Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are painful enough, but being pregnant and having a UTI? Oof — what a double whammy. Usually, a UTI can be cleared up with a quick visit to the pharmacy, prescription for antibiotics in hand — but now, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning pregnant women that common antibiotics used to treat UTIs could be dangerous to their unborn babies.
The antibiotics mentioned in the report include nitrofurantoin (also known as Macrobid, Macrodantin, and Furadantin) and trimethroprim-sulfamethoxazole (commonly known as Bactrum, Sulfatrim, and Bactrim DS). The CDC is now urging women to avoid these antibiotics in early pregnancy, due to a potential risk of birth defects.
"Birth defects associated with these drugs include heart, brain, and facial defects," Elizabeth Ailes — a health scientist at the CDC and lead author of the report — told CBS News. While a 3 percent risk of birth defects is associated with all pregnancies, “the increased risks associated with these antibiotics is relatively small, but significant — about two-times," said Ailes.
Other defects that were indicated in the study's initial report included anencephaly — a birth defect where the baby is born without part of their brain and skull — general heart defects, and orafacial clefts, including clef palate and cleft lip.
How to Treat a UTI While Pregnant
Leaving a UTI untreated while pregnant, however, is not an option. Doing so could result in far worse consequences, including babies born at a low birth weight, babies born prematurely, and the development of potentially deadly body-wide infections.
"It's important for women to know, despite the small elevation in birth defects risk, treatment is really important because untreated UTIs can have serious consequences for both the mom and the baby," said Ailes.
So, what's a pregnant woman to do? As always, talk to your doctor before taking a new medication and ask about the risks involved — not just for your baby, but for you as well. The CDC's report should mainly serve as a reminder to doctors that whenever a pregnant patient comes in, they're "treating for two" — but women should still be vigilant about protecting their own health.
"I think it's premature to draw a sweeping conclusion with this study," Jill Marura Rabin, MD, chief of ambulatory care, obstetrics and gynecology and head of urogynecology at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, told CBS News, adding that those who do need to receive these antibiotics despite the risks should be prescribed at the lowest effective dose.
Women — pregnant or not — should also do what they can to prevent a UTI in the first place: Drink plenty of water, pee frequently, and avoid tight-fitting underwear and pants.