Pregnant women, beware. This is one of those reports on a study that will make you want to tear your hair out. Why? Because you’re sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Still, here goes:
Researchers looking into antibiotics use during pregnancy have found a link between birth defects and the medicines commonly used to treat urinary tract infections. Oh, but wait. Allowing bacterial infections to go untreated during pregnancy has also been shown to harm the fetus.
Don’t avoid antibiotics, just talk to your doctor about your choices. (See? You’re ready to start yanking on hair.)
In summary, the study found that mothers who had children with birth defects were more likely than other mothers to have taken the following during pregnancy: sulfa drugs (brand names include Thiosulfil Forte and Bactrim) and urinary germicides called nitrofurantoins (brand names include Furadantin and Macrobid).
Why are we only now finding this out? Well, these antibiotics have been used for decades to treat UTIs, etc. In fact, their use during pregnancy predates a Food and Drug Administration requirement for rigorous safety testing. In fact, the absence of rigorous testing on all antibiotics taken during pregnancy means that none get the “A” grade — meaning known to be safe medicines to take during pregnancy (Tylenol, for example, gets an “A”).
The study, published in November’s Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, looked at 13,000 mothers from 10 states whose infants had birth defects and 5,000 women who lived in that same region and gave birth to healthy babies. The mothers were interviewed by phone from six weeks to two years after giving birth. The mothers who had taken antibiotics up to one month before getting pregnant through the first three months of pregnancy were considered “exposed.”
The types of birth defects linked to sulfa drugs included rare brain and heart problems, and shortened limbs. Those linked to nitrofurantoins included heart problems and cleft palate. The drugs seemed to double or triple the risk, depending on the defect.
Though researchers — more tearing of hair here — those defects may also have been caused by the infection being treated. Also? Mom’s memory is a weakness in the study, as subjects sometimes couldn’t recall the medicines they had taken.
Did you take antibiotics shortly before or during pregnancy? When the FDA recommends discussing this with your doctor, what do you think? Will you do it? Think this study will have any affect on treatment?