Around 40% of pregnant women are given antibiotics before delivery, to cure infections such as the urinary tract infection or an ear infection (1). One such widely used antibiotic during pregnancy is penicillin. But is penicillin safe during pregnancy? If you are pregnant and looking for an answer to this question, read this MomJunction post. Here, we tell you why you could be prescribed penicillin during pregnancy, its effect on you and the pregnancy, and how to stay safe when using this antibiotic.
What Is Penicillin And When Is It Prescribed During Pregnancy?
Penicillin belongs to the antibacterial class of antibiotics that help in controlling bacterial infections by acting on the walls of the bacteria cells. Members of the penicillin class include Penicillin G, Penicillin V, Oxacillin (dicloxacillin), Methicillin, Ampicillin, Amoxicillin, etc. (2).
Penicillin is used as the first-line antibiotic by many doctors (2). It is available in the form of oral tablets as well as injection. It is prescribed to treat syphilis, and infections of the upper respiratory tract caused by group B Streptococci, enterococcal bacteria. They are also prescribed to treat other respiratory, urinary, skin, and ear infections (3).
However, the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not recommend the use of penicillin by pregnant women, unless absolutely necessary, to treat bacterial infections (4).
Is It Safe To Take Penicillin During Pregnancy?
Penicillin belongs to “pregnancy category B” drugs. The FDA states that reproduction studies of Bicillin C-R performed in mouse, rat, and rabbit did not show any evidence of adverse reactions on the developing fetus. However, there are no well-controlled studies in humans to quantify its safety in pregnant women. So, penicillin should be used during pregnancy only when the potential benefits outweigh the risks (4).
The antibiotic can cross the placenta and reach the fetus, but the concentration of the drug decreases to 50%. So, the risk of taking penicillin does not lie in direct toxicity to the fetus but possible allergic reactions (3).
If the mother is allergic to penicillin, then she should not take it during pregnancy because the allergic reactions (from a simple rash to anaphylactic shock) can cause premature birth due to excess histamine in the body (3).
Can Penicillin Cause Miscarriage?
Among the various classes of antibiotics, penicillin is considered safe and effective during pregnancy. In 25,000 published cases of amoxicillin use during pregnancy, there was no increased risk of spontaneous miscarriage, overall congenital malformation, intrauterine death, or neonatal complications (5). So, this is generally considered safe and may not cause a miscarriage.
Can Women With A History Of Penicillin Allergy Take Penicillin During Pregnancy?
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) practice bulletin no. 199 states that “up to 10% of patients with a history of penicillin allergy may have an allergic reaction when given penicillin during pregnancy.” This may cause a miscarriage, although such incidents were rarely found, and the committee advises limiting the use of penicillin to such individuals (6).
Some researchers recommend clarithromycin as an alternative treatment for pregnant women with penicillin allergy (5).
What Are The Side Effects Of Penicillin During Pregnancy?
The lack of major side effects on the developing baby is what makes penicillin the antibiotic of choice during pregnancy. However, penicillin allergy is something that cannot be ruled out. So always let your doctor know if you have a history of penicillin allergy.
Actual anaphylactic symptoms due to penicillin hypersensitivity are found in only 0.01% of patients. Some common drug reactions to penicillin may also look like hypersensitivity. Your doctor is the best person to determine the nature of your symptoms (7).
Common penicillin side effects include:
Some reactions are less frequent and are known to occur in 0.1-1% of patients. Those include:
All forms of penicillin, from both natural and synthetic sources, are known to cause allergic reactions. Such reactions are more prominent when the antibiotic is taken other than through the mouth and the alimentary canal. Penicillin G and procaine penicillin are two forms of penicillin which are most likely to trigger an allergic reaction.
Should you notice any of the symptoms listed above, tell your doctor about it before continuing the medication.
Although penicillin is considered safe during pregnancy, it should only be used if your doctor prescribes it. Make sure you tell them about your allergies and also ask any questions to clarify your doubts about antibiotic use. You could also ask them for any natural alternatives for treating the condition that penicillin has been prescribed for. If it is the only option, make sure you take it as prescribed to stay safe.
Did you take penicillin during your pregnancy? Share your experience with us in the comments section below.
This post is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for a doctor’s consultation. Do not use any medication without talking to your doctor.
2.R R Yocum, J R Rasmussen and J L Strominger; The mechanism of action of penicillin. Penicillin acylates the active site of Bacillus stearothermophilus D-alanine carboxypeptidase; Journal of Biological Chemistry
3.F. Sal Del Fiol, M. Gerenutti, and F.C Groppo; Antibiotics and Pregnancy; School of Pharmacy of University of Sorocaba
4.Penicillin G Potassium Injection; US Food and Drug Administration
5.Medication Guidelines For Obstetricians and Gynaecology; Antimicrobial Safety in Pregnancy and Lactation; Health Service Executive Clinical Programme in Obstetrics and Gynaecology
6.ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 199: Use of Prophylactic Antibiotics in Labor and Delivery; Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
7.Sanjib Bhattacharya; The Facts about Penicillin Allergy; NCBI (2010)
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