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Are there risks to taking medication while pregnant? USask research looks to find out

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WATCH: More than three-quarters of pregnant women in Canada take some kind of medication, but little is known about how they affect moms and their babies. A new research project from the University of Saskatchewan aims to change that – Mar 5, 2021

More than three-quarters of pregnant women in Canada take some kind of medication, according to the University of Saskatchewan, but little is known about how they affect moms and their babies.

A new research project at the university will take a deeper look at that.

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The group’s research is called the Canadian Mother-Child Cohort Active Surveillance Initiative. It will look at data from nearly 4 million pregnancies over 25 years from Saskatchewan, Ontario, Alberta and Quebec.

Saskatchewan’s project lead Brandy Winquist said there isn’t a lot of information in this area.

“Most women take at least one medication during pregnancy, and often this is at a time when the developing baby is most vulnerable,” she said.

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“Ultimately the goal … of our work is to identify these risks and take measures to prevent them.”

The project will use routinely collected data, Winquist explained.

“It exists, but not right now in a form that is easily used in pregnancy research,” she explained.

Despite how many pregnant women take some kind of medication, Winquist said clinical trials aren’t done on them.

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That means for many medications, the full effects on pregnant bodies isn’t known, including whether there are risks or not.

“Where a pregnant woman has a chronic condition or is suffering from an infection, in these cases stopping a medication can be harmful to both mom and baby,” she said.

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The Saskatchewan Prevention Institute works with health-care providers, including by providing resources for expectant mothers.

Temi Akintilebo is the institute’s prenatal and infant health coordinator. She said this research is important for health-care providers, too.

“(This research) would ultimately make women make informed choices about having healthy pregnancies, as well as also help health-care provides that work with them as well as other professionals to better support their pregnancies,” she said.

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The Saskatoon Pregnancy Options Centre said many expectant mothers worry about continuing medication they may already take, causing more stress during an already stressful time.

“They need to be on this medication, it’s essential, but they’re worried: will it affect the baby?” explained executive director Cathy LaFleche.

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“There isn’t a lot of data because you can’t really do the research except on women who are pregnant, and so a lot of the research, there’s a bit of a risk involved with that.”

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LaFleche’s advice for moms-to-be is to talk to their doctor and pharmacist, and do research on their own.

The University of Saskatchewan was awarded $336,000 from the federal government to take part in the research.

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