjust the doses accordingly.
3. Cough Syrup
You have probably heard the myth that cough syrup, which is an expectorant, helps with fertility. Some people believe that it improves cervical mucus in the same way it does in the lungs. However, there is no evidence to back up these claims.
No fertility experts have recommended it, and most suggest avoiding it altogether, especially dextromethorphan.
Dextromethorphan is a suppressant found in some popular cold medications. If you do conceive while taking this drug, it might harm the fetus. There is no conclusive evidence, but doctors advise avoiding it until after your 12th week of pregnancy when there is less risk (12).
Medications like prednisone and cortisone, used to treat health conditions like lupus and asthma, are unsafe when trying to conceive. These steroidal drugs may prevent the release of follicle-stimulating and luteinizing hormones. This may inhibit normal ovulation, especially if taken in high doses (13).
Antibiotics refer to antimicrobial drugs used to fight bacterial infections. Women have reported deviations, such as depleted cervical mucus, while taking antibiotics. However, there is no evidence they influence your chance at conception.
That said, it is wise to talk to your doctor if you have any kind of infection. Certain antibiotics, such as tetracyclines, may not be safe after the 15th week (14). Different antibiotics have various ingredients, so it’s wise to avoid self-medicating.
6. Immunosuppressive Medications
Immunosuppressive drugs treat inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. They are also used in transplantation. These drugs might have adverse effects when it comes to fertility (15).
What Other Medications Affect Fertility?
- Anti-epileptic drugs: If you take these, talk to your doctor, as they might interfere with ovulation (16).
- Thyroid medication: Conception will be more difficult if your thyroid is imbalanced. Your doctor may prescribe thyroid medications which can increase the likelihood of pregnancy (17).
Skin or Hair Products to Avoid
Generally, you should avoid products containing phthalates and parabens as they might interfere with fertility (18). Phthalates are used to make plastics flexible and can be found in a wide array of items. Avoid storing foods in plastic containers and opt for glass instead.
If you have been trying to conceive without success, it might pay to play it safe for a while. Certain everyday items such as perfumes, toothpaste, and lotions might also contain PFCs (perfluorinated chemicals) that could affect fertility (19).
What Vaccines Can Impact Conception?
Are you considering traveling to an area requiring a yellow fever vaccination? This is a live virus vaccine, which is usually safe for people with healthy immune systems. But it might not be safe if you’re trying to conceive.
You should wait at least two weeks after receiving the vaccination before trying for a baby. A month is a better option though, or you could just skip traveling for now (20).
The same goes for anti-malaria medication. If you plan to travel to a place that has malaria, you need to delay your conception. This medication can harm your developing baby if taken during or up to three months after conception (21).
You should avoid pregnancy for a month after receiving the rubella vaccination. Women who become pregnant during this time should be aware that there may be a risk to the fetus and notify their health care provider (22). Pregnant women should never receive this vaccine.
If you do conceive after the injection, the risk of a miscarriage or harm to your baby could be high. If you find out you’re pregnant, you should see your doctor immediately for advice. If you happen to be abroad, search for a trusted health care professional closest to you and seek help.
How Can I Be Safe While Taking Medication?
If you are trying to conceive, here are some of the things you should keep in mind:
- Always inform your doctor: Before taking any medication, inform your doctor. This goes for herbal remedies as well. Plant-based medication does not necessarily mean it is safe for conception.
- Learn to check medication labels: New guidelines include requiring drugs to display relevant information about pregnancy, contraception, and fertility for both men and women (23).
- Take medication as directed: Do not alter your dosage, skip it, or even stop taking it. Don’t take anything that hasn’t specifically been prescribed to you.
- Note all the details: If the doctor prescribes medication for you, know the exact details. What’s the dosage, and how should it be stored? It might give you peace of mind to keep a little journal for jotting all this down.