Several studies have demonstrated that antibiotic-use and intestinal bacterial composition (microbiota) of an infant are associated with excessive weight gain in children. It is well known that breastfeeding plays a crucial role in the natural development of an infant’s bacterial gut composition. However, the use of antibiotics in early life may alter the microbiota composition, and thus potentially result in weight gain. To this end, researchers conducted a retrospective cohort study investigating antibiotic-use during breastfeeding and its effect on an infant’s gut bacterial composition and health.
Breastfeeding has been known to confer several health benefits onto infants including basic nutrition (i.e. vitamins), protection from disease, and a decreased risk of excessive weight gain in children. Additionally, previous studies have consistently suggested that the body mass index (BMI) – a measure of body fat based on height and weight – are associated with the infant’s intestinal microbiota (bacterial composition) and exposure to antibiotics in early life. These reports have led researchers to believe that breastfeeding plays a crucial role in the proper development of intestinal microbiota, which may be disrupted by early antibiotic use. Thus, a group of researchers conducted a retrospective cohort study investigating whether antibiotic use may disrupt proper development of intestinal microbiota. Furthermore, they analyzed the microbiota of a subcohort to investigate whether duration of breastfeeding plays a role in the development of the infant’s intestinal microbiota.
Researchers studied a cohort of 226 children from Northern Finland, where 113 children did not receive antibiotics in early childhood, while the remaining 113 did. The results demonstrated that without antibiotic use, a longer duration of breastfeeding (8-16 months) resulted in a decreased BMI. In contrast, children who had received antibiotics in early life (such as amoxicillin and cephalosporins), showed no association between duration of breastfeeding and BMI. This suggests that antibiotics modified and altered the relationship between breastfeeding duration and BMI.
In addition, a subcohort of 42 children was further used to test the association between breastfeeding duration and intestinal microbiota. Twelve children that had a long breastfeeding duration without antibiotics were compared to nineteen children with short breastfeeding duration (0-6 months) without antibiotics, and eleven children with long breastfeeding duration with antibiotics used in early life. They demonstrated that there were differences in microbiota that were associated with duration of breastfeeding and whether antibiotics were used in early life. More precisely, it was shown that a shorter duration of breastfeeding and antibiotic use in early life both resulted in a significantly altered intestinal microbiota. For instance, shorter durations and antibiotic use were associated with decreased levels of Bifidobacterium and Akkermansia muciniphila, which act to protect against diet-induced obesity. Additionally, they observed increased levels of a large bacteria group called Clostridia, which are associated with increased weight gain and obesity.
In conclusion, researchers have demonstrated that breastfeeding duration and antibiotic use have significant implications on the development of an infant’s intestinal bacterial composition. This ultimately can lead to an increased risk of weight gain, and potentially lead to obesity. Additionally, an improper development of the intestinal microbiota can potentially make the infant more susceptible to other illnesses. Therefore, promoting the proper development of microbiota is essential for avoiding negative health consequences and allowing an infant to live a healthy and happy life.
Written By: Haisam Shah, BSc