When you become pregnant, you have a full list of things you aren’t allowed to do, take and eat. This list often includes prescription medications. You may be taking them for legitimate reasons, but shouldn’t take them while you’re pregnant because of potential risks to the fetus.
So, what about Adderall? What should you know about the possible risks of using Adderall when pregnant? The following provides an overview of essential information about Adderall during pregnancy.
Table of Contents
What is Adderall?
Adderall is a prescription drug and a controlled substance in the U.S., given to adults and children to treat symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. It’s a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, both of which are classified as stimulants. Adderall stimulates the central nervous system and affects brain neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.
If someone has ADHD, the use of Adderall can help increase focus, concentration and self-control over certain behaviors. It has therapeutic benefits when used appropriately, but it’s often abused.
People who abuse Adderall tend to do so because they want to experience a high or they want to increase their school or work performance. The reason Adderall can make people feel high is because it increases dopamine levels in the brain.
Adderall Side Effects & Risks
Using this prescription drug does carry risks. Some of the side effects and risks of Adderall include anxiety, nervousness, headache, nausea, vomiting and changes in heart rate and blood pressure. It’s also possibly addictive and suppresses the appetite of users, which is why it’s sometimes misused as a risky way to lose weight.
Despite what people may see as benefits of Adderall, even more severe risks can include psychosis, cardiac arrest, stroke and, in some cases, death. Adderall can increase the risk of many cardiac problems, particularly when it’s abused or when someone takes it in large doses.
These side effects should be emphasized to women when they ask about Adderall during pregnancy because many of these issues can affect the mother and her unborn child. For example, eating a nutritious diet is important during pregnancy, but Adderall changes peoples’ appetites and could prevent a mother from following a good diet. Pregnant women may also be at a higher risk of raised blood pressure. That risk is even more significant when they’re taking Adderall.
So what about the specifics of Adderall during pregnancy? Are there additional risks when pregnant beyond the general risks of taking Adderall?
Adderall During Pregnancy
The simplest answer to this question is: “It depends.” People with certain medical histories are warned against taking Adderall, including people with a history of drug abuse, people with high blood pressure and pregnant women.
According to the FDA, Adderall is classified as a pregnancy category C drug, meaning that there are possible side effects of the drug during pregnancy. It is not categorized as being safe for pregnant women to use but may be necessary for some women in specific cases.
Effects of Adderall on Fetus
Some of the specific risks of Adderall during pregnancy can include premature birth, low birth weight and having a newborn going through withdrawal because they became physically dependent on the drug during pregnancy. Some evidence also shows using Adderall during pregnancy can reduce blood flow to the fetus.
Breastfeeding mothers are also warned against using Adderall because the drug can pass through breast milk. Some of the symptoms of a baby exposed to Adderall through breast milk include appetite loss, insomnia, restlessness and failure to thrive.
Most studies conducted to find the effects of Adderall on a fetus utilized animal testing. The drug was found to cause birth defects and increase the possibility of miscarriages in lab mice. Adderall also caused the mice to be born prematurely, have a low birth weight and experience withdrawal symptoms.
However, it’s important to note that the lab mice were consuming doses up to six times more of the recommended dosage for a human child. Animal studies also found that exposure to amphetamines in the womb also caused learning difficulties and memory deficits. The effects that Adderall has on human fetuses are thought to be somewhat similar to the effects on lab mice, but researchers have not conducted many experiments.
Reuters Health examined data on more than 1.8 million pregnant women and found that 5,571 of them took an amphetamine, like Adderall, in their first trimester. The research concluded that there was no heightened risk of a baby being born with birth defects or heart malformation, compared to the 11% of babies who experience birth defects from the consumption of methylphenidates like Ritalin.
Follow Your Doctor’s Recommendation
While there may not be much Adderall-focused research on human fetuses, it’s not advised for pregnant mothers to continue the use of Adderall unless the benefits outweigh the risks. If you take Adderall and you’re pregnant, you should speak with your physician about their recommendations when it comes to managing your ADHD symptoms and tapering off the use of Adderall while pregnant.
The general recommendation when it comes to Adderall use during pregnancy is that women shouldn’t use it because it can harm the mother or the unborn baby. Women who take Adderall and who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant should speak with their doctor about their specific situation before stopping Adderall. There are some cases where your doctor may have you continue taking Adderall during the pregnancy.
Alternatives to Taking Adderall While Pregnant
Doctor Eva Ritvo, a Miami Beach psychiatrist, suggests that expecting mothers use antidepressants in place of Adderall or other stimulants to reduce the risks associated with their usage. In an interview with the Parents Network, Ritvo explained how there could be ways to manage ADHD without the use of prescription drugs. “Non-pharmacological ways of treating ADHD include exercise and psychotherapy and can be effective in treating the disease if medication needs to be avoided.”
Other activities to relieve stress can include massage therapy and meditation, which can be helpful throughout a woman’s pregnancy and during labor. In an interview with the Washington Post, Doctor Catherine Harrison-Restelli of Sheppard Pratt Health System believes that sometimes stopping the use of the medication can be more harmful.
“[I]f a woman’s ADHD is very severe, I would much rather her take the lowest effective dose of medication to treat her symptoms, rather than to crash her car, burn down the house by leaving the stove on, get fired from work for poor performance, start smoking or using alcohol or drugs to manage stress or have her other children injured in accidents because her ADHD is untreated.”
She also recommends bupropion for mothers who don’t want to risk being off medication for the duration of their pregnancy.
Whether a mother would like to find an alternative to Adderall or stop taking it altogether, a medical professional should be consulted beforehand to help minimize the withdrawal symptoms they may experience.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. “Adderall® (CII) Medication Guides.” March 2007. Accessed April 22, 2020.
Ganapathy, Vadivel. “Drugs of abuse and human placenta.” Life Science, May 23, 2011. Accessed April 22, 2020.
Barton, Jennifer. “Adderall and Pregnancy.” Parents. Accessed April 22, 2020.
Rapaport, Lisa. “ADHD drug tied to heart defects in babies.” Reuters Health, January 5, 2018. Accessed April 22, 2020.
Bell, Terena. “ADHD doctors weigh in on whether to take meds while pregnant.” The Washington Post, March 16, 2017. Accessed April 22, 2020.
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