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A Brief History of the Dangers of Thalidomide in Pregnancy

Monday, March 25th, 2013

In the early 1950’s, a medication called thalidomide was prescribed to pregnant women who were suffering from severe morning sickness and pain. It was considered a sufficient and safe sedative for the problem. However, in the early 60’s, doctors started noticing rare birth defects in babies who were born to mothers on the medication. The birth defects were obvious and common, so experts took a second look at the drug and considered it more critically. As it turns out, their research showed that thalidomide did in fact cause the defects, and current research still supports that finding.

Decades ago, doctors didn’t even know that a medicine taken during pregnancy could actually affect a growing baby. They thought that as long as the drug didn’t kill the mother, the baby would be safe. This was obviously untrue, and thalidomide birth defects proved it. There is a famous photo from 1972 in which a young victim of gestational thalidomide intake is handing Princess Anne a bouquet of flowers with her foot because she was born without any arms at all.

As soon as the finding was discovered, doctors stopped using the medication to treat pregnant women for their ailments. However, it was not completely taken off the market, and some physicians still use it to treat conditions such as Hansen’s Disease. However, you should absolutely not take the medication while you are pregnant under any circumstances. It is one of those medications that will almost infallibly cause a birth defect in your child. If you take thalidomide regularly for a condition, speak with your doctor about a plan for pregnancy before you even start trying to conceive. Your body might need time to cleanse itself of the chemicals, so stopping when you find out you’re pregnant might even be too late.

Your baby bump will become your number one priority in life, so learning about which medications are safe and which are not can help you give your baby the healthiest gestation possible. As long as you follow your doctor’s orders and be careful of which medications you take, be they prescribed, herbal and over-the-counter, more likely than not, you’ll be holding a happy and healthy bundle of joy in no time.
 – Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.