During my last pregnancy, I had frequent migraine headaches and wondered what medications were safe to take.

With rules about pregnancy medications constantly changing, it can feel overwhelming to know the risks and benefits. It usually comes down to weighing the benefits for a mother with a health condition — even one as simple as a headache — with potential risks to her developing baby.

The problem is, scientists can‘t ethically perform drug testing on a pregnant woman. It's never accurate to say a medication is 100 percent safe, simply because it's never been studied or tested. Instead, doctors assign medications during pregnancy to categories of safety by risk level.

Category AThe safest drugs to take during pregnancy. No known adverse reactions.
Category BNo risks have been found in humans.
Category CNot enough research has been done to determine if these drugs are safe.
Category DAdverse reactions have been found in humans.
Category XShould never be used by a pregnant woman.

In the middle of the scale, we find ourselves in the murky territory of category C drugs. These are drugs that may be safe, but may be harmful.

How is a pregnant woman supposed to know?

Category C Drugs to Avoid

Luckily, there are some guidelines for specific category C drugs that women should avoid during their pregnancies. With these drugs, there is a stronger link to an adverse reaction. Doctors warn pregnant women not to take them.

Below is a sampling of category C medications pregnant women should avoid. Many of them are antibiotics.


An antibiotic with a brand name of "Chloromycetin." This medication, usually given as an injection, is associated with serious blood disorders and gray baby syndrome.

Cipro and Levaquin

These antibiotics could cause problems with the baby's muscle and skeletal growth, joint pain, and potential nerve damage.


A drug used to treat malaria that can damage blood cells in a fetus.


The majority of these types of drugs, used as antimicrobials and antibacterials, cause jaundice in newborns.


An antibiotic that can cause neural tube defects in fetuses.


Can cause withdrawal symptoms in newborns.

Ibuprofen or Motrin

High doses of these can cause many serious problems, including:

  • miscarriage
  • delayed onset of labor
  • premature closing of the fetal ductus arteriosus
  • jaundice
  • hemorrhaging for both mom and baby
  • necrotizing enterocolitis
  • oligohydramnios
  • fetal kernicterus
  • abnormal vitamin K levels

Be sure to speak to your doctor if you are unsure if a medication is safe to take during your pregnancy. Also ask about updated studies, as medication categories can change with new research.

Chaunie Brusie, B.S.N. is a registered nurse with experience in labor and delivery, critical care, and long-term care nursing. She lives in Michigan with her husband and four young children, and is the author of the book “Tiny Blue Lines.”