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What Are the Risks of Taking Prednisone in Pregnancy?

Autumn Rivers
Updated Feb 25, 2024
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Prednisone is a corticosteroid that is often prescribed to treat inflammation, but it is generally not recommended for pregnant women unless there are no alternate medications available. While it has not been officially assigned to a category by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most sources list it as category B or C, meaning it may pose a danger to the fetus. The most common risks of this drug include cleft palate or lip, low birth weight and premature birth. Conflicting reports of prednisone in pregnancy have resulted in it being advised that pregnant patients only use this drug when no other anti-inflammatory medication will treat their condition.

While the FDA has not formally categorized prednisone, its active ingredient, prednisolone, has been assigned to category C. In small studies, it has been shown to result in cleft palate or lip, along with other birth defects. Premature delivery and low birth weight are also suggested to have occurred when mothers took this drug in the first trimester. These studies were small, however, and did not provide enough controls to determine whether the birth defects were truly caused by the prednisone instead of an underlying condition. For this reason, prednisone in pregnancy is only classed as a category C drug according to some sources.

The fact that the only studies of prednisone in pregnancy involving humans were not scientific means this drug also is sometimes put into category B. Medications in this category are often considered safe to take in moderation because studies in either animals or humans have shown no ill effects. Unlike category A drugs, which are considered perfectly safe to take during pregnancy, medications in category B are only to be used in moderation. In general, women are advised to use prednisone in pregnancy only when necessary, such as when the positive effects outweigh the slim possibility of birth defects. When safer medications can obtain the same results as prednisone, though, pregnant women are advised to take those instead.

Taking prednisone while breastfeeding is considered slightly safer than taking prednisone in pregnancy, because only a small percentage of the drug transfers to breast milk. To be on the safe side, nursing mothers are advised to take the lowest dose possible while still treating their condition. When high doses are necessary, nursing mothers are advised to wait to breastfeed at least four hours after taking the drug.

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Autumn Rivers
By Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for WiseGeek, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On Dec 27, 2013

There are definitely risks associated with prednisone. It should be avoided, unless the steroid is being used to develop a baby's lungs due to risk of premature birth.

By bear78 — On Dec 27, 2013

@SarahGen-- Your doctor has to decide whether the benefits of prednisone outweigh the risks in your case.

I did take prednisone when I was pregnant. My asthma was acting up and my doctor felt that it was necessary. My doctor assured me that my baby would not be harmed and she was right. I gave birth to a gorgeous, healthy baby boy.

I think that there haven't been many studies done on prednisone use in pregnancy in recent times. Most of the studies date several decades back. If a woman has a serious health condition while pregnant that would benefit from prednisone, and if it's past the first trimester, I think most doctors will prescribe it. At the end of the day, if the mother is not healthy, the baby won't be either. So talk to your doctor about your concerns.

By SarahGen — On Dec 26, 2013

I'm in my second trimester and experiencing complications with my Crohn's disease. I had to have two surgeries this month regarding my intestines and my doctor wants me to take prednisone. I want to take it but I'm worried that it will harm the baby. I don't want my baby to be born with cleft palate or some other abnormality. I'm not sure of what to do.

Has anyone taken prednisone during pregnancy? What was your reason for doing so and was your baby born healthy?

Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for WiseGeek, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
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