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Is it Safe to Take Antibiotics While Pregnant?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 09, 2021

During pregnancy, babies get their oxygen, blood, and nutrients through an organ called the placenta. This organ acts as a filter for your baby, but some medicines can also pass through it and affect how your baby grows. This is why pregnant women have lots of instructions to be careful with medicine, remedies, and over-the-counter drugs.

You may get sick with a bacterial infection while you're pregnant that your body needs medicine to help fight off. Your doctor might give you antibiotics. Some types of antibiotics are safe to take during pregnancy. But some antibiotics shouldn’t be used during pregnancy because they can cause growth problems or other health problems for your baby.

Risks of Taking Antibiotics While Pregnant

Antibiotics are important for helping your body fight bacterial infections. Some types of antibiotics might be unsafe during pregnancy, including:

  • Tetracyclines
  • Fluoroquinolones
  • Streptomycin
  • Kanamycin
  • Aminoglycosides
  • Metronidazole

These antibiotics can harm your baby and might cause side effects like stained teeth or slow down their bone growth. 

Side effects. It’s common for antibiotics to have side effects. These usually affect the stomach and intestines and include:

  • Nausea
  • Throwing up
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite

Allergic reactions. You can be allergic to some antibiotics. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Itchy skin or rash
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Swelling
  • Feeling sick
  • Losing consciousness
  • Difficulty breathing

If you have symptoms from taking antibiotics such as an allergic reaction, you should talk to your doctor. Tightness in the throat, swelling, and having a hard time breathing are signs of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction and you should go to your nearest hospital right away.

Antibiotic resistance. Overusing antibiotics or not taking them the way your doctor recommends can cause bacteria to become resistant to the medicine. This means that the antibiotics might not work as well as they should, which can make your infection harder to treat. 

To make sure this doesn't happen, your doctor won’t give you antibiotics for a virus like the common cold. This is because antibiotics only treat infections from bacteria and using them for a virus can lead to superbugs. Your doctor also might not give you an antibiotic for minor infections like a chest infection, ear infection, or a sore throat unless it becomes serious.

Benefits of Antibiotics While Pregnant

Your immune system acts differently when you’re pregnant. It is common to get sick easily from infections. Infections during pregnancy can be serious and can cause your baby to have a life-threatening sickness. If an infection goes untreated, it can also cause early labor, stillbirth, newborn death, or problems with your baby’s organs. 

Your doctor may give you antibiotics for an infection. It is important to take the medicine as instructed. These infections might include:

  • Group B Streptococcus 
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Appendicitis
  • Gallbladder infection
  • Placenta and amniotic fluid infection
  • Kidney infection
  • Syphilis
  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Listeria

There are antibiotics you can safely take during pregnancy. These include:

  • Penicillin
  • Ampicillin
  • Amoxicillin
  • Clindamycin
  • Erythromycin

Your doctor may give you other kinds of antibiotics if they're needed or if your body doesn't respond to treatment. 

How to Safely Take Antibiotics in Pregnancy

The best way to take your antibiotics is to follow your doctor’s instructions. Because antibiotics have been used too much in the past, your doctor might be careful about what they give you. 

Your doctor will choose the best type for you. They might think about other factors before giving you antibiotics. These might include:

  • Avoiding antibiotics in the first trimester
  • Testing to confirm the type of infection
  • Giving the smallest dose possible
  • Giving antibiotics for the shortest time possible
  • Using only one type of antibiotic 
  • Only giving antibiotics when necessary

Antibiotics can interact with other medications or over-the-counter drugs. Your doctor might tell you not to take antibiotics with any other medicine.

Take as directed. Sometimes when you take antibiotics you start to feel better right away. It’s important to take your medicine until it’s finished and the way your doctor says. This might help stop the bacteria from becoming resistant to the medicine.

Use other safe remedies. If you have a common cold or other minor conditions, your doctor likely won’t give you antibiotics. Instead, ask about other over-the-counter medicine that is safe for you to take when you're pregnant. Other self-care practices for the common cold might be helpful, including:

  • Hot shower
  • Sinus steam
  • Saline nasal spray
  • Warm salt water gargle

If you don’t get better or you have new symptoms, make sure to talk to your doctor to rule out more serious conditions.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Skin Conditions During Pregnancy.”

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: “What infections can affect pregnancy?”

Merck Manual: “Drugs in Pregnancy.”

National Health Service: “Antibiotics — Antibiotic resistance.”

National Health Service: “Antibiotics — Considerations.”

National Health Service: “Antibiotics — Overview.”

National Health Service: “Antibiotics — Side effects.”

National Health Service: “Common cold.”

Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology: “Antibiotics in Pregnancy: Are They Safe?”

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