Utah health line, one of the longest-running in the U.S., has been answering pregnancy and breastfeeding questions for 35 years

(Graphic courtesy of the Utah Department of Health)

For 35 years, pregnant and nursing women in Utah have relied on the MotherToBaby program for answers about potential harms from prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Since it was established in 1984, nearly 300,00 women and health care providers have used the free, anonymous service, formerly known as the Pregnancy Risk Line.

A joint endeavor of the Utah Department of Health and the University of Utah Department of Pediatrics, MotherToBaby is one of the longest-running programs of its kind in the U.S.

Staffers are experts in teratology — or the study of birth defects — and provide information about potential harms from prescription and over-the-counter medications for women during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

The service initially was a telephone line, but today free, anonymous answers are available through texting, online chats and emails.

“We answer questions anonymously so mom can ask us about everything from what cold medications she can take during pregnancy to whether she can continue using her antidepressants," Al Romeo, a teratology information specialist with the program, said in a news release announcing the program’s 35-year milestone. “We provide research-based information without judgment to help mom and baby have the best outcomes possible.”

Romeo said staffers respond to 6,000 to 10,000 questions a year. The majority of inquiries — 78% — come from consumers; while the remaining 22% are from health care providers, like Gayle Stewart, an OB-GYN in West Valley City.

“MotherToBaby Utah is a very useful resource,” she said, “especially as there are more and more new medications being used by our pregnant and breastfeeding patients.”

The service is especially critical for health care providers and women in rural Utah, where specialized care may not be as readily available.

The most common questions focus on the use of pain medications, antidepressants, herbals and supplements. Alcohol, smoking, marijuana, Zika risk when traveling internationally, and over-the-counter medications also are common.

Officials say accurate information can prevent negative and costly outcomes like abortions of otherwise wanted pregnancies, miscarriages, premature deliveries, low birth weight babies, birth defects, toxic effects on a breastfed infant, and decisions to unnecessarily avoid or interrupt breastfeeding.

“Women often get inaccurate, confusing or conflicting information," Romeo said. "We help explain the research so they can make an informed choice that is best for them and their baby.”

For questions about medications and harmful exposures during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, call the MotherToBaby Utah program at 1-800-822-2229 or 801-328-2229, text 1-855-999-3525, email expertinfo@mothertobaby.org, or visit https://mothertobaby.utah.gov/.

Staffers and medical consultants are available to answer questions Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.