Antibiotic use in pregnancy and lactation: what is and is not known about teratogenic and toxic risks

Obstet Gynecol. 2006 May;107(5):1120-38. doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000216197.26783.b5.


Objective: Over ten million women are either pregnant or lactating in the United States at any time. The risks of medication use for these women are unique. In addition to normal physiologic changes that alter the pharmacokinetics of drugs, there is the concern of possible teratogenic and toxic effects on the developing fetus and newborn. This article reviews the risks and pharmacokinetic considerations for 11 broad-spectrum antibiotics that can be used to treat routine and life-threatening infections during pregnancy and lactation.

Data sources: Information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) product labels, the Teratogen Information Service, REPROTOX, Shepard's Catalog of Teratogenic Agents, Clinical Pharmacology, and the peer-reviewed medical literature was reviewed concerning the use of 11 antibiotics in pregnant and lactating women. The PubMed search engine was used with the search terms "[antibiotic name] and pregnancy," "[antibiotic name] and lactation," and "[antibiotic name] and breastfeeding" from January 1940 to November 2005, as well as standard reference tracing.

Methods of study selection: One hundred twenty-four references had sufficient information concerning numbers of subjects, methods, and findings to be included.

Tabulation, integration, and results: The teratogenic potential in humans ranged from "none" (penicillin G and VK) to "unlikely" (amoxicillin, chloramphenicol, ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, levofloxacin, and rifampin) to "undetermined" (clindamycin, gentamicin, and vancomycin). Assessments were based on "good data" (penicillin G and VK), "fair data" (amoxicillin, chloramphenicol, ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, levofloxacin, and rifampin), "limited data" (clindamycin and gentamicin), and "very limited data" (vancomycin). Significant pharmacokinetic changes occurred during pregnancy for the penicillins, fluoroquinolones and gentamicin, indicating that dosage adjustments for these drugs may be necessary. With the exception of chloramphenicol, all of these antibiotics are considered compatible with breastfeeding.

Conclusion: Health care professionals should consider the teratogenic and toxic risk profiles of antibiotics to assist in making prescribing decisions for pregnant and lactating women. These may become especially important if anti-infective countermeasures are required to protect the health, safety, and survival of individuals exposed to pathogenic bacteriologic agents that may occur from bioterrorist acts.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Breast Feeding
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lactation*
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Pregnancy


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents