Birth Defects Caused by Drug Side Effects: What Parents Need to Know

Discovering you are expecting is one of the most exciting and joyful times of a person’s entire life. However, just a few days or weeks after the big announcement, the excitement starts to wear off and the fear sets in. Do you have enough saved for paternal leave? Will you go to the hospital or have a home birth? What should you be doing now to set your child up for a safe and healthy life?

One of the top concerns for women who have recently become pregnant is often how the medications she is currently taking will affect the life and health of her baby. Historically, women continued to take the drugs she was prescribed as usual throughout the pregnancy and little thought was given to how they may be affected the fetus. However, we now know much more about the side effects of certain medications and the potential impact they may have on an underdeveloped baby in the mother’s womb.

If your child was born with a birth defect or condition that you believe was caused by a pharmaceutical you were taking during pregnancy, it is crucial that you seek the advice of an experienced pharmaceutical liability lawyer right away to determine if you may be entitled to recovery of your damages.

What are Birth Defects with Regards to Personal Injury Cases?

A birth defect occurs when a fetus’s development is impeded while in the womb. This may cause lifelong physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral developmental delays, such as spina bifida, club foot, and heart defects. There are over 4,000 documented different types of birth defects ranging in severity from very minor delays to life-threatening cardiac conditions.

What Drugs Have the Potential to Cause Birth Defects?

It is common knowledge today in the United States that drinking alcohol while pregnant may have serious side effects on a developing fetus, including a variety of mental, emotional, physical, and behavioral impairments, known collectively as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). However, it is often overlooked that certain prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications have the potential to cause birth defects when used by pregnant women.

The classification of drugs which may cause birth defects are called teratogens. Teratogens are substances which may interfere with the development of a fetus by either producing a congenital malformation, or birth defect, or completely halting the pregnancy altogether.

Examples of teratogens include:

  • Cocaine;
  • Lithium, used to treat psychiatric disorders;
  • Warfarin, which is a blood thinner;
  • Thalidomide in cancer treatment;
  • Vitamin A when taken in high doses; and
  • Certain thyroid medications.

What Types of Birth Defects may be Caused by Drugs?

No two women or fetuses react the exact same way to certain medications, therefore it is incredibly difficult to predict which medications may cause birth defects or the cause of the same birth defect in two separate pregnancies.

  • Birth defects from SSRIs

One of the most common birth defects due to taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Lexapro, Zoloft, and Prozac, which are commonly used for psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety, includes persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). This is a life-threatening condition in which the baby’s circulation of the blood does not change patterns after being delivered as it should, causing blood to flow away from the baby’s lungs instead of toward them which ultimately decreases the baby’s oxygen supply to the lungs.

Other possible birth defects as a result of SSRIs may include limb abnormalities, spina bifida, heart defects, and cleft lips and/or palettes.

  • Birth defects from antibiotics

While some antibiotics are considered safe to ingest during pregnancy, such as amoxicillin and penicillin, other types of antibiotics may cause birth defects. These birth defects may include heart defects, cleft lip, and anencephaly, which is when an infant’s skull and brain are malformed.

  • Birth defects from NSAIDs

NSAIDs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and are the most common pain relief drugs in the world. In fact, more than 30 million Americans use this type of drug (Motrin, Aleve, and Excedrin) each day to find relief from headaches, muscle tension, and cramps. While NSAIDs are completely safe to use for most people and under most circumstances, taking these drugs while pregnant could result in your child being born with a birth defect, including cleft palate and spina bifida.

  • Birth defects from seizure medications

When a pregnant woman has been diagnosed with a seizure disorder and has been prescribed seizure medication, she may find herself in a difficult and stressful situation. Going off seizure medications should not be taken lightly and may not be possible at all, depending on the specific situation. Certain seizure medications, such as Tegretol and Dilantin, may cause birth defects when taken during pregnancy. These defects may include organ deformities, craniofacial defects, and developmental delays.

How Can I know if a Drug will Affect my Baby During Pregnancy?

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to predict how a certain medication will affect a fetus, particularly with newer drugs or medications which lack solid medical evidence as to outcomes when ingested by a pregnant woman.

However, the medical community typically agrees that the potential for harm is largely dependent on a wide range of factors, such as:

  • The classification and type of the drug being taken;
  • The dosage;
  • The frequency of doses;
  • The gestational age of the baby at the time exposure to the drug;
  • Individualized factors of the mother, such as diet, exercise, and general health and well-being; and even
  • The individual response of the fetus as no two people react in the exact same way to a medication.

What Should I Do if My Baby Is Harmed by a Drug During Pregnancy?

If you are pregnant and concerned about the likelihood of the fetal development of a birth defect due to a specific medication, you should speak with your doctor. If you have a child that developed birth defects, which you suspect were caused by a medication you took during pregnancy, you may be entitled to financial compensation through a product liability claim, if the drug manufacturer failed to provide proper warnings that the drug was not safe for use during pregnancy or could cause possible birth defects.

At Silverthorne Attorneys, our team of lawyers has a depth of knowledge and experience in the field of pharmaceutical liability, particularly relating to birth defects. Contact Silverthorne Attorneys in Orange County today at (949) 234-6034. We will answer your initial questions with no obligation and at no charge to you.