When babies are born very early, it is crucial that they receive competent, continuous medical attention. Often, these babies have highly underdeveloped body organs and systems, including their immune system. As a result, they can get very sick very quickly.
One step that clinicians often take to protect babies in this situation is administering antibiotics. However, this practice is under scrutiny after studies revealed a potentially high rate of unnecessary exposure to antibiotics among premature babies.
Not uncommon, but risky
According to articles like this one, babies with very low birth weights can receive antibiotics to counteract the effects of infections like sepsis, which is a serious infection that can cause organ failure and death. Infections like these are particularly problematic for premature babies, and they can have catastrophic consequences.
However, there are also serious risks associated with unnecessary exposure to antibiotics. People (including infants) can develop infections resistant to medication, chronic lung problems, intestinal damage and other serious conditions.
Herein lies the problem: According to recent studies published by The Journal of the American Medical Association, use of antibiotics significantly outpaces the risk of sepsis among premature babies. In other words, many premature infants receiving antibiotic therapy do not show signs of infection and are at a low risk of developing an infection.
Unfortunately, there remains uncertainty within the medical community and among researchers regarding optimal use of antibiotics among premature babies. In fact, studies have shown that some clinics have a much higher rate of antibiotic use among premature babies than others, illustrating the inconsistency of this practice. This means there will likely continue to be babies who suffer from infection or unnecessary administration of antibiotic therapies
In these situations, parents may want to examine their legal options if there is reason to believe doctors or hospitals provided substandard care or acted in a way that caused harm or injury to a baby. While not all adverse medical events stem from malpractice, it is often very difficult to be sure without legal guidance and a thorough investigation.