Pregnant woman sitting in car
If you are pregnant, any medication you take could potentially pass to your unborn baby through the placenta. And while some drugs are known to be safe during pregnancy, others could cause some serious issues.

ADHD Medication and Pregnancy

If you are a woman affected by ADHD and are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you may be wondering whether it is safe to continue your medication.

Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to the question, “Is it safe to take ADHD medication during pregnancy?” In this article, we aim to give you all the facts so you can make an informed decision.

Is It Safe to Take ADHD Medication During Pregnancy?

If you are pregnant, any medication you take could potentially pass to your unborn baby through the placenta. And while some drugs are known to be safe during pregnancy, others could cause some serious issues.

To help you understand the risks of a particular medication, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has put together a dedicated rating system. Each drug is ranked A, B, C, D or X according to its potential to harm your developing fetus. Class A drugs are considered safe during pregnancy, while Class X drugs are considered extremely harmful.

Most stimulant ADHD medications are ranked as Class C. This rating means that although animal studies have shown some negative effects, there is insufficient evidence from human trials. For Class C drugs, it is necessary to carefully weigh the risks and benefits, and make a decision with your physician.

ADHD medications ranked as Class C by the FDA include:

  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin/Concerta)
  • Amphetamine salts (Adderall)
  • Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse)

The non-stimulant ADHD medication atomoxetine (Strattera) is also rated as Class C by the FDA. However, research suggests that it may be a slightly safer option than the stimulants listed above.

ADHD Medication and Pregnancy Risks

There have been numerous studies into the risks of taking ADHD medication during pregnancy. Although the evidence is not 100% conclusive, it appears that there are several risks associated with ADHD drugs during pregnancy.

According to one Swedish study conducted in 2017, infants exposed to ADHD medication in the womb had an increased chance of being born preterm, being admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and suffering from central nervous system disorders such as seizures. Other potential risks included miscarriage, low birth weight and feeding problems.

While the authors of the study did not find an increased risk of birth defects, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) disagrees. On its website, it states that taking ADHD medication, especially during early pregnancy, may cause several birth defects. These include the following:

  • Gastroschisis (being born with the intestines outside of the body)
  • Omphalocele (being born with the intestines, liver or other organs outside of the body)
  • Limb defects

A further study from 2019 found that taking ADHD medication during pregnancy slightly increased the risk of heart malformations.

Another possible risk associated with ADHD medication and pregnancy is preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that is dangerous for both mother and child. The symptoms include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Edema
  • Headaches
  • Pain below the ribs
  • Blurred vision

If you are pregnant and experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

ADHD Medication Options During Pregnancy

Whether or not to continue taking your ADHD medication during pregnancy is a difficult decision. Therefore, you should discuss all your options thoroughly with your physician before making a choice.

If you decide that stopping your medication completely will be too problematic, you have a couple of different options available.

Firstly, your doctor may suggest that you switch to a different medication with a better safety profile. Secondly, you could stay on the same medication, but take the lowest possible dose. Making these changes may help you to manage your symptoms throughout pregnancy, while keeping the risks to a minimum.

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If you decide that it would be better to come off your medication during pregnancy, there are numerous other ways to manage your symptoms.

You could try a therapy such as CBT in order to regulate your thought patterns, reduce anxiety and learn coping strategies. You might also find mindfulness or meditation an effective way to quiet your mind and improve focus.

Other non-pharmaceutical ways to manage ADHD symptoms include making lists, using a daily planner, and setting alarms for important events. You could also try to improve your ADHD by making some changes to your diet.

Aim to eat a well-balanced diet including plenty of protein, fresh fruit and vegetables, and whole grains to give you a steady supply of energy through the day. You should also ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need.

Some of the most important nutrients for ADHD include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vitamin B6
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Iron

Some foods that may be best to avoid include:

  • Sugar
  • Caffeine
  • Artificial colors and flavorings

Although making these lifestyle changes may not control your symptoms as well as medication, they are safe during pregnancy and may help give you some peace of mind.

ADHD Medication and Pregnancy: The Bottom Line

If you are planning to become pregnant and have ADHD, it is essential that you discuss your options with your physician. They will help you weigh the risks and benefits of taking your medication during pregnancy, and decide whether to continue.

Of course, not all pregnancies are planned. If you find yourself in this situation, it is important not to panic. Make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible and they will help you determine the best course of action.