A pharmacist’s guide to pregnancy and breastfeeding

Medipost Pharmacy

Media release: Pregnancy and breastfeeding

 A pharmacist’s guide to pregnancy and breastfeeding

Vital information about nutrition, lifestyle and medication use for future parents

 Thursday 27 June 2024, When planning to expand your family, being well prepared with healthcare advice is crucial to ensure a safe pregnancy journey for both mother and baby. 

One of the most important factors to consider is how your diet, lifestyle and medication use can affect your unborn baby and what is deemed safe while breastfeeding.

Thembeka Gule, a pharmacist at South Africa’s first national courier pharmacy, Medipost Pharmacy, emphasises the importance of navigating this transformative period with care to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy and beyond.

 

Thembeka Gule, a pharmacist from Medipost

Pharmacy shares essential advice to navigate

a safe and healthy pregnancy and beyond.

Increased nutritional needs during pregnancy

“Pregnancy calls for an increased intake of essential nutrients that may be challenging to fulfil through diet alone. This necessitates starting with prenatal supplements as soon as the mother is aware that she is expecting or, better yet, even before pregnancy,” says Gule.

She points out that folic acid, iron, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and vitamin C are vital to a healthy pregnancy and can be taken as a single pregnancy supplement or in several different tablets, which can be continued while breastfeeding.

“In addition, the mother should do their best to eat a balanced diet. Maintain a varied diet that includes wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, and fibre, with an increased lean protein and calcium intake. Try to avoid saturated fats, sugars and too much sodium, which is often found in junk food,” adds Gule.

The role of supplements in pregnancy and breastfeeding

  • Folic acid and B vitamins: for the development of a healthy spinal cord and brain, it also helps protect against the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
  • Proteins and calcium: to support foetal growth and bone development.
  • Iron: increases blood supply to the foetus to increase the oxygen available to the growing baby.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain development and may help to reduce the risk of prenatal depression.

Lifestyle changes to support health and foetal development

  • Eat regular meals throughout the day
  • Avoid harmful substances, including caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked fish, meat or eggs
  • Do not use unpasteurised milk and dairy products, including soft cheeses
  • Do not eat non-food items like clay or soil
  • Engage in regular exercise such as yoga, Pilates, walking and swimming
  • Maintain a balanced diet
  • Take prenatal supplements to ensure proper nutrition
  • Inform all healthcare providers about your pregnancy to avoid harmful medications

Managing common pregnancy niggles

“Speak to your pharmacist for advice and home remedies on best managing nausea, constipation and heartburn. Pharmacists can also dispense over-the-counter [OTC] medication for these conditions that are safe during pregnancy,” indicates Gule.

She gives the following advice for expectant mothers to alleviate and treat common pregnancy symptoms safely.

Heartburn

  • Avoid spicy and fatty foods
  • Eat smaller portions
  • Avoid lying down after meals
  • Eat slowly and sit upright

Nausea

  • Eat a light meal in the morning
  • Snack on protein-rich foods
  • Sip lemonade or ginger ale
  • Avoid nausea-triggering foods

Constipation

  • Eat high-fibre foods
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Exercise regularly

Over-the-counter meds and your pregnancy

“Not all over-the-counter medication is safe to use during pregnancy. There are OTC medications that expectant mothers should avoid. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs] such as aspirin and ibuprofen, particularly during the third trimester, as these can cause heart defects,” she warns.

“The long-term use of codeine can cause withdrawal symptoms after the baby is born, while pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine can increase blood pressure and must be avoided unless the benefits outweigh the dangers and only on the advice of your obstetrician.

“There are safer alternative options for managing pain, such as acetaminophen or paracetamol, antacids for heartburn, fibre supplements for constipation, and decongestant chest rubs for congestion. Consult your healthcare provider or a pharmacist before taking any OTC medications, herbal supplements or home remedies,” Gule advises.

Prescription medication use during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Gule emphasises that expectant mothers should disclose their pregnancy to their health professionals, including doctors, dentists, nurses, and pharmacists, to ensure their safety and the safety of their unborn baby. Prescription medication and chronic conditions need to be managed carefully and only with the advice of your healthcare provider.

“Medications such as valproic acid, methotrexate and angiotensin-converting enzymes [ACE] inhibitors must be avoided during pregnancy due to the potential for harmful effects on the foetus. All medication that can cross the placenta and cause harm to the unborn child must be avoided during pregnancy.

“It’s crucial to take medications strictly as prescribed and consult a healthcare provider before taking any new medications, as some may have side effects that could harm the mother or baby,” she says.

“For example, chloramphenicol, a broad spectrum antibiotic, is a teratogenic, meaning it disturbs the growth and development of the foetus. Other medications can cause miscarriages, preterm labour, drowsiness and many unwanted side effects. Some medications can pass into breast milk and affect a breastfed baby, so it is essential to disclose to your healthcare provider if you are breastfeeding. They can advise on the best course of action to minimise risks,” notes Gule.

Are vaccines safe during pregnancy?

Gule says certain vaccines are recommended for pregnant women. “These may include the influenza vaccine, which can be given during flu season and the tetanus vaccine, administered after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Other vaccines, such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B and yellow fever, are recommended for pregnant women with specific risk factors or under special circumstances.”

Herbal and natural supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding

“In general, the use of herbal and natural supplements is not advisable during pregnancy due to potential risks. Most natural preparations lack extensive safety data and can pose dangers to the unborn baby,” warns Gule.

Drug interactions

Some medication interacts with each other, which can reduce their efficacy or even cause adverse drug effects.

“Iron-containing supplements, for example, should not be taken simultaneously with antacids or calcium-containing supplements because the antacids and calcium will reduce or impair iron absorption and lead to iron deficiency – even though the mother is taking supplements,” she explains.

Ensuring the health of both mother and baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding requires careful attention to nutrition, lifestyle and medication use. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers require personalised advice and support from their healthcare team, including pharmacists.

Medipost Pharmacy delivers prescription medication, chronic medicine, pregnancy supplements, and essential medicine cabinet must-haves for newborns to any address in South Africa. Our pharmacists are also available to provide clients with telephonic advice in all 11 official languages.

“By following recommended guidelines, avoiding harmful substances and taking necessary supplements, mothers can provide the best possible start for their babies and help protect their ongoing maternal health,” Gule concludes.

For more information, please visit https://medipost.co.za/ or send a WhatsApp to 012 426 4655.

 Ends

 Issued by:                                        Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Medipost Pharmacy

For media enquiries contact:      Martina Nicholson, Meggan Saville, or Estene Lotriet-Vorster

Telephone:                                      (011) 469 3016

Email:                                                   connect@mnapr.co.za, martina@mnapr.co.za, meggan@mnapr.co.za or estene@mnapr.co.za