London women are falling pregnant on Ozempic — but no one knows if it's safe yet

 (ES Composite)
(ES Composite)

“All that money spent to get skinny and then you go and get pregnant? I’d be livid,” says Frankie*, a 29-year-old Londoner who recently applied for the diabetes drug Ozempic, which has been discovered to have desirable weight loss effects.

Despite doing extensive research into Ozempic, Frankie says she saw no warning of the fact that it counteracts some birth controls, or can potentially increase your fertility. “For real, I had no idea,” she reveals.

Frankie is one of many women only just learning about this side effect of the increasingly popular diabetes drug (generically known as semaglutide). Luckily for her, she didn’t realise it via a pregnancy test. But Ali did. “I was shocked,” says the 34-year-old mum of two who, up until last year, thought she had incredibly low fertility.

Ali had her first child when she was in her early 20s after a fertility specialist told her she’d likely have a hard time conceiving later in life. By the time she hit 33, she thought all chances of pregnancy were out the window. “I assumed that what the doctor had told me was correct,” Ali says, “that I’d have a hard time conceiving, so I continued to stay off birth control and had zero pregnancy scares in all that time, despite having unprotected sex.”

But then she went on Wegovy, another brand of semaglutide, in February 2023. By August, she was pregnant. “[It] was completely unexpected,” she says, “at 33 years old, and after being off birth control with zero issues for six years!”

Pregnancy may be an unintended side effect of Ozempic (Unsplash)
Pregnancy may be an unintended side effect of Ozempic (Unsplash)

Ali says she “truly believes” that semaglutide is what ended up facilitating her pregnancy. And it’s not just her. Women all over the r/Ozempic reddit page are divulging their unplanned Ozempic pregnancies. In one Reddit post where a user shares a Healthline article on the “Ozempic baby boom” women litter the comments saying things like: “Can confirm! I started Ozempic in Sept 2023 in an effort to get my insulin resistance sorted out after 2 years of infertility and recurrent early pregnancy loss, hoping it might help. I am now 16 weeks and 5 days pregnant.” And: “I was not on birth control, just thought I was infertile after 2 years of trying. Then I was on Ozempic for almost a year, and BOOM! Baby time!”

Doctors in London have picked up on it too. “I've had several patients who were kind of uhm-ing and ah-ing as to whether they wanted a [fertility] treatment or not. And somewhere along the way they've gone on Ozempic, and they call up and go, “Oh my god, I think I'm pregnant,” says Mr Rehan Salim, the medical director of the Lister Fertility Clinic. LFC is situated within The Portland Hospital, where the likes of Victoria Beckham, Sarah Ferguson and Jemima Khan delivered their babies.

Ozempic was originally created by pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk as a drug to manage blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. When it was found to be highly effective in encouraging weight loss, and when fellow semaglutide drug Wegovy was licensed for the purpose of weight loss alone, the drugs went viral, with many purchasing them privately in the hope of shedding some pounds. Celebrities such as Amy Schumer, Whoopi Goldberg, Sharon Osbourne and Tracy Morgan have all admitted to using Ozempic, and speculation over dozens of other A-listers who haven’t admitted to it is rife.

Sharon Osbourne is part of the slew of celebrities who have admitted to taking Ozempic (Getty Images)
Sharon Osbourne is part of the slew of celebrities who have admitted to taking Ozempic (Getty Images)

So is Ozempic a miracle fertility drug, or is it just about weight loss? “We've known for a long time that women's weight — and actually men's weight as well — is linked to their fertility,” Mr Salim explains. “And specifically for women, if you have a higher BMI, you're more likely not to ovulate, have irregular cycles, your risk of miscarriage is higher, et cetera. So one of the pieces of advice we give to women is, you know, try and lose some weight. But of course, easier said than done.”

Mr Salim says that there’s some evidence that women with fertility issues who lose between five to ten percent of their body weight can effectively restore their body’s fertility back to its natural level. This is because it corrects the hormonal imbalances that weight gain can trigger, thus making people more fertile. “I think Ozempic is just facilitating that,” he says. “Because it seems the weight just falls off you when you go on it.”

Plus, according to one study published in the National Library for Medicine, semaglutide can literally barge its way past any oral birth control by interfering with the stomach’s ability to break down the contraception. “Changes in the rate of gastric emptying could potentially delay the absorption of concomitantly administered oral therapies,” the 2015 study reads. “In the case of oral contraceptive medications, this could result in failure to provide effective birth control.” So that tiny reliable pill you’ve been taking for half your life becomes little more than a placebo.

But semaglutide can’t make all fertility issues go away — they just cancel out birth control, and remove one fertility issue from the pile.

The Portland Hospital in Regent’s Park (Getty Images)
The Portland Hospital in Regent’s Park (Getty Images)

This unintended side effect of Ozempic is a double edged sword. In theory, it could be the future of affordable fertility treatments — the price of Wegovy starts from £175.80 per pack, according to NICE, whereas the private price of IVF can range from £3,735 to £13,408.

But there’s a pretty significant catch: it’s currently unclear whether women can safely take Ozempic during pregnancy, considering how the drug is known to cause pregnancy complications and abnormalities in animal studies. According to Vox, studies in rats, rabbits, and monkeys treated with the injectable drug had higher rates of miscarriage. Their offspring were also smaller and had more birth defects than be typically expected. Its these studies that have led the Food and Drug Administration in America to warn that Ozempic use should be discontinued “at least two months prior to pregnancy.” The same advice has been issued in the UK for Wegovy.

Yet few people seem to know this which obviously poses a serious risk when people are becoming pregnant thanks to Ozempic. Especially when the Thalidomide tragedy, where pregnant women who took the Thalidomide drug as a sedative or medication for morning sickness in the 1950s and 1960s gave birth to babies with life-changing birth defects, happened within living memory.

Meanwhile, Mr Salim says that all of his patients who have gotten pregnant on Ozempic have immediately stopped taking it, and thus far all of them have been fine. “I don't have enough data to say that it's safe,” he maintains. “And if you think of the thalidomide scare, the consequences are dire. So of course, everyone is super cautious. But having said that, I'm sure the manufacturer is collecting the data. Because there are increasing numbers of women falling pregnant, soon we’ll have a better idea.”

Novo Nordisk is trying to get this information as we speak. The company currently runs a registry where it’s collecting data about the safety of Wegovy during pregnancy, “to help healthcare providers, patients, and researchers better understand the safety of Wegovy® (semaglutide 2.4 mg) and other weight loss medications during pregnancy.”

A representative for Novo Nordisk told the Evening Standard: “Patient safety is of the utmost importance to Novo Nordisk. We continuously collect safety data on our marketed GLP-1 RA medicines and work closely with the authorities to ensure patient safety. As part of this work we continue to monitor reports of adverse drug reactions through routine pharmacovigilance.

“Pregnancy or intention to become pregnant were exclusion criteria in our trials with semaglutide in both obesity and type 2 diabetes. Therefore, there are limited clinical trial data with semaglutide use in pregnant women. Information related to pregnancy appears in the UK Patient Information Leaflets for both Ozempic® (semaglutide injection) and Wegovy® (semaglutide injection).”

Whether the result of Novo Nordisk’s latest trials is good or bad remains to be seen. In the meantime, who knows what new side effects this so-foretold “miracle drug” may produce. So for now, anyone on Ozempic should take a leaf out of the secondary school sex education textbook and practice some very safe sex.