Are We Heading For An Ozempic ‘Baby Boom?’

As an increasing number of women who have taken the drug report unplanned pregnancies, we investigate the phenomenon – and its dangers.

pregnant woman

by Zoe Beaty |
Published on

Amanda Brierley spent the first trimester of her pregnancy on Reddit. Most days she found herself frantically looking for answers and reassurance that she and her baby would be OK. ‘I’d type, “got pregnant on Ozempic”, “got pregnant on semaglutide”, “what are the side effects of Ozempic on my baby?” I just couldn’t rest,’ she says. ‘I was told I’d never have the chance to be pregnant again – the thought of losing it was too much.’

Just over 21 years ago, shortly after giving birth to her first son, Brierley, now 41, was diagnosed with an ‘incompetent cervix’ – a condition that causes the cervix to open, weaken or shorten too early – and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Doctors said she would likely never have another natural, successful pregnancy. Eventually, she gave up on the dream of expanding her family. Then, at 40, she started taking Ozempic.

Semaglutide, a weekly injection that trades under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy, is only licensed in the UK for type 2 diabetes, but it can be prescribed ‘off- label’ – ie, for another reason, such as weight loss – or obtained privately for those who can afford the £150-200 per month fees. In the US, prescriptions for the drug hit 9 million last year, a 300% rise in less than three years.

‘I started taking Ozempic for weight loss,’ explains Brierley. ‘The effects of PCOS left me feeling unfeminine – I was overweight, I was suffering hair loss... I wanted to feel like myself again.’ Within one month, Brierley’s period, absent for many years, returned ‘like clockwork’. Nine months later she had lost weight – and missed one period. She was pregnant.

Brierley, who lives in Florida with her boyfriend, is part of the so-called Ozempic baby boom – a rapidly growing number of women reporting unplanned pregnancies while taking the drug. The Facebook group ‘I got pregnant on Ozempic’ has more than 650 members and TikTok is rife with stories of couples conceiving despite being told it would never happen for them(along with some women who say they were using contraception). For those facing infertility, these stories might depict a wonder drug of sorts. But experts are warning that it’s no such thing.

‘Ozempic is not a fertility drug,’ says Adam Balen, an NHS consultant in reproductive medicine and author of The Fertility Book. ‘Actually, it can be very dangerous in pregnancy. For instance, because it’s designed to reduce body weight, you can understand why it might have the same effect on a developing baby. Preclinical trials on rats and monkeys suggested it could cause foetal abnormalities, such as skeletal problems, problems with the internal organs and [lack of] growth.

‘Not only that, but women who find out they’re pregnant while taking it are advised to stop immediately, which makes their weight rebound and plays havoc with their metabolism. A healthy metabolism is vital for a healthy pregnancy. These are strong drugs and they shouldn’t be underestimated,’ he adds.

Some experts say that GLP-1 (glucagon- like peptide 1) drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy, which work by curbing the appetite and slowing down digestion, could interfere with the proper absorption of contraception, causing some unexpected pregnancies. Balen explains that it’s usually the weight loss itself that impacts fertility. ‘Particularly when it comes to a condition such as PCOS, if you can lose weight then the menstrual cycle often starts on its own and ovulation occurs, therefore pregnancies can occur.’ Still, women are advised to be off thedrugforatleasttwomonthsbefore trying to conceive to avoid the risks.

‘Pregnancy or the intention to become pregnant were exclusion criteria in our trials with semaglutide in both obesity and type 2 diabetes,’ a representative for Novo Nordisk – which manufactures Ozempic and Wegovy – said in a recent statement. ‘Therefore, there are limited clinical trial data with semaglutide use in pregnant women.’

The manufacturer has established an FDA-approved Wegovy Pregnancy Register where patients and providers in the US can report pregnancies that have occurred while taking the medication. They’ve also sponsored a study researching the effects of Wegovy exposure during pregnancy (although that isn’t expected to be completed until 2027).

Mother-of-two Deb Oliviara was convinced to try Ozempic when her sister-in-law took it to lose weight for her wedding. Oliviara had been struggling with her body image for many years – after six pregnancies, only two of which were successful, she felt her body was not her own. ‘With every pregnancy your body changes,’ Oliviara, 32, explains from her home in Michigan. ‘Mine felt like this constant reminder of the losses.’

Oliviara lost most of the weight she wanted with exercise and diet changes but ‘struggled to shift the last 20lbs’. She started Ozempic last November and reached her goal two months later. ‘I felt like myself again,’ she says. ‘But one morning I also started feeling a very familiar sickness. I took a pregnancy test – then four more. I couldn’t believe they were positive.’

Like many women in the same position, Oliviarawasscared.‘WasItaking medication that might cause another loss?’ She stopped taking the drug immediately under the advice of her doctor but experienced extreme hunger for the first three months of her pregnancy and quickly regained the weight she’d lost.

Since then, Oliviara has been reassured that her pregnancy is healthy; her baby is due in the autumn. Brierley’s pregnancy was also plain-sailing and in January she gave birth to a baby boy. She also regained all the weight she’d lost after stopping her Ozempic injections and going cold turkey.

It’s easy to understand why some couples desperate to conceive might see their stories as a glimmer of hope. But that would be misplaced, says Balen. ‘It’s a very emotive issue. But this is not a fertility drug. My advice for anybody struggling with their fertility is to get an immediate referral to a fertility clinic. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and take the right supplements,’ he adds.

It’s clear that for women taking Ozempic, more research is urgently needed. Until then, the Ozempic baby boom should be treated with caution.

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