They got pregnant with 'Ozempic babies' and quit the drug cold turkey. Then came the side effects.

Women across the country have been bonding online over their “Ozempic babies” − surprise pregnancies while taking weight loss medications, despite being on birth control or having a history of fertility issues. Now, some of them say they’re experiencing intense symptoms such as extreme hunger and rapid weight gain after quitting these drugs cold turkey to protect their baby’s health.

Although hunger and weight gain are typical during pregnancy, these women say that the intensity of their symptoms is unlike that of their previous pregnancies. It’s unclear if pregnancy worsens weight loss medication withdrawal, but fertility and bariatric experts say hormonal changes associated with pregnancy could explain the fierce effects.

Drug manufacturers recommend women stop taking weight loss drugs at least two months before a planned pregnancy. When a non-pregnant person quits these medicines, doctors typically help them wean off to mitigate side effects, but women who find out they're expecting must stop immediately.

As more and more women become pregnant while taking weight loss drugs, experts recommend they talk to their doctors right away, especially if they’re taking drugs like Ozempic to treat diabetes.

When Ozempic and pregnancy symptoms collide

Amanda Brierley, 42, started taking semaglutide (the active ingredient in Ozempic) last year to treat her insulin resistance caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Within a month, her menstrual period returned “like clockwork” after several years of dysregulation. Then nine months later, Brierley learned she was pregnant, which was shocking news considering doctors told her she wouldn’t be able to conceive on her own following her last high risk pregnancy over two decades ago.

Medications like Ozempic, Mounjaro, WeGovy and Zepbound appear to boost fertility because the weight loss they induce corrects hormonal imbalances caused by obesity and metabolic disorders; some of them may also reduce the efficacy of birth control pills, increasing chances of pregnancy.

Brierley stopped taking semaglutide right away, per recommendations based on animal studies that found it could cause miscarriage and birth defects if taken while pregnant. A week later, she was possessed with an insatiable hunger: “I was a human garbage can. And I didn’t want sweets or anything. I wanted real food, like meats, cheese and other rich protein, which was completely different from my first pregnancy. I was like a caveman. I couldn’t stop. It was crazy.”

Amanda Brierley, 42, had her baby in January. She experienced a "surprise pregnancy" 10 months into taking semaglutide for insulin resistance.
Amanda Brierley, 42, had her baby in January. She experienced a "surprise pregnancy" 10 months into taking semaglutide for insulin resistance.

Brierley gained 20 pounds during her first trimester. By the time she gave birth, she had put on 65 pounds. While pregnant with her older son, Brierley gained 19 pounds total.

In comparison, most women gain anywhere between 25 and 35 pounds throughout their pregnancy, according to the National Institutes of Health. How much weight a person gains depends on their body mass index before they get pregnant, as well as certain health conditions they have that may make it more or less likely to put on weight, said Dr. Allison Rodgers, an OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinologist at Fertility Centers of Illinois.

Stopping weight loss medications is known to cause intense hunger pangs, weight gain and blood sugar swings, all of which can be mitigated by slowly weaning off the drugs with a doctor's guidance. However, Rodgers said no studies to date have analyzed how this withdrawal interferes with pregnancy symptoms, and vice versa.

“Do weight loss medications suppress some pregnancy symptoms that then return more intensely when a person gets off of them? Or does pregnancy worsen withdrawal symptoms?” Rodgers said. “It’s really hard to tease out.”

Dr. Sahar Takkouche, a bariatrician and associate professor of medicine with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said that quitting weight loss drugs disrupts the systems in your body responsible for blood glucose and appetite control. So it’s possible that quitting these drugs cold turkey, as opposed to weaning off of them, plus pregnancy, may be intensifying the symptoms that both experiences share.

“Pregnant women, in particular, may experience these symptoms more intensely due to hormonal changes that occur with pregnancy and blood sugar swings,” Takkouche said. "Ideally, I recommend a gradual taper off of these medications, when clinically feasible."

Deb Oliviara, 32, said she experienced extreme hunger and weight gain after stopping Ozempic when she learned of her “surprise” pregnancy.
Deb Oliviara, 32, said she experienced extreme hunger and weight gain after stopping Ozempic when she learned of her “surprise” pregnancy.

Deb Oliviara, 32, said she also experienced extreme hunger and weight gain after stopping Ozempic when she learned of her “surprise” pregnancy.

“In a way, it was very clear that it wasn't just from the pregnancy because I've been pregnant six times, so this is not new to me,” Oliviara said. “I understand how that normally feels, but it was an insatiable hunger that I have never felt in my life.”

She gained 20 pounds in just two months despite continuing a healthy diet and lifestyle. Oliviara said the rapid weight gain affected her mentally because of how physically uncomfortable she became. Her symptoms calmed down after about three months.

Extreme weight gain during pregnancy can be dangerous

In some scenarios, rapid weight gain during pregnancy could introduce health risks to mother and baby, Rodgers said: “You don't want to not listen to your body, but you don’t want to overconsume either.”

Developing gestational diabetes, for example, can increase risks of high blood pressure and having a large baby that needs to be delivered by cesarean section, which involves more complications like blood clots and infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Gestational diabetes also puts babies at higher risk of low blood sugar, developing Type 2 diabetes later in life and preterm labor.

It’s especially important for women who are taking drugs like Ozempic to treat their existing diabetes to ensure they keep their condition under control after quitting the drug when they learn they’re pregnant, Rodgers said. If blood sugar levels are too high, particularly during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, babies face increased risks of birth defects, such as spinal cord, heart and limb abnormalities.

“Regardless of whether you just stopped Ozempic, it's important to take care of yourself while pregnant — make sure you get proper nutrition and don't have too little or too much weight gain,” Rodgers said. “And if you are diabetic, follow up with your doctor to switch to a safer medication like metformin or insulin as soon as you find out you’re pregnant.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Ozempic babies' and what happens when women stop the drug cold turkey