Balancing risks with benefits of antibiotics for premature babies

When babies are born extremely early, their health and well-being is incredibly fragile. They often have yet to develop critical body systems and capabilities to do things like breathe, eat and fight infection. As such, medical intervention is crucial for their survival.

Unfortunately, medical efforts are not always successful, and premature babies can suffer serious illnesses or injuries that cause permanent damage or death. In these tragic situations, it may not always be immediately clear if medical acts harmed or helped the baby. For instance, there is debate on whether early antibiotic use in very premature babies is beneficial or not.

Preemptive or unnecessary?

According to reports like this one from Modern Healthcare, clinicians often administer antibiotics to premature infants. They do so because these babies typically have underdeveloped immune systems, leaving them very susceptible to serious, life-threatening infections like sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia. Administering antibiotics is thought to protect vulnerable babies from developing these infections.

However, there is concern regarding overuse of antibiotics. According to research, many infants receive antibiotics even if they are a low risk of developing an infection. This can expose them to other adverse health conditions, from chronic lung disease to development of so-called superbugs that cannot be treated with antimicrobials, or even death.

Ongoing research needed to get clarity

Unfortunately, the line between helping and potentially harming premature babies by administering antibiotics is a fine one. More research is needed to develop better, more specific means of assessing risk in such delicate situations.

Unless and until that happens, there will continue to be a debate over when and if medical workers should administer antibiotics under such conditions. 

Discussing legal options in the event of a malpractice claim

Birth injuries or fatalities stemming from alleged medical errors or miscalculations can be especially devastating. As such, it is important for all parties -- parents, medical staff and hospitals -- to have legal guidance in the even that malpractice allegations arise. 

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