28 March 2016

The impact of antibiotics on a newborn's microbiota

When baby is born, his mum has prepared the best microbial starter pack for him to be colonized with on his way out (if you'd like to read more about this, follow here).

However, in some cases when infections can occur during or after birth (especially after C-sections and in pre-term births), baby may be administered vital antibiotics to combat opportunistic infections. It has been estimated that 1.4 million of babies die at birth because of invasive infections; therefore, we can all agree that there are no questions over whether antibiotics are essential or not, they just ARE!!

But what happens to the first microbial colonies of baby when under attack by antibiotics.

A study looking at the microbiota of pre-term babies who received antibiotics showed that these babies had in their gut an unusual amount of a family species called enterobacteriaceae.

It might not mean anything on its own, but because our microbes have established a balance between themselves, if you tip that balance, their carefully attributed functions are all messed up and it can take up to two years to re-establish a  correct balance between the species.

Today we are recognizing the effects of a tipped balance on our health. Unfortunately, consequences linked to the administration of antibiotics to babies are, for example, an increased risk of developing auto-immune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's, colitis), Type I diabetes, and allergies.

Unfortunately, there is as yet no alternatives to antibiotics that are as effective in delicate situations such as to ensure baby's survival.

Recently, some scientists have found a way to combat bacterial infections using a different mechanism of action. Although it will take years before we can see the alternatives being applied to clinical practice, I'm hopeful that the incidence of some of these diseases will decrease thanks to, once again, progress in our understanding as to how nature works.

Do you know children with allergies that you think may be linked to having been given antibiotics at birth?
Don't hesitate to share your stories in the comments below, I'd love to read them.

See you next Monday!


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