Study: Taking Antibiotics During Pregnancy Linked To Birth Defects

Study: Taking Antibiotics During Pregnancy Linked To Birth Defects

A new study now shows a link between taking unsafe antibiotics in pregnancy, and an increased risk in malformations, specifically heart defects in babies.

According to a new study, it has now been reported that unsafe antibiotics in pregnancy, taken during the first trimester, is linked to a higher risk of birth defects.  

Unsafe antibiotics in pregnancy tied to a higher risk of birth malformations

Macrolide antibiotics, more commonly known as erythromycin, clarithromycin, and azithromycin, are used to treat respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis. They are also used in treating urinary, skin and sexually transmitted diseases.

Children of women who were allergic to Penicillin, and who were prescribed macrolide antibiotics in place of it during the first three months of their pregnancy, showed an increased risk in birth defects. 

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The antibiotics may do more harm than good, especially during pregnancy. | Image source: Shutterstock

Higher risk of heart defects

The study, which was published earlier in February, found that mothers who had taken macrolides during the first trimester increased their risk of having children with major malformations, specifically heart defects, to 28 of 1,000 births.  This is in comparison to 18 per 1,000 births for mothers who were prescribed Penicillin.  

Study: Taking Antibiotics During Pregnancy Linked To Birth Defects

The data was collected from 104,605 children born in the United Kingdom between 1990 and 2016.

The children were analysed for birth malformations and neurodevelopmental disorders diagnosed later in life and were born to mothers who had either taken penicillin or macrolides.

There was no link associated with macrolides antibiotics and neurodevelopmental disorders. The study also reported no risk found between birth defects and macrolides taken before the pregnancy. 

Finding alternatives to macrolide antibiotics 

Professor Ruth Gilbert, one of the authors of the study, stated in an article that even though the increase in risk was small, it was significant. She urged doctors and pregnant women to find an alternative solution to macrolides, depending on the type of infection. 

However, she also further warned about the risks of not taking any antibiotics at all to combat bacterial infections, as the “infection itself can be really damaging to the unborn baby.” 

This is not the first time macrolides have been associated with an increased link to congenital heart defects. Sweden warned against the prescription of Erythromycin taken during the first trimester, in 2005.

Further, a previous study in 2017, linked common antibiotics including macrolides, to an increased risk of miscarriage when used in early pregnancy. The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. 

Macrolides are commonplace antibiotics and are household names in medication in Western countries.  Presently, only adults in the United States and the UK with a high risk of cardiovascular complications are warned against taking azithromycin and clarithromycin. 


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