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Beta Blockers and Pregnancy

While some beta blockers may be considered fairly safe for use during pregnancy, just about all beta blockers in general may cause certain risks to the fetus if the medication is taken during late pregnancy. Some of these risks may include a very low heart rate, low blood sugar levels, and/or decreased breathing. If pregnancy occurs while you are using a beta blocker, notify your healthcare provider.

Is It Safe for Pregnant Women to Use Beta Blockers?

Beta blockers are prescription medications used for a variety of different conditions, such as high blood pressure or glaucoma. Depending on the particular medication, beta blockers may or may not be considered safe for use during pregnancy. In general, though, the use of almost any beta blocker late in pregnancy is considered to present certain risks to the fetus.

Pregnancy Category Ratings

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses a pregnancy category system to classify the possible risks to a fetus when a specific medicine is taken during pregnancy. Pregnancy Category B is given to medicines that have not been adequately studied in pregnant humans, but do not appear to cause harm to the fetus in animal studies. Medications that have been shown to be safe for use in pregnancy in humans (even though they have caused problems in laboratory animals) are also given a Category B rating.
The following beta blockers are Pregnancy Category B medications:
Pregnancy Category C is given to medicines that have not been studied in pregnant humans, but do appear to cause harm to the fetus in animal studies. Also, medicines that have not been studied in any pregnant women or animals are automatically given a pregnancy Category C rating. The beta blockers that fall under this category include:
Pregnancy Category D is a classification given to medicines that have been shown to present a risk to the fetus in studies of pregnant women, but may still offer benefits that outweigh the risks the drug presents. A pregnancy Category D medicine may still be given to a pregnant woman if the healthcare provider believes that the benefits to the woman outweigh the possible risks to the unborn child.
Only one beta blocker, atenolol (Tenormin®) is officially a pregnancy Category D medication. However, many sources consider all beta blockers to be category D medications if they are used late in pregnancy.
With beta blockers in general, there have been reports of slowed intrauterine growth, small placentas, and birth defects related their use during pregnancy. There have also been reports of a very low heart rate, low blood sugar levels, and/or decreased breathing in some newborns when beta blockers were given to the mothers near the end of pregnancy.
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