Pregnant women warned off antibiotics
WOMEN who take antibiotics during pregnancy have children who have a 20 per cent higher risk of being hospitalised with infections.
Researchers believe the medication may disturb the mother's microbiome - the good bugs in the gut - which she passes on to her baby when it's born, helping to build its immune system.
The Murdoch Children's Research Institute and Aarhus University of Denmark study analysed more than 700,000 children.
It found taking antibiotics closer to the baby's birth or having more than one course also increased the child's risk of being hospitalised with infections such as gastroenteritis and pneumonia. The increased risk appeared to persist throughout childhood.
Lead author Dr Jessica Miller said a possible explanation was that taking antibiotics during pregnancy reduced the good bacteria in the gut microbiome. "This could increase susceptibility to infection, especially in early childhood, possibly by a sub-optimal immune development," she wrote in the study, released today in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Professor David Burgner said the study showed only an association between antibiotic use in pregnancy and childhood infection risk, not causation.
"It's not unsafe to take antibiotics during pregnancy, we just need to use them carefully as we should in any patient group," he said.
In Australia, it's estimated one in eight pregnant women are prescribed antibiotics.
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists spokeswoman Dr Bernadette White said the research highlighted the importance of sensible antibiotic prescribing.
"The message to women would be, don't take antibiotics if you don't need them, question the doctor about whether it's a bacterial infection, but don't avoid them if you really need them.
"We wouldn't want women to think they should go without because the increased risk in the study was small."
The Melbourne obstetrician and gynaecologist also said the study shouldn't prevent women from taking antibiotics during labour if they tested positive for group B streptococcus, which has the potential to cause serious illness in a newborn.