In the past, those women at risk for delivering prematurely may have unwittingly increased their odds of giving birth to babies with cerebral palsy and other health problems by taking antibiotics to prevent premature births. This, according to British researchers Thursday. The recent study was published in the journal Lancet and reviewed women at risk of premature labor who had no signs of infection. Today, doctors only recommend antibiotics to those women whose waters have broken prematurely or who are suffering from an obvious infection.
The findings reiterate that doctors should be using antibiotics for premature labor only in those situations when the mother’s water is intact and when there is no infection, said Sara Kenyon, a researcher at the University of Leicester. Kenyon led 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.”
Smoking, alcohol use, and weight problems are some of the issues which can increase the chances of a woman and baby entering premature labor. While it is well known that those children who are born prematurely are also more prone to functional problems later in life, the link to cerebral palsy was unexpected, Kenyon said. Kenyon’s team looked at 9,000 children from the original trial at age seven. The follow-up involved the researchers using a health questionnaire and national school results to gauge the children’s health. Children whose mothers were given the antibiotic erythromycin experienced an 18 percent increased risk of mainly mild functional problems that also included struggles with day-to-day problem solving as compared to those children whose mothers did not receive the drug. Meanwhile, the other antibiotic studied, co-amoxiclav, did not appear to raise such risks. “The risk of cerebral palsy was increased by either antibiotic, although the overall risk of this condition was low,” the researc
hers wrote in the report.
For those women whose water did not break and who were treated with both antibiotics together, the chance that their children would develop cerebral palsy nearly tripled. The researchers said they do not know why the combination of antibiotics and an intact membrane in women whose water did not burst appeared to affect some children.
Cerebral palsy actually refers to any one of a number of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affects body movement and muscle coordination. Although cerebral palsy affects muscle movement, it does not originate from problems in the muscles or nerves and is caused, rather, by abnormalities in those parts of the brain that control muscle movements. Most children with cerebral palsy are born with it, with detection generally occurring months, sometimes even years, following birth; early signs of cerebral palsy usually appear before a child reaches the age of three. There is currently no cure for cerebral palsy.