Is It Safe to Take Antibiotic While Pregnant?


When you are pregnant you try to keep an eye on everything you put in your body and on your body. Unfortunately, in some cases, women do get sick while they are pregnant and antibiotics are needed to help fight off the infection! It is pretty common for pregnant women to experience some kind of infection in their first trimester that needs antibiotics to treat. Some antibiotic use has the potential to cause congenital abnormalities in newborns. Luckily, your health care provider will know which antibiotics to take while pregnant.

Colorful antibiotics cartoon

It is important to know that only bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics.

In most recent years health care providers have cut back on prescribing antibiotics for viral infections, but they used to be overly prescribed. Viral infections should not be treated with antibiotics for two reasons:

  1. It won’t get rid of the infection.
  2. Overuse of antibiotics leads to drug-resistant bacteria, so when you need antibiotics, they might not work.

Some common bacterial infections during pregnancy include urinary tract infections and group B strep. For these infections, antibiotics are the only medications that will help you get better, and you should take them despite the potential risk to your baby. In some cases if you are very sick and an antibiotic is the only thing that will help you get better, you may need to take it in spite of the potential risk to your baby. In some cases, not treating your illness could be more risky for your baby’s health than exposing him to an antibiotic.

Using antibiotics during pregnancy

If you do have a bacterial infection, your health care provider will carefully choose what antibiotic should be prescribed, because all antibiotics are different and metabolized differently within your body. While many medications have been found to be completely safe to take during pregnancy, there are some antibiotics that can cause serious birth abnormalities.

The U. S. Food and Drug Administration list of Pharmaceutical Pregnancy Categories help health care providers know the safety of medications in pregnant women. The categories are A, B, C, D, and X. Drugs within Category A have been found to be safe for use in pregnant women, on the other hand, drugs within Category X have been found to be harmful to the baby and should not be used by pregnant women. When a drug falls into this last category, it’s because there’s not enough safety information available or the potential risk of the drug needs to be carefully weighed against the harmful effects of the condition it’s being used to treat.

If you are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant, ask your health care provider about the pregnancy categories of any prescribed medications. You can also find the pregnancy category on the insert of any prescribed medication you receive.

Birth defects associated with antibiotics that are within Category X include anencephaly, which means a fatal malformation of the skull and brain, choanal atresia, which means a blockage of the nasal passage, transverse limb deficiency, diaphragmatic

Pregnant woman holding antibiotics in hand

hernia, eye defects, congenital heart defects and cleft palate.

Augmentin is an antibiotic commonly used to treat bacterial infections such as sinusitis, pneumonia and bronchitis, all which can be harmful to the baby if left untreated. This drug shows no negative effect on the pregnancy.

Penicillin is another commonly used antibiotic during pregnancy, and it has not been found to be associated with any of the birth defects that were listed above.

Nitrofurantoin is recommended if you get reoccurring urinary tract infections or if the infection gets into your kidneys. Your health care provider may recommend taking it for the rest of your pregnancy to prevent another infection. You should stop taking this drug at about 36 weeks or immediately if you go into preterm labor because there is a very small risk that it will destroy some of your baby’s red blood cells if you take it within several days of delivery.

[Read more about Delivery]

Antibiotics you should avoid altogether during pregnancy include:

  • Streptomycin

    • Used to treat tuberculosis, which can cause hearing loss in your baby.
  • Tetracycline

    • Used to treat acne and respiratory infections. If you take tetracycline in the second or third trimester, it could discolor your developing baby’s teeth.
  • Trimethoprim

    • Not a good option during pregnancy because it blocks the effects of folic acid. Folic acid is crucial during pregnancy and conception because it reduces your baby’s risk of developing neural tube and other birth defects.

If you have no other choice and you must take one of these antibiotics while pregnant, be sure to take your daily prenatal vitamin as well. Research shows that taking a daily folic acid supplement can overcome the blocking effects of trimethoprim.

[Read more about Vitamins]

The safety of a particular antibiotic depends not only on the characteristics of the drug itself but on factors such as how much you take, how long you take it, and where you are in your pregnancy.


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