The next time your breastfed — or recently weaned — baby gets an ear infection, talk to his health care provider about not being so quick to prescribe antibiotics if possible…because while antibiotics may provide quick relief for the short-term, the research doesn’t bode well in the long-term.
A Finnish study, published June 13 in JAMA Pediatrics, has found a rather disturbing association between antibiotic use in breastfed babies, or babies within 4 months of their weaning, and their risk of more infections and obesity in the future.
Of the 226 Finnish children studied, 97% were breastfed for at least 1 month and on average for 8 months. Each month of breastfeeding reduced the average number of post-weaning antibiotic courses that child required.
But more importantly, I think, babies breastfed 0-6 months without any antibiotic use as well as babies breastfed 8-16 months with antibiotic use both had fewer populations of the good bacteria, Bifidobacterium and Akkermansia, compared with babies breastfed for longer duration (8-16 months) without antibiotic use.
From what it appears, antibiotics negate some of the benefits of breastfeeding — even with babies who are breastfed exclusively and for longer duration.
It all comes down to the gut microbiome — the microscopic ecosystem going on in our baby’s intestines that not only determines how we metabolize our food but also fortifies our body’s immunity.
You read that right: A huge part of our immune system depends on the specific mix of microbes colonizing our gut.
And where do we get our gut microbial mix? There are different factors affecting our unique blend — everyone’s gut microbiome is different, just like our fingerprints — but the microbes that make up our individual mix are introduced during vaginal childbirth and breastfeeding.
Or, lack thereof… Cesarean births and formula-only feeding don’t introduce much of a microbial diversity, but that low diversity does affect how a baby’s gut immunity works.
As Katri Korpela, lead researcher at Finland’s University of Helsinki immunobiology program, explained to HealthDay News, a breastfed infant receives bacteria from the mother as well as specific sugar components that promote the growth of certain gut bacteria. This doesn’t happen with formula.
Breastfeeding’s effect on a person’s lifelong gut microbiome has been a hot topic the last few years. This study further supports that breastfeeding’s health benefits are rooted to how it helps a baby develop intestinal bacteria.
This study also shows that antibiotics appear to disrupt that development.
Furthermore, it’s suspected that breastfeeding protects against obesity by establishing a healthy gut microbiome that then regulates how the gut handles food and feelings of fullness. So breastfeeding — but also antibiotics — puts a baby at risk of obesity, too.
The bad news doesn’t stop there. This dysfunction, according to Italy’s University of Salerno pediatric gastroenterologist Pietro Vajro, may cause chronic inflammation in the bloodstream characteristic of not only obesity but other chronic, related conditions such as fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome.
Almost every woman can relate to developing a yeast infection following a course of antibiotics. Basically, the antibiotics kill all the bacteria, good and bad, and without the good bacteria to keep the yeast in check, they overgrow. A yeast infection is a yeast overgrowth. Antifungal medication knocks back the yeast to allow the good bacteria to re-colonize, which keeps the yeast balanced.
This is similar to what happens in a baby’s gut when given antibiotics — the antibiotics kill all the bacteria, bad and good, upsetting the just budding gut microbiome and potentially changing the trajectory of baby’s gut, immunity and long-term health.
While this study stresses that it does not show a direct cause-and-effect between antibiotic use and increased infections and eventual obesity in breastfed babies, I would hope that it does give mothers — and health care providers — pause before prescribing that next antibiotic for an infection may be able to resolve without such aggressive treatment.
One of my favorite facts about breastfeeding — and one I regularly share with WIC clients in the peak of the cold and flu season — is how the antibodies in breastmilk detect pathogen exposure on baby’s saliva and literally change in real time to give better immunity to baby. Maybe it’s time to give breastfeeding more of a chance before jumping straight to an antibiotic Rx?