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Pregnant women 'too often prescribed antibiotics'

By Lilian Anekwe

Pregnant women are too commonly being prescribed antibiotics by GPs, despite the potential for long-term effects on the health of the foetus, researchers are warning.

The proportion of pregnancies in which antibiotics were prescribed declined in the 1990s but has crept up again more recently, with 35% of pregnant women receiving the drugs, their study found.

Over the entire study period 33% of pregnant women received antibiotics at some stage during their pregnancy, with one woman in 20 receiving more than three separate courses.

The level of antibiotic prescribing declined from nearly 40% in 1997 to just above 30%, but had risen to 35% again by 2007, the University College London analysis found.

The researchers speculated that the rate of prescribing might be higher than actual use, but cautioned that GPs should warn women of the risk of potential birth defects and complications when giving out the drugs.

Study leader Dr Irene Petersen, senior research fellow in primary care and population health at UCL, said: ‘Further research is urgently needed in view of emerging evidence that maternal antibiotics can potentially affect long-term neurological outcomes, gut flora and immune development in children.'

The analysis of prescribing data, drawn from the pregnancies of 115,00 women included in The Health Improvement Network (THIN) primary care database, was presented at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health annual spring meeting in York last week.

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