Antibiotics Linked to Cerebral Palsy in Premature Births

Antibiotics, commonly administered to women at risk of experiencing premature labor, increases the risk that the child will develop cerebral palsy, according to a British research study. The report, published in the "Lancet" journal, studied women with no signs of infection who were at risk for premature labor.

Doctors generally give antibiotics to women whose waters have already prematurely broken or who have an apparent infection. However, the study suggest that doctors should administer antibiotics in cases of premature labor when the mother’s water has not broken only if there are signs of infection, according to Sara Kenyon, a researcher at the University of Leicester, who headed up the study. “We don’t think it is the antibiotics themselves but rather the situation the antibiotics are given in,” she said. “These findings mean doctors do not need to give antibiotics if a woman’s water hasn’t broken, unless she has an infection.”

The follow-up study, which involved 9,000 children from the original trial who are now age seven, found that children whose mothers were given the antibiotic erythromycin experienced an 18 percent increase in the risk of developing mild functional problems compared to children whose mothers did not receive the antibiotic. The other antibiotic involved in the study, co-amoxiclav, did not appear to give rise to such risks. “The risk of cerebral palsy was increased by either antibiotic, although the overall risk of this condition was low,” the researchers concluded.

However, women whose waters remained intact and who were treated with the two antibiotics together, had three times the likelihood that their children would develop cerebral palsy. The researchers can not say why the combination of antibiotics in women whose water remained intact appeared to have such adverse effects on some children.