If you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, or if you are breastfeeding, you know who your healthcare providers are. They are your OBGYN or midwife, or your primary care doctor, and maybe you think of your dentist, too. They are the ones you think of when you have a question about your health. But you are probably overlooking another healthcare professional, one who is convenient, accessible, and ready to help: Your pharmacist.
Pharmacists are the experts on medications, both prescription and over-the-counter products, including dietary supplements. They know which medications are the best choices for you and often advise your physician and midwife on which drugs are safest to take during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The best part? Pharmacists are easy to find. They are standing behind the counter at the pharmacy where you already take your prescriptions and they are available at almost any time to answer a question about your medications. There are 67,000 retail pharmacies all over the United States, from the big chains like CVS and Walgreens to pharmacist-owned independent pharmacies, like those represented by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA).
“We are an underutilized resource,” says Elise Damman, PharmD, RPh, Associate Director of Education Programs with the NCPA. The PharmD after her name stands for Doctor of Pharmacy, which is the degree pharmacists earn when they graduate from a school of pharmacy. RPh means registered pharmacist, which is a licensing designation. Pharmacists serve as the second eye on prescription medications and often call physicians to double-check the medication choice or the dosage. They frequently alert physicians to problems with a prescription, such as an interaction with another medication the patient is taking or a problem with insurance coverage.
“We work in collaboration with physicians and OBGYNs,” Damman says. If a pharmacist feels that your question needs to be addressed to your doctor or midwife, he or she will tell you, she adds.
Pharmacists are your go-to resource during pregnancy because of the special needs of you and your baby. Many drugs that are safe at any other time may have an effect on you or your baby. Some drugs are more likely to be passed on to the baby during pregnancy or breastfeeding or might cause a decrease in your milk supply. Most over-the-counter products are generally safe for pregnant women especially if they are only taken for a short time, like a pain reliever for an occasional headache. Some products may have a side effect like constipation or loose bowels that might cause some discomfort during pregnancy. But if you have any questions, ask the pharmacist.
If you need a cough suppressant or something for your head cold, or need a pain reliever, ask your pharmacist what product is best to use. “They can give you advice on any OTC to be sure it is appropriate,” Damman says.
Sometimes the best choice for an over-the-counter product may change depending on where in your pregnancy you are. Pain relievers are an example of this, she adds. For example, women are usually advised not to take ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) during their third trimester, because it can increase bleeding during birth. But it is the recommended choice for pain relief after you give birth and while you are breastfeeding, she says.
Any time your local pharmacy is open, you can ask to speak with the pharmacist on duty to ask a question about prescription medications and over-the-counter products including dietary supplements and vitamins. You may need to wait a minute or two for the pharmacist to finish with a prescription or with another customer, but he or she (and a large percentage of pharmacists are women) will be happy to answer your questions.
“There might be a bit of a wait, but the majority of independent members are able to step away and have that conversation with a woman pretty quickly,” Damman says.
A local pharmacy may also offer you more than advice and information. Many local pharmacies now offer classes on nutrition, diabetes management, or weight loss. Most also stock a wide variety of dietary supplements and vitamin products that they can advise you about. Some now rent breast pumps so that you don’t have to buy one and may offer education for new moms who are breastfeeding, says Damman.