Kinds of medicine
Antibiotics and their families
Penicillins: amoxicillin, ampicillin, benzathine penicillin, benzylpenicillin,
dicloxacillin, procaine penicillin, and others
Penicillins work well for a variety of infections. They have very few side effects and
are safe to take if pregnant or breastfeeding. They are widely available, low-cost,
and can be taken by mouth or injected. Unfortunately, many people are allergic to
them. Penicillins have been overused and some diseases are now resistant to them.
Macrolides: azithromycin, erythromycin, and others
Erythromycin works against many of the same infections as
penicillin and doxycycline. It is safe for a woman who is
pregnant or breastfeeding, or allergic to penicillin. Azithromycin,
though harder to find and more expensive, is safe in pregnancy, has
fewer side effects, and needs fewer doses than erythromycin.
Tetracyclines: doxycycline, tetracycline
Tetracycline and doxycycline both treat many infections and are low-cost and
widely available. Tetracyclines should not be taken by pregnant or breastfeeding
women or by children under 8 years of age.
Sulfas (sulfonamides): sulfamethoxazole (part of cotrimoxazole), sulfisoxazole
These medicines fight many different kinds of infections and they are cheap and
widely available. They can be taken during pregnancy, but it is better for pregnant
and breastfeeding women to take a different medicine. Many people are allergic
to sulfas. Also, some infections have become resistant to them.
Aminoglycosides: gentamicin, streptomycin, and others
These are effective and strong
medicines, but most of them can cause
serious side effects and can only be
given by injection. They should only
be used for severe infection when no
safer drug is available. It is better for
pregnant and breastfeeding women
to take a different medicine.
Use antibiotics only when necessary
Antibiotics are used much too often.
• Antibiotics can cause problems
like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea,
and vaginal yeast infections.
Some can cause more serious
side effects or allergic reactions.
Cephalosporins: cefixime, ceftriaxone,
cephalexin, and others
These powerful drugs treat many
infections that have become resistant to
the older antibiotics. They are safer and
have fewer side effects than many other
antibiotics, but can be very expensive
and hard to find. They are safe to use
during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
• Using antibiotics when they are
not needed, or for diseases they
cannot cure, has made some
harmful germs stronger and
resistant to medicines that once
Antibiotics cannot cure illnesses
caused by viruses, such as colds or
A Book for Midwives (2010)