Study author Mahsa Yazdy, a postdoctoral associate at Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center, said using opioids including OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet early in pregnancy doubles the likelihood of giving birth to babies with neural tube defects such as spina bifida, HealthDay News reported.
"We want to keep in mind that major birth defects of any kind affect only 2 percent to 3 percent of live births, so the risks we've identified should be kept in perspective," Yazdy said.
The researchers analyzed data from telephone interviews with women within six months after they gave birth, collected during a 12-year period. They compared information from mothers of 305 children born with neural tube defects, to that provided by mothers of more than 20,000 babies who were either born healthy or with birth defects unrelated to opioid use.
Yazdy said women of reproductive age should talk with their doctors about whether the benefits of painkillers outweigh risks during pregnancy.
The study, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was published online Sept. 9 in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, in advance of the October 2013 print issue, HealthDay News said.