Antibiotic use during pregnancy: how bad is it?

BMC Med. 2016 Jun 17;14(1):91. doi: 10.1186/s12916-016-0636-0.


Background: Our microbial companions (the "microbiota") are extremely important for the preservation of human health. Although changes in bacterial communities (dysbiosis) are commonly associated with disease, such changes have also been described in healthy pregnancies, where the microbiome plays an essential role in maternal and child health outcomes, including normal immune and metabolic function in later life. Nevertheless, this new understanding of the importance of the microbiome has not yet influenced contemporary clinical practice regarding antibiotic use during pregnancy.

Discussion: Antibiotic treatment during pregnancy is widespread in Western countries, and accounts for 80 % of prescribed medications in pregnancy. However, antibiotic treatment, while at times lifesaving, can also have detrimental consequences. A single course of antibiotics perturbs bacterial communities, with evidence that the microbial ecosystem does not return completely to baseline following treatment. Antibiotics in pregnancy should be used only when indicated, choosing those with the narrowest range possible. Bacteria are essential for normal human development and, while antibiotic treatment during pregnancy has an important role in controlling and preventing infections, it may have undesired effects regarding the maternal and fetoplacental microbiomes. We expect that microbiota manipulation in pregnancy, through the use of probiotics and fecal microbiota transplantation, will be the subject of increasing clinical interest.

Keywords: Amniotic fluid; Antibiotics; Fetus; Gut; Immune system; Microbiome; Placenta; Pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Editorial

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Dysbiosis / chemically induced*
  • Dysbiosis / diagnosis
  • Dysbiosis / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology
  • Humans
  • Microbiota / drug effects
  • Microbiota / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / drug therapy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / diagnosis
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / drug therapy
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents