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Drug safety info during pregnancy lacking

WASHINGTON -- Nearly every woman takes a medication at some point during pregnancy. Yet there's disturbingly little easy-to-understand information about which drugs pose a risk to her baby, and what to do about it.

Need pain relief? The fine print warns that painkillers like Advil aren't for the third trimester. Left unsaid is whether to worry if you took them earlier.

An awful cold? Don't panic if you used decongestant pills. But in early pregnancy doctors advise a nasal spray.

And don't abandon antidepressants or epilepsy medicines without talking to your doctor first. Some are safer than others. Worsening depression or seizures aren't good for a mom-to-be or her baby.

"To come off of those medications is often a dangerous thing for the pregnancy itself," warns Dr. Sandra Kweder of the Food and Drug Administration. "They need information on what to expect, how to make those trade-offs."

A new study shows how difficult that information is to come by.

Women with pregnancy questions often turn to the Internet. But researchers examined 25 pregnancy-related websites and found that no two lists of purportedly safe drugs were identical. Twenty-two products called safe on one site were deemed risky on another.

Worse, specialists couldn't find evidence to back up safety claims for 40 percent of the drugs listed, said Cheryl Broussard of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who led the recent study.

"The reality is that for most of the medications, it's not that they're safe or not that's the concern. The concern is that we just don't know," she said.

Broussard experienced some of that confusion during her own two pregnancies; different doctors handed over different lists of what was safe to use.

It's a growing dilemma. The CDC says medication use during the first trimester -- especially vulnerable for birth defects because fetal organs are forming -- has jumped 60 percent in three decades. And women increasingly are postponing pregnancy until their 30s, even 40s, more time to develop a chronic health condition.

The CDC is beginning a Treating for Two program to explore how to get better information, and the FDA plans to revamp prescription drug labels with more details. But people want an easy answer -- use it or don't. For many drugs, they won't get one anytime soon.

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