Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can impact every area of your life. It can affect school and work as well as your personal relationships and self-esteem. It was long believed that ADHD was a disorder found only in children. But we now know that ADHD affects people throughout their lifetimes.

Due to the changes that come with pregnancy, ADHD can be especially hard to manage while you’re pregnant. Still, pregnant women with ADHD must continue to manage their condition well. It’s a time when you might think ADHD medication could be especially helpful. But, pregnancy brings special concerns for drug use of any kind. Here’s what you need to know about the safety of taking Adderall during pregnancy.

Adderall is a central nervous system stimulant that combines the amphetamine salts amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. The drug is used to reduce symptoms of ADHD. It works by increasing the activity of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. It also prompts cells to release more of these neurotransmitters. These effects help people with ADHD focus and control their impulses better.

Adderall stays active in the body for four to six hours. It’s available in short-acting and long-acting forms.

Side effects of Adderall can include:

  • dry mouth
  • loss of appetite
  • sleeping trouble
  • dizziness
  • nervousness

Adderall is a Schedule 2 drug under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. That means it can be addictive. It also has a high potential for abuse.

People with certain medical conditions should not take Adderall. These include people with symptomatic heart disease, moderate to severe high blood pressure, a history of drug abuse, and more. Among these people are also pregnant women.

Pregnant women should not take Adderall. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Adderall is a pregnancy category C drug. That means studies show side effects from Adderall in pregnant animals, but there’s not enough evidence from studies in people to be conclusive.

That means the drug has not been confirmed as safe to use during pregnancy. There haven’t been any well-controlled studies that look at the drug’s effects in pregnant women, and there have been negative reports of using the drug during pregnancy. There has been one report of severe birth defects in a baby born to a woman who took dextroamphetamine (one of the components of Adderall) with lovastatin during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Amphetamine, the other component of Adderall, should be used during pregnancy only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the fetus. Infants born to mothers dependent on amphetamine have an increased risk of premature birth and low birth weight. Also, these infants may have symptoms of withdrawal.

Together, these human studies suggest that the ingredients in Adderall are not safe for a pregnancy.

In animal testing, mothers who were given Adderall showed effects in their pregnancies. Their doses were equivalent to six times the daily recommended dosage for a human child. The side effects included birth defects and loss of pregnancy. Results from animal studies such as these are why there haven’t been any good human studies done on Adderall use during pregnancy – it’s too risky to do trials on pregnant women.

What’s more, Adderall increases your heart rate and blood pressure. It may also reduce blood flow. These effects may be especially harmful during pregnancy.

Learn more: Complications of abnormal blood pressure during pregnancy »

Adderall is also not recommended when you’re breastfeeding. This is because the drug can pass through breastmilk and cause side effects in a child who is breastfed. Side effects can include:

  • loss of appetite
  • restlessness
  • insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep)
  • failure to thrive

All pregnant women go through a slew of hormonal and emotional changes. These can be especially tough to manage if you also have ADHD. For this reason, symptoms of ADHD tend to become worse during pregnancy. But know that each pregnancy is unique. Some women may actually have fewer ADHD symptoms at certain stages during pregnancy, while others may experience an increase in ADHD symptoms or even have new symptoms.

Discover: Effects of adult ADHD on relationships »

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder. The condition may make it difficult to focus and pay attention. It can also cause behavioral problems. Emotional disorders, particularly depression and anxiety, are also common in people with ADHD.

ADHD also tends to run in families. According to Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, if a parent has ADHD, there’s a 50 percent chance that the child will have it, too.

ADHD may start in the womb. Children are more likely to have the condition when their mother smokes or uses drugs or alcohol during pregnancy. Also, if a mother is exposed to environmental toxins such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) during pregnancy, her child is at greater risk of having ADHD.

The cause of ADHD is not fully understood, but there are some clues. A number of studies, including a brain imaging study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, have found that people with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine and norepinephrine than normal. Dopamine and norepinephrine are neurotransmitters that send messages between cells. They’re part of your body’s system of reward and motivation.

Toxin exposure is also linked to ADHD. These toxins include mercury and lead found in older paint and pipes.

Learn more: Avoiding lead exposure »

In general, it is not recommended to take Adderall during pregnancy. The drug can harm you or your unborn baby. Work with your doctor to find other ways to manage your ADHD during pregnancy, such as through massage, yoga, therapy, or supplements.

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