Pregnant women who take antibiotics without doctors’ prescription could be putting their unborn babies at great risk of brain damage, a female reproductive health expert, Dr. Amuche Nwafor, has warned.
Nwafor, who is a Senior Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Alex Ekwueme University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, said maternal health experts discourage the use of antibiotics in pregnancy because not all of them are safe.
According to her, it is risky for pregnant women with urinary tract infections to treat them at home with any antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription.
The gynaecologist in an interview with PUNCH Healthwise said it is cheaper and safer for pregnant women to visit the hospital when they are sick, stressing that it could be unsafe for them and their unborn child to patronise patent medicine stores for healthcare.
She said, “Generally, we discourage drug use in pregnancy as much as possible. We only use antibiotics in pregnancy when it is extremely necessary.
“There are some antibiotics that are not safe during pregnancy. Some of them will affect the foetus negatively. Antibiotics can cause deformity in the baby. It can affect the bone.
“There are, however, some that are safe. But the problem is that some pregnant women when they are sick, go to the chemist to buy drugs not minding the impact on their unborn babies.
Nwafor noted that doctors prescribe antibiotics for pregnant women only in extreme cases considering their impact on unborn babies.
“Doctors don’t just give antibiotics. Even when they want to give, they give the ones that are safe.
“Some antibiotics can affect the bone marrow also. Others can cause jaundice, brain damage and also affect the skin,” she stated.
The gynaecologist also noted that antibiotics can cause miscarriages.
According to an online news portal, WebMD, taking certain types of antibiotics during pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage.
Nwafor advised pregnant women to register early for antenatal care and to always take their complaints to their physicians rather than engage in self-medication.
“Once women notice that they are pregnant, they should register for antenatal care in a health facility that has skilled birth attendants. In such facilities, you have professionals who have been trained in drug safety and therefore, know the types of drugs that are safe for pregnant women. They know the drugs to give to women during pregnancy.
“Pregnant women are prone to urinary tract infection; they can have difficulty with urination. They can have coughs and catarrh and all sorts of symptoms just like non-pregnant persons.
“But, most times, because they feel that coming to the hospital is more expensive, most of them when they are sick, they go to the chemist shops to buy drugs where they feel are cheaper.
“But it is not true. When you book at a facility, you already have a card with them. Once you are sick, you walk into the facility to see the doctor.
“Many diseases have similar symptoms, so it is dangerous for pregnant women to be taking drugs without the prescription, she explained.
Corroborating Nwafor’s statement is a study published by the British Medical Journal titled, ‘Some antibiotics prescribed during pregnancy linked with birth defects’.
The study stated that children of mothers prescribed macrolide antibiotics during early pregnancy were at an increased risk of major birth defects, particularly heart defects, compared with children of mothers prescribed penicillin.
The BMJ is a weekly peer-reviewed medical trade journal, published by the British Medical Association.
The researchers say these findings show that macrolides should be used with caution during pregnancy and if feasible alternative antibiotics should be prescribed until further research is available.
Macrolide antibiotics (including erythromycin, clarithromycin, and azithromycin) are – widely used to treat common bacterial infections. They are often used as alternatives for patients with penicillin allergies.
The researchers analysed data from 104,605 children born in the UK from 1990 to 2016 with a median follow-up of 5.8 years after birth. A further 82,314 children whose mothers were prescribed macrolides or penicillins before pregnancy, and 53,735 children who were siblings of children in the study group acted as negative control cohorts.
Major malformations were recorded in 186 of 8,632 children whose mothers were prescribed macrolides at any point during pregnancy and 1,666 of 95,973 children whose mothers were prescribed penicillins during pregnancy.
After taking account of potentially influential factors, the researchers found that macrolide prescribing during the first three months (the first trimester) of pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of any major malformation compared with penicillin and specifically cardiovascular malformations.