Are ‘Ozempic babies’ on the rise? What to know about the growing phenomenon

Click to play video: 'What are ‘Ozempic babies’ and why are women reporting being pregnant while on weight-loss drugs?'
What are ‘Ozempic babies’ and why are women reporting being pregnant while on weight-loss drugs?
WATCH: What are 'Ozempic babies' and why are women reporting being pregnant while on weight-loss drugs? – Jun 1, 2024

The term “Ozempic babies” is taking social media by storm as a growing number of women have shared their stories of getting pregnant after using the popular weight-loss drug.

While there is no scientific research yet specifically looking at the “Ozempic babies” phenomenon, experts say the increasing anecdotal evidence is “not surprising.”

In the past year, Darine El-Chaar, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the Ottawa Hospital, said she’s come across at least five such cases either in her own clinical practice or through other colleagues.

“This is just one of those things we expect to see,” El-Chaar said in an interview with Global News.

“People who thought they couldn’t conceive or didn’t have periods would certainly see surprise pregnancies on these medications.”

But what is behind this link? And are there any risks of weight-loss drugs during pregnancy?

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Here is what we know.

Can weight-loss drugs improve fertility?

Many women who are living with obesity or have polycystic ovary syndrome will have irregular menstrual cycles and ovulation, which makes it difficult for them to get pregnant, said Daniel Drucker, senior scientist at Sinai Health’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto.

So, in order to increase their chances of conceiving, one of the recommendations is to lose weight, Drucker said.

“Obviously these medicines help women lose weight, and weight loss by itself will increase ovulation and increase the chance of a successful fertility event,” he said in an interview with Global News.

Click to play video: 'Maternal obesity linked to increased stillbirth risk, study shows'
Maternal obesity linked to increased stillbirth risk, study shows

People in the higher obesity classes are generally on a “very effective” weight-loss medication, so it’s “not surprising” that their ovulation would be restored, said Naila Ramji, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist in Fredericton, N.B., and assistant professor at Dalhousie University.

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In addition, social factors, such as women becoming more comfortable with their body image and in sexual relationships from losing weight, also need to be looked at more closely, El-Chaar said.

Can weight-loss drugs make birth control pills less effective?

Another possible explanation for increased fertility from weight-loss medication is the way the GLP-1 receptor agonists, which is a class of drugs including Ozempic, Wegovy and others, work.

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Ramji said GLP-1 can slow gastric emptying and that can affect the absorption of other medications that do go through the gastrointestinal tract, including birth control pills.

Ozempic is an injection so it doesn’t go through the GI tract, but it can slow it down, Ramji explained.

Click to play video: 'Mounjaro could become Ozempic alternative'
Mounjaro could become Ozempic alternative

A warning label for weight-loss and diabetes drug tirzepatide, sold under the brand name Mounjaro, states that oral birth control pills may not work as well while using this medication.

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“If you take birth control pills by mouth, your healthcare provider may recommend another type of birth control for 4 weeks after you start Mounjaro and for 4 weeks after each increase in your dose of Mounjaro,” the drug label from May 2022 states.

Given the potential impact on oral contraceptives of such drugs, Ramji said it would be important to consider taking them with other forms of contraceptives that don’t go through the gastrointestinal tract, such as IUDs, the Depo-Provera injection, the birth control patch, the estrogen ring, and implants, called Nexplanon.

What are the risks of weight-loss drugs during pregnancy?

Experts advise pregnant people not to take any weight-loss drugs because there is limited research on how this could impact pregnancies. To date, no regulated human trials have been conducted looking into the risks.

The recommendation is to stop taking such drugs at least two months before someone actively starts trying to get pregnant, both Ramji and Drucker said.

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Even though there are animal studies suggesting that weight-loss drugs may cause birth defects and increase the risk of miscarriage and growth restriction, there isn’t enough safety data in humans, Ramji said.

Click to play video: 'Ozempic-makers’ weight-loss drug, Wegovy, coming soon to Canada'
Ozempic-makers’ weight-loss drug, Wegovy, coming soon to Canada

“In general, we don’t recommend weight-loss drugs for women who are trying to get pregnant, and we don’t recommend actively trying to lose weight when you are pregnant,” she said.

“There can be pregnancy complications associated with this drug and the reason we say to stop two months before is because we don’t know how long it’ll stay in people’s system for.”

Click to play video: 'Discrimination preventing coverage of effective weight loss drugs'
Discrimination preventing coverage of effective weight loss drugs

Ozempic’s website states that it is not known if the drug will harm an unborn baby or pass into the breast milk.

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Another concern during pregnancy is the lack of appetite from taking weight-loss drugs, which could potentially harm the baby, Drucker said.

“Pregnancy is a time when we want there to be sufficient nutrition for the developing baby, and so we don’t want to have a situation where a woman might be faced with not only maybe some nausea and vomiting because she’s pregnant, but also now lack of appetite because they’re on these weight-loss medicines,” he said.

Global News reached out to Novo Nordisk, the makers of Ozempic and Wegovy, about the reports of unexpected pregnancies in patients using these weight-loss drugs.

In a statement, they said “pregnancy or intention to become pregnant were exclusion criteria” in the company’s trials with semaglutide for both obesity and type 2 diabetes. As a result, “there (is) limited clinical trial data with semaglutide use in pregnant women.”

with a file from Global News’ Sean Previl

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