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Should pregnant women be included in research studies?

A recent article by NPR detailed the challenges doctors face in treating pregnant women with medical conditions – either pre-existing or pregnancy-related. The effects of certain medications may be unknown or unstudied, so doctors often rely on what they’ve always done.

Pregnant women are not typically involved in medical research studies, due to ethical and safety concerns for both the mother and the fetus. Pregnant women are among what is considered a vulnerable population, and studying them is generally not permitted.

Unfortunately, this means there is little research available on treating common conditions experienced during pregnancy. The NPR article highlights one story about a woman who had high blood pressure during pregnancy, and after a hospital stay, she was put on bedrest. However, there is no research to prove that there are any benefits to bedrest.

So how do doctors treat pregnant women?

Many rely on observational research – and some do guesswork.

The infant mortality rate in the United States is 5.8 – meaning that on average, 5.8 infants under one year of age die before their first year, per 1,000 population. The infant mortality rate in the U.S. is higher than many developed countries, and according to CIA data, the U.S. is tied with Serbia.

And shockingly, the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is climbing.

Some experts argue that by excluding pregnant women from studies to protect them and their fetuses, they are being done a disservice and are more at risk in the long-term.

Some groups are pushing for pregnant women to be included in research studies. A 388-page report was released by the Task Force on Research Specific to Pregnant Women and Lactating Women, which advocates for the inclusion of pregnant women in research studies, and involvement from the government in developing drugs to treat common conditions experienced by pregnant and lactating women.

This is a complicated issue with life-affecting implications. Pregnant women should work closely with their doctors throughout their pregnancies. If what a doctor is prescribing or recommending seems potentially harmful, women should consider seeking a second opinion.

You can read more about Ohio’s rising infant mortality and premature delivery rates in our free white paper.