Is it safe to take medications which contain alcohol during pregnancy?

One common form of alcohol used in many pharmaceutical preparations is ethanol which is used for medication and as well as cosmetic products to act either as a solvent or as an antimicrobial preservative. Pharmaceutical products with ethanol would fall under Category D of products screened by the US Food and Drug Administration. This category is for drugs which are known to cause various health risks to fetuses when the drugs are taken during pregnancy.

Some experts caution against pregnant mothers consuming products that contain ethanol because it is a substance that can cause teratogenesis – or congenital defects in the developing fetus. Though a small amount of ethanol might not be harmful to either mother or fetus, some pharmaceutical products do contain significant levels of ethanol which then raises the risks of congenital defects being triggered in the developing fetus.
There is no known way in determining how much ethanol is safe for pregnant mothers to consume due to the absence of clear data on how much ethanol will really cause teratogenesis or birth defects to start. Obviously, human fetuses cannot be use as test subjects to determine this. The data which does suggest that ethanol is a teratogen (or cause of malformed fetuses) is usually derived from animal testing and from research on mothers who drink heavily while pregnant. Thus, even experts differ in their opinion as to what is a safe threshold level for ethanol consumption during any stage of pregnancy.
Another reason experts are not certain is because ethanol is a form of alcohol that is different from that usually consumed as beverages (like beer or wine). Ethanol is believed to be metabolized (or absorbed) by the human body in a different way than the way alcoholic beverages are metabolized.

Primate testing has shown that the suggested baseline for safe ethanol consumption (as seen in the blood concentration) might be at 400 mg./L. Your average serving of an alcoholic beverage would be the equivalent of nine to fourteen grams of ethanol (and this creates an estimated blood serum level of 150 mg./L.) It is believed that consumption of ethanol-laden medication does not produce ethanol concentration in the bloodstream at the level suggested by primate testing at all because most such human medications are for short-term use only and are usually broken up into minor smaller dosages throughout the day.