What You Need to Know about Taking Antibiotics While Pregnant

Is It Safe to Take Antibiotics While Pregnant?

Antibiotics are a broad class of medications intended to stop bacteria-based infections. An antibiotic medication should work to either stop bacteria from reproducing or kill the bacteria entirely. Antibiotics first became available in the 1940s. Some of the infections that can be treated by antibiotics include:

  • Ear and sinus infections
  • Skin infections
  • Dental infections
  • Strep throat
  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Whooping cough
  • Bladder and kidney infections

Only an infection stemming from bacteria can be effectively treated with an antibiotic. For example, cold and flu illnesses are viral, so antibiotics won’t work to treat them. Within the large category of antibiotics, some are classified as broad-spectrum. This means they target all different types of bacteria. Others only target specific bacteria. General symptoms of antibiotics can include gastrointestinal discomfort, like nausea and vomiting. There are conditions that women are more likely to get while pregnant that can require antibiotic treatment as well, such as bacterial vaginosis. If a pregnant woman has untreated bacterial vaginosis, it can cause pregnancy complications including preterm labor, late miscarriage or the development of an infection of the uterus after birth.

The main question is, can you take antibiotics while pregnant? The answer is both yes and no, but it depends primarily on the antibiotic. It’s not uncommon for women to take antibiotics when pregnant. A survey from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study of more than 13,000 women found that 30 percent of respondents completed at least one course of antibiotics between one to three months before they conceived and the end of pregnancy. It was most common that people took antibiotics during the fourth month of pregnancy. Even though it’s relatively common, does that make it safe? Not always.

What You Need to Know about Taking Antibiotics While Pregnant

The simplest answer to “can you take antibiotics while pregnant,” is that some are okay while some are not okay. First, some of the antibiotics that are generally considered safe during pregnancy include penicillin, cephalosporins, erythromycin, and clindamycin. However, tetracyclines are a type of antibiotic that may not be safe. Tetracyclines aren’t recommended for use after the 15th week of pregnancy because they can affect a developing baby’s teeth.

Certain antibiotics can be linked to harmful effects to a fetus. For example, sulfonamide antibiotics like Bactrim have been associated with a higher risk of a child being born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Specific antibiotics considered unsafe to take during pregnancy can also include ciprofloxacin, Macrobid, and Septra, although this list isn’t exhaustive.

Pregnant women often wonder whether they can take antibiotics in the first trimester of their pregnancy. Again, this answer depends. Some antibiotics may be considered relatively safe during any time in a pregnancy, while others may only be safe when they’re used during a certain portion of time during pregnancy.

While many antibiotics may be safe during pregnancy, the ones that aren’t can be extremely dangerous. For example, Bactrim and Macrobid treatments during pregnancy have been linked with birth defects including brain malformations and heart defects. Cleft lips and palates may also be a more significant risk when a woman is prescribed certain antibiotics during pregnancy. Unfortunately, research has shown that the most commonly prescribed antibiotics during pregnancy are also the most dangerous. The CDC found that among pregnant women in 2014, the most frequently prescribed antibiotics during the first trimester were nitrofurantoin and sulfonamide trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. Also problematic with antibiotics that are considered dangerous is the fact that they are riskiest during the first trimester, and many women are prescribed them before they know they’re pregnant.

If a pregnant woman has an infection requiring antibiotic treatment, luckily there are safe alternatives that she may be able to take. A doctor will assess the individual patient, any risk factors she may have, and will work to find an antibiotic that will likely be the safest to take during pregnancy. There are big differences between certain antibiotics when it comes to safety while pregnant, and the only person who can help a pregnant woman find the right option is a medical professional. It is important for infections to be treated during pregnancy because not doing so can create its own risks. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does provide guidelines for health care providers on how to prescribe antibiotics to women during pregnancy. Along with prescribing antibiotics that are considered safe, some doctors might want to work with patients to find natural options, although it depends on the individual and the condition.

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