Can I Take Antibiotics During Pregnancy?

Taking antibiotics during pregnancy may be necessary to help you fight an infection, but not all of them are safe. Learn more.
Can I Take Antibiotics During Pregnancy?

Last update: 28 April, 2021

Have you ever been told that antibiotics are harmful during pregnancy? Is it true? In this article, we’ll answer some of the most common questions about taking antibiotics during pregnancy.

The truth is that, although there are some restrictions, antibiotics are essential for treating some common conditions, like urinary tract infections. However, you should only take them if you have a prescription from a doctor because self-medication could be counterproductive.

Why can’t you take certain medications during pregnancy?

Can I Take Antibiotics During Pregnancy?

Many drugs, despite being useful for treating certain diseases, can also have harmful effects on a developing embryo or fetus. This can happen at any point during pregnancy. However, many birth defects are associated with exposure to substances during the first trimester. 

When drugs have the ability to cause these problems, they’re called teratogenic. This group includes isotretinoin and vitamin A derivatives, some antidepressants, warfarin, lithium, and methotrexate. Antibiotics are no exception.

Each antibiotic is different

Although it’s common to think of antibiotics as one group of drugs that, in theory, all do the same thing – eliminate or reduce the amount of pathogenic microorganisms in the body – in reality, there are many different types. They differ in their actions and other pharmacological characteristics. 

Because of that, you have to look at each group of antibiotics separately in order to determine their teratogenic capacity. This depends a lot on the chemical characteristics of the molecule. While there are antibiotics that pregnant women can take safely, there are others that are completely contraindicated.

Prohibited antibiotics during pregnancy

According to a publication from the Mayo Clinic, the best-tolerated antibiotics during pregnancy are usually from the group of penicillins and cephalosporins. These medicines cover a broad spectrum, so they’re capable of acting on a large number of bacteria. However, since microorganisms have increased their resistance to these drugs, their therapeutic abilities have decreased. 

On the other hand, some of the prohibited antibiotics during pregnancy are doxycycline or tetracycline, clarithromycin and trimethoprim. Under normal conditions, they also have good antimicrobial activity, despite being a bit more restricted. The effects these antibiotics can have range from birth defects to miscarriages.

Situations that require antibiotics during pregnancy

Just like with people who aren’t pregnant, antibiotics help to treat infections. In addition, people may take them if they’re at high risk of developing an infection. Urinary tract infections are the most common issue that would require antibiotics during pregnancy. They often require immediate treatment to prevent complications that could affect the pregnancy. 

Also, there are gastrointestinal infections that could cause diarrhea, severe colicky abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. You won’t need antibiotics in most cases, unless the condition continues or you experience other symptoms. For example, if there’s blood in your stool, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.

Can I Take Antibiotics During Pregnancy?

Should I self-medicate?

No. Self-medication puts you and your future baby at risk, as well as the population in general. This has a lot to do with the idea of antibiotic resistance. Because of it, many microorganisms are no longer sensitive to widely prescribed antibiotics, like penicillin.

Despite the large number of online medical resources, you shouldn’t replace a specialized consultation with general information on the internet. Also, if you’re not comfortable going to the doctor, there are many other options these days, like telemedicine. 

When in doubt, go to the doctor!

As we’ve been saying, if you have any symptoms related to an infection, it’s best to see your obstetrician as soon as possible. Although you might have been able to postpone the appointment under normal circumstances, you baby’s health is at stake. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

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  • Vallano A, et al. Antimicrobianos y embarazo. Enferm Infecc Microbiol Clin. 2009;27(9):536–542.