May 2014: Treating for Two: Safer Medication Use in Pregnancy

NCBDDD has developed three Strategic Health Investments (SHI) that have the potential to expand the Center’s work and have significant public health impacts. The first SHI to be introduced in the Friends’ Newsletter is Treating for Two. In future issues of the Friends’ Newsletter we will introduce our other SHI.

Despite the widespread use of medications, healthcare providers often lack evidence needed to inform decisions about medication benefits versus risks for patients who are or could become pregnant. Treating for Two aims to protect fetal, infant, and maternal health by identifying the safest options for management of common conditions before and during pregnancy.

Research studies, including those from the NCBDDD’s National Births Defects Prevention Study, have found associations between prenatal medication use and birth defects, including congenital heart defects, spina bifida, orofacial clefts, and others. In addition, emerging research suggests possible associations between prenatal medication use and developmental disabilities such as autism and ADHD. Unfortunately, most medications have an unknown fetal risk because they haven’t been adequately studied in pregnancy. Because medication use during pregnancy has surged to 90% in the United States, Treating for Two has the potential to improve health and reduce health care costs by preventing adverse birth outcomes caused by harmful medications. For example, CDC researchers found that shifting use from valproic acid, a medication linked to birth defects, to a medication with no risk could prevent 40 cases of spina bifida annually, saving nearly $20,000,000 in lifetime medical costs.

Through partnerships with other federal agencies and external partners, Treating for Two aims to provide better research, develop reliable guidance, and deliver information for informed decisions, ultimately leading to healthier pregnancies and healthier babies. Learn more at or contact Dr. Cheryl Broussard ( to get your organization involved.

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