Recently, I wrote about studies concerning the increased risk of birth defects caused by smoking. A recent press release from the CDC draws attention to a newly discovered link between the use of certainly prescription opioid pain relievers by a woman shortly before conception or in the first trimester of pregnancy to an increase in birth defects. Similar to the evidence about smoke exposure, the research identifies the period before conception and during early pregnancy as critical. I think that these findings raise questions about the use of these drugs by woman of child-bearing age as the critical time period may be one when a woman is not aware that she is pregnant or going to become pregnant.
Use of these opioid pain relievers, such as codeine and oxycodone, “was linked to several types of congenital heart defects as well as spina bifida, hydrocephaly, congenital glaucoma and gastroschisis.” According to the press release, the study, which was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “found that women who took prescription opioid medications just before or during early pregnancy had about two times the risk for having a baby with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (one of the most critical heart defects) as women who were not treated with these opioid medications.” Overall the CDC statement suggests that the risk of these defects is not that large for any individual woman given the rarity of these conditions, but that it is important information nonetheless since the defects are very significant.
Cerebral Palsy rates dropping in U.S.
In happier news, overall rates of cerebral palsy are dropping in the United States. The cause of the decline is linked to improved care during pregnancy and at birth. According to Medical News Today, a new “…article published in The Journal of Pediatrics indicates that the rates of cerebral palsy have declined dramatically in the past 15 years.” This is exciting news not just because it means that many fewer children are born with a devastating injury but also because it is an indicator of a general improvement in the care provided to mothers and babies before, during and immediately following birth.