You’re weeks into your pregnancy journey. The feelings of joy (and panic) are settling down. Now all of this is being overtaken by the fact that in this moment, the shit is hitting the fan and you feel like crap.
You have responsibilities. You can’t stop life. No matter how much you want to crawl into bed and never get out, it’s a non-option. You called your doctor; they gave you a prescription for Zofran, so you can, you know, function.
But your heart is feeling uneasy about this. Didn’t you hear someone say they regretted taking it, why?
Welcome to motherhood, my dear friend. This is the land of hard decisions. If you are sick and pregnant, it’s time to weigh some risk.
I’m not trying to totally freak you out with this article. But also, totally freak out.
Morning Sickness, Hyperemesis And Other Reasons Moms Use Zofran
Sometimes Zofran is the right choice for a mom who has sickness that is negatively affecting her life. But – we always want moms to have a full range of tools to use when they are sick as well. Which is why you can learn the difference between morning sickness, a normal amount of mild amount of nausea that does not affect your daily life and Hyperemesis, nausea and vomiting that can make you sick if untreated in our article about morning sickness.
Sometimes, certain prenatal vitamins can also leave moms feeling nauseous. We have a guide on making sure you have an appropriate prenatal vitamin here as well.
Here is what you need to know about using Zofran when pregnant
Zofran is a drug used to treat nausea in cancer patients during chemo. Though frequently prescribed to pregnant mothers for morning sickness, it has never been tested nor approved for use during pregnancy. Like many drugs, it is convenient. Sure, it can be helpful to some women, but not all women.
Personally, I, like you, take great pleasure in easy solutions. At first, Zofran appears to be nothing but a huge win. One pill, morning sickness gone. It’s like magic. Since it seems better than doing nothing, doctor’s have been prescribing it, often like candy, for over ten years.
(If you are looking for alternatives to Zofran, I highly recommend this article, Surviving Morning Sickness: Tips, Tricks, and Advice.
Zofran was prescribed so much that by 2002, Zofran reached sales of $11.1 billion (oh those sexy 0’s).
It wasn’t until a decade of these insane profits that studies began to roll in showing exactly how damaging Zofran can be.
Is it safe to take Zofran when pregnant?
Well, I’m not going to tell you what to do. But I think this science speaks for itself.
- In 2012, researchers at Harvard found that babies exposed to Zofran during pregnancy had a 237% increase in the risk of a cleft palate.
- In 2012, An Australian study reported a six-fold increased risk of kidney obstructions associated with Zofran birth defects.
- In 2014 the Anderson study performed in the Netherlands found that babies exposed to Zofran in the first trimester were 2 to 4 times more likely to be born with a hole in their heart, which can sometimes be fatal.
So no, taking Zofran when pregnant is not actually ‘safe.’ But you knew I was going to say that already. Though Zofran’s popularity has diminished, there are still many doctors who will readily prescribe it, despite the known risks.
You can read my own experience with doctors, Zofran and dealing with morning sickness, both mild and severe is this post: Morning Sickness Symptoms Revealed: Stop Feeling Sick, Start Enjoying Your Pregnancy.
PS. There are a whole bunch of safer alternatives to treating morning sickness in that little post as well. Check it out.
Why was it considered safe to take Zofran when pregnant for more than ten years?
That is a good questions. One that I personally am inclined to say is profits over people. Or, lack of desire (or knowledge) about more natural and safer alternatives.
Prenatal teas with dandelion root, nettle leaves, and red raspberry leaf, for example, has been held as a requirement by many midwives for their patients for centuries. It cannot be patented and costs very little, thus it will never make $11 billion in sales.
The truth is that GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of Zofran, knew from the beginning that this drug can affect a fetus. Their studies in the 1980s, clearly show that Zofran crosses the placenta in animals.
In the last decade, several studies have confirmed that Zofran rapidly passes through the human placenta in significant amounts and remains active in the fetus much longer than the mother.
And then there are the shady studies that hid problems with the drug.
Remember when cigarettes were considered good for your health? There are some companies that will always put profits over people and manipulate data to convince you to use their product. In doing this they purposely hide side effects you have the right not know about.
The recommendation to use Zofran when pregnant is a prime example of purposely hiding or ignoring data that this could be dangerous.
In February 2013, the New England Journal of Medicine published a reassuring study concluding that Zofran did not increase the risk of birth defects.
However, half of the women in the study took Zofran after the 10th week of pregnancy, after their baby was no longer at risk of heart defects, cleft lip/palate, and other major birth defects.
Six months after this study was published, another team of researchers looked at the same database of pregnancy outcomes — but found that Zofran doubled the risk of having a baby with a heart defect, leading to a 30% overall increased risk of birth defects. About 5% of babies exposed to Zofran had a birth defect, compared to 3.5% of babies who were not exposed.
Want to feel even worse about the doctors recommending using Zofran when pregnant?
In July 2012, the Justice Department ordered GSK to pay $3 billion for illegally marketing many drugs off-label, including Zofran to pregnant women with morning sickness. This means that the manufacturer of Zofran purposely, knowingly and actively sought out pregnant women to buy this drug despite the lack of safety data available. Profit over people.
GSK also paid kickbacks to doctors who prescribed Zofran. Take note that this happens with other drugs as well.
Despite having never been approved for use during pregnancy, Zofran is currently the top-selling morning sickness drug in the US.
What is taking the place of Zofran for moms who want a pill for morning sickness?
It’s not even the crack of dawn and you wake up thinking “I feel like I’m dying. I need this drug!”
I get you sister. Morning sickness is rough, especially when it is severe. It should not be ignored. You have options. Have you checked out this post yet? Morning Sickness Symptoms Revealed: Stop Feeling Sick, Start Enjoying Your Pregnancy.
Before you use this drug, please consider these natural remedies and see if they can help you keep enough nutrients in your body to feel better.
You may want to know that there is a new drug on the market for morning sickness called Dicligis which has been approved for use in pregnant women by the FDA.
But before you let out a deep sigh of relief, know this, the active ingredient in Dicligis is the same active ingredient in a drug called Bendectin. Bendectin was the predecessor to Zofran and was shockingly (not shockingly) pulled from the market in 1983 for not actually being safe.
Time will tell if Dicligis will stay around or if it will be pulled as well.
What to do if you are extraordinarily sick and you must take a prescription for morning sickness?
There is almost nothing more soul-crushing then when a life-threatening illness you are currently experiencing is brushed under the rug as ‘no big deal.’ This sometimes happens to mothers in the midst of the severe version of morning sickness, Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
Hyperemesis Graviarum is life-threatening and should not be ignored. You can read 9 things you didn’t know about Hyperemesis Gravidarum here. (You may need to summon your inner Hermoine Granger to pronounce that, but if you’re experiencing it, you certainly know.)
You have consulted with your doctor and you agree that the risks of taking Zofran are less than the risk of not taking it. Sometimes this happens and I send you a big hug and an I’m sorry sometimes #lifesucksbutitwillgetbetter coffee mug. If there was a magic eraser to take away all risky decisions, life would be a bit easier. But you would also be robbed of the motivation to learn, grow and change.
Consider your time on Zofran a blessing and do these things to change your health.
- Buy the book Dirty Genes: A Breakthrough Program to Treat the Root Cause of Illness and Optimize Your Health by Dr. Ben Lynch to see if there is a genetic reason morning sickness is hitting you so hard.
- Get rid of all folic acid in your diet. Check your cereal, your bread, your prenatal vitamin. If it has folic acid, ditch it. Then, fill your diet with leafy greens, beans, eggs and citrus fruits that have the natural form of folic acid which is folate. Pick a prenatal that has folate instead of folic acid.
- Aim to eat at least, at the very bare minimum, 5 servings of fruit or vegetables a day. 7 is better. 9 is divine. This will provide you nutrients in the natural way your body can absorb them. This is much better than getting nutrients from a drink, pill or shake, which truly, can never replace a healthy diet. This is of course if the medication is helping and you can eat like the hungry fiend that has not eaten anything in weeks that you are.
Taking Zofran when pregnant is a decision to carefully weigh. This is not a drug for when you feel a little bit sick. It has significant evidence against it. There are other options to try first. However, it may be worth considering if you have extreme morning sickness and are at risk of being hospitalized because of it.
I beg you, please do not use the information in this article to beat yourself up for a decision that is truly best for you or to white knuckle through being very very sick. Remember that 5 percent of babies on Zofran had birth defects. That also means that 95 percent were just fine.
Pregnancy is meant to be a joyful time. Don’t give up on that possibility.
What do you do if you took Zofran when pregnant and your child had a birth defect?
I am so sorry mama. Please, let go of any guilt and know you did the best you could with the situation and information you had. Please advocate for yourself and your child and contact a lawfirm. Zofran Legal and Schmidt Law are both law practices you could speak to about this.
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