Prevalence of prescription medication use among non-pregnant women of childbearing age and pregnant women in the United States: NHANES, 1999-2006

Matern Child Health J. 2015 May;19(5):1097-106. doi: 10.1007/s10995-014-1611-z.


Many prescription medications have limited information regarding safety for use during pregnancy. In order to inform research on safer medication use during pregnancy, we examined prescription medication use among women in the United States. We analyzed data from the 1999-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to estimate the prevalence of prescription medication use in the past 30 days among pregnant women and non-pregnant women of childbearing age (15-44 years) and to ascertain the most commonly reported prescription medications by women in these groups. We assessed how the most commonly reported medications differed among groups defined by selected demographic characteristics, including age, race/ethnicity, and markers of socioeconomic status. Prescription medication use in the past 30 days was reported by 22 % of pregnant women and 47 % of non-pregnant women of childbearing age. The most commonly reported prescription medications by NHANES participants differed somewhat by pregnancy status; allergy and anti-infective medications were more common among pregnant women, while oral contraceptives were more common among non-pregnant women. Use of prescription medication for asthma and thyroid disorders was reported by both groups. Although prescription medication use in the previous 30 days was less common among pregnant women than non-pregnant women, its use was reported among almost 1 in 4 pregnant women. Many of the most common medications reported were for the treatment of chronic medical conditions. Given the potential impact of medications on the developing fetus, our data underscore the importance of understanding the safety of these medications during pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use
  • Contraceptives, Oral / therapeutic use
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnant Women*
  • Prescription Drugs / classification
  • Prescription Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Prevalence
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Contraceptives, Oral
  • Prescription Drugs