(Date: August 2017. Version: 2)

This factsheet has been written for members of the public by the UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS). UKTIS is a not-for-profit organisation funded by Public Health England on behalf of UK Health Departments. UKTIS has been providing scientific information to health care providers since 1983 on the effects that medicines, recreational drugs and chemicals may have on the developing baby during pregnancy.

What is it?

Atropine is a medicine that is used to treat a slow heartbeat or to reduce excessive saliva production. It is sometimes used in eye drop form to treat inflammation of parts of the eye, and during eye examinations to dilate (widen) the pupils. Atropine is also an antidote to certain poisons and may be given to reverse or prevent toxic effects.

Is it safe to use atropine in pregnancy?

Any assessment of safety needs to weigh up the risks and benefits to both mother and baby of using atropine against those of not using atropine. The outcome of this assessment will vary from person to person and will depend on the condition for which use of atropine is being considered, the severity of the mother’s illness, and the complications that could arise if atropine is not given.

When deciding whether to use atropine during pregnancy it is therefore important that you and your doctor weigh up how necessary it is to your health as well as considering any possible risks to you or your baby, some of which might depend on how many weeks pregnant you are.
This leaflet summarises the available information relating to the effects of atropine on a baby in the womb.

What if I have already used atropine during pregnancy?

If you are taking any medicines it is always a good idea to let your doctor know that you are pregnant so that you can decide together whether you still need the medicines that you are on or whether you might need to switch to a different medicine.

Can using atropine in early pregnancy cause my baby to be born with birth defects?

A baby’s body and most internal organs are formed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is mainly during this time that some medicines are known to cause birth defects.

Three studies, which included a total of 832 women who used atropine in pregnancy, all found that babies of these women were no more likely to have a birth defect than babies born to women not using atropine.

Can using atropine in pregnancy cause miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth, or my baby to be small at birth (low birth weight)?

No studies have specifically analysed whether these outcomes are more or less common in pregnant women using atropine.

Can using atropine in pregnancy cause learning and behavioural problems in the child?

A baby’s brain continues to develop right up until the end of pregnancy. It is therefore possible that taking certain medicines at any stage of pregnancy could have a lasting effect on a child’s learning or behaviour.

No concerns have been raised regarding a possible effect of atropine exposure in the womb on learning and behaviour; however, as is the case for most medicines, no studies have been carried out to specifically investigate a link.

Will I or my baby need extra monitoring during pregnancy?

Most women will be offered a scan at around 20 weeks of pregnancy to look for birth defects as part of their routine antenatal care.

There is no evidence that using atropine during pregnancy causes any problems that would require extra monitoring of your baby. However, pregnant women with some of the conditions that atropine is used to treat (such as poisoning) might receive extra monitoring of their health during pregnancy and to check that the baby is growing and developing as expected.

Are there any risks to my baby if the father has used atropine?

There are no scientific reports of babies born to men who were treated with atropine around the time of conception. Most experts agree that the majority of medicines used by the father are unlikely to harm the baby through effects on the sperm. However, more research on the effects of atropine specifically and medicine use in men around the time of conception generally is needed.

Who can I talk to if I have questions?

If you have any questions regarding the information in this leaflet please discuss them with your health care provider. They can access more detailed medical and scientific information from

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General information 

Up to 1 out of every 5 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, and 1 in 40 babies are born with a birth defect. These are referred to as the background population risks.  They describe the chance of these events happening for any pregnancy before taking factors such as the mother’s health during pregnancy, her lifestyle, medicines she takes and the genetic make up of her and the baby’s father into account.

Medicines use in pregnancy

Most medicines used by the mother will cross the placenta and reach the baby. Sometimes this may have beneficial effects for the baby.  There are, however, some medicines that can harm a baby’s normal development.  How a medicine affects a baby may depend on the stage of pregnancy when the medicine is taken. If you are on regular medication you should discuss these effects with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please ensure the doctor or health care professional treating you is aware of your pregnancy.

When deciding whether or not to use a medicine in pregnancy you need to weigh up how the medicine might improve your and/or your unborn baby’s health against any possible problems that the drug may cause. Our bumps leaflets are written to provide you with a summary of what is known about use of a specific medicine in pregnancy so that you can decide together with your health care provider what is best for you and your baby.   

Every pregnancy is unique. The decision to start, stop, continue or change a prescribed medicine before or during pregnancy should be made in consultation with your health care provider. It is very helpful if you can record all your medication taken in pregnancy in your hand held maternity records.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace the individual care and advice of your health care provider. New information is continually becoming available. Whilst every effort will be made to ensure that this information is accurate and up to date at the time of publication, we cannot cover every eventuality and the information providers cannot be held responsible for any adverse outcomes following decisions made on the basis of this information. We strongly advise that printouts should NOT be kept for any length of time, or for “future reference” as they can rapidly become out of date.

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