Medications That Cause Birth Defects


Some prescription medications can be extremely dangerous when taken by pregnant women. These drugs can harm the developing fetus and cause life-altering birth defects.

At the same time, pregnant women may have or develop medical conditions that do need to be treated with prescription drugs. In that situation, the woman’s doctor is responsible for ensuring that no medication is prescribed that isn’t absolutely necessary, that the medicine is as safe as possible for pregnant women, and that the woman and her fetus are carefully monitored. A doctor who does not properly take care of these responsibilities may be committing malpractice.

Medications That Cause Birth Defects

Some prescription medications are known to be especially risky to developing fetuses:


One of the most dangerous drugs for pregnant women is Accutane, which is a treatment for acne with the active ingredient isotretinoin. The chance of a baby whose mother takes Accutane being born with a serious birth defect is 35%. It’s so dangerous that women are advised to stop taking it three years before they plan to get pregnant.


Some antibiotics are considered generally safe for pregnant women, while others increase the risk of birth defects. The safe ones include amoxicillin, ampicillin, clindamycin, erythromycin, and penicillin. However, the risky antibiotics may cause cleft lip, skull malformations, and heart defects. These include:

  • Nitrofurantoin, which is a newer antibiotic used to treat urinary tract infections and bladder inflammation.
  • Sulfonamides: Bactrim (Septra), Gantrisin, Sulfadiazine, and Zonegran.
  • Tetracyclines: Doryx, Monodox, Oracea, Solodyn, and Vibramycin.

Antidepressants and Anti-anxiety drugs

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly prescribed medications for treating depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, some of them can cause serious birth defects, including spina bifida, cleft lip, pulmonary hypertension, heart defects, and limb abnormalities.

The SSRI drugs to watch out for include Fluvoxamine, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac, Symbyax, and Zoloft. Benzodiazepines, which are prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, and seizures, have also been linked to birth defects, including muscle control problems and respiratory problems.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

These commonly used painkillers, in both their prescription and over-the-counter form, increase the risk of neural tube and other birth defects. Although the increased risk is small, it is safer for pregnant women to use acetaminophen (Tylenol), which is not an NSAID.

Over-the-counter NSAID brand names include Aleve, Excedrin, and Motrin.

Prescription NSAIDs include Diclofenac, Lodine, and Meloxicam.


Certain prescription drugs used to prevent or control seizures cause an increased risk of birth defects including cleft lips and palates, developmental delays, and abnormal organs.

Drugs to watch out for: Depakote, Dilantin, Lamictal, and Tegretol.

Topamax (Topiramate)

Topamax is an anticonvulsant medication used to treat epilepsy, migraines, and eating disorders. It increases the risk more than 16-fold that a baby will be born with a cleft palate or cleft lip. It also increases the risk of other birth defects, including hypertension, heart defects, spina bifida, neural tube defects, and lung and limb abnormalities.

Zofran (Ondansetron)

Zofran is used to treat nausea resulting from chemotherapy. However, it is also widely prescribed off-label to treat morning sickness and nausea in first-trimester pregnancies. This is highly risky. Zofran increases the risk of major congenital malformations by 30 percent and doubles the risk of cardiac malfunctions.

Can You Get Compensation for a Birth Defect Caused by a Prescription Drug?

Doctors have a professional duty to properly consider the risks of birth defects when prescribing medications to pregnant women. When doctors fail to perform their duties according to the applicable standard of care, they have committed malpractice.

If your child has a birth defect caused by a prescription drug, and your doctor did not take the proper care in prescribing the drug, you may be entitled to compensation for your child’s current and future medical expenses, including procedures in the hospital, doctor’s visits, rehabilitation services, and assistive devices. You may also receive compensation for pain and suffering and for the loss of the ability to earn. Payment usually goes to the child and may be set up as a trust.

More than one person or company can be held responsible for birth defects caused by medications. In addition to suing the doctors, you may also be able to sue the drug companies and the pharmacists if they failed to properly warn you about the risks posed by the medications or if their actions otherwise fell below the professional standards they have a duty to uphold.

Contact the Experienced Birth Defect Lawyers at Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer Today

The Raynes & Lawn law firm is deeply committed to fighting for the rights of people affected by birth defects caused by medication. Both Stephen Raynes and his late father, Arthur G. Raynes, did groundbreaking work for the victims of the infamous drug Thalidomide. Their work, which spanned almost 50 years, gave the Thalidomide survivors a chance to have a decent life.

That commitment continues today. If you have a child with a birth defect, and you believe that medication you were prescribed while pregnant played a part in your child’s medical problems, we invite you to call us at 1-800-535-1797 for a free consultation.

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