The Mother of All FDA Fails

The FDA has never required drug safety assessment for fetal germline impact, even though FDA staff understand that gestational exposures can adversely affect developing germ cells. We must end this catastrophic omission, while also granting all Americans access to their own prenatal medical records.

The Prenatal Pharmaceutical Craze of the 1950s-70s

The Prenatal Pharmaceutical Craze of the 1950s, 60s and 70s – though largely forgotten by the public, historians, and researchers – ranks among the most toxic events in human history, as it placed acute doses of potent synthetic chemicals and endocrine disruptors directly into the bodies of pregnant women, and therefore, their fetuses and germline. Countless millions of us were exposed.

In the decades after the war, chemical and drug companies produced an explosion of novel synthetic pharmaceutical products, and the medical profession, intoxicated by the same boundless faith in the progress of science that gripped the rest of the country, was eager to administer the new concoctions to its patients, including pregnant women. An excerpt from the book, Origins, by Annie Murphy Paul (2010) summarizes the history, beginning with the medical profession's early views regarding the risks of alcohol:
Doctors' confidence in the harmlessness of alcohol was based on their beliefs about the placenta.  This organ, which implants itself in the uterus soon after conception to form a way station between woman and fetus, was thought to provide seamless protection from harmful substances.  Medical historian Ann Dally traces this sanguine notion back to the attitudes of the late nineteenth century. "The Victorian tendency to put woman on a pedestal led to the idealization of the woman as well as of the woman," she writes, and to 'a belief in the placenta as a perfect barrier against damaging influences."  This conviction was still current in the 1950s, when Dally attended medical school; there she was taught that a toxin would affect the fetus only if it actually killed the mother.  Pregnant women were not counseled about the dangers of medications or alcohol, Dally notes, and new drugs were not thoroughly tested for their safety during pregnancy.

And new drugs there were in abundance.  The middle of the twentieth century was a golden age of pharmaceutical innovation, a time when serene sleep and steady nerves and a slim figure could be found inside the medicine cabinet.  Pregnant women, too, were promised relief from all the complaints, small and large, of their condition: sleeplessness, morning sickness, miscarriage.  The remedies were touted by advertisers in women's magazines, and by the publications' writers and editors themselves; an article about miscarriage in the November 1950 issue of Women's Home Companion celebrated "the miracle drugs that have tumbled from the laboratories in such heartening profusion recently."  The sales job worked: those who gave birth in the postwar years, writes one chronicler of the period, "were among the most medicated women in history." Between 1958 and 1965, according to one study, half of all new mothers took two to four pharmaceutical products while pregnant.

She may be poisoning herself, her child, and her future grandchildren, but at least she can make her husband his breakfast! A 1950s ad for the morning sickness drug Mornidine, which was later pulled from the market due to toxic impacts.



More than two dozen potent endocrine-disrupting fake hormone drugs were given to pregnant women in the mistaken belief these drugs would prevent miscarriage and other complications of pregnancy.
Drug makers preferred selling the synthetics over natural versions because their patents on synthetics commanded a greater profit


The synthetic estrogen DES caused multifaceted devastation, including infertility, urogenital abnormality and cancer, in a large portion of those exposed. For more information on DES, including third-generation effects, see DES Info and DES Action.

Pregnant women were prescribed dozens of mood-altering and sedating drugs.  Thalidomide (Distaval) caused horrific birth defects.

For decades, the medical profession adhered to the idea that a woman should not gain more than 20 pounds during pregnancy. To reduce appetite, doctors routinely prescribed women who were considered overweight amphetamine drugs. Though research never demonstrated safety or efficacy, it was common for drugmakers to tout multiple benefits of the drugs, as in this vintage advertisement.

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  5. Do you have any reference links with regards to mental health due to Dexedrine use for births in the years of the study?

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  6. I never realized how many of us Boomers are victim's of the science age.Tholidomide gave my eldest brother a club foot that required multiple surgeries! I believe I was fed Diazepam in the womb 5 years later and as I do more research the picture becomes somewhat clearer.

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  20. My mother took diet pills when she was pregnant with me in 1955, that she said were prescribed by her doctor. She had gained a lot of weight while carrying my brother. Not sure if she breast fed either of us, as breastfeeding was said to destroy the shape of your breasts. My mother was a beautiful woman, and I guess she caved into the pressures of staying that way, over the beauty of carrying and caring for a healthy child. I blame the media for all of this. I cried when she told me sometime during the 90s. I cannot describe the feeling I had...that she would want to starve me while in her womb...a tremendous feeling of being unloved and unwanted.

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