Breastfeeding is good for babies but infants prescribed with antibiotics get less of these amazing benefits, a new study has found.
Researchers found that the babies who used antibiotics early in life - during or shortly after their breastfeeding periods — were prone to obesity and several infections.
"In breast milk, unlike in formula milk, the infant receives bacteria from the mother and specific sugar components that promote the growth of certain [gut] bacteria," said lead researcher Katri Korpela from University of Helsinki's immunobiology research program.
The findings of a new study published in the JAMA Pediatrics on June 13 suggested that breastfeeding's health benefits are primarily based on how it helps develop the child's intestinal bacteria (microbiota). The results indicated that the prescribed antibiotics babies take disrupt the gut bacteria development.
The study has its limitations. It only showed the association between antibiotic use during infancy and increased obesity and infections risks. But other experts agreed with the findings.
According to pediatric professor Dr. Pietro Vajro from the University of Salerno, who is the co-author of the study's accompanying editorial, early antibiotic usage modifies the gut bacteria in a manner that is unfavorable for the child. This modification carries lifelong consequences even in babies who have been breastfed for a long time.
The dysfunction can lead to chronic inflammation in the bloodstream, a condition which is typical in obesity as well as metabolic syndrome and fatty liver disease.
For the study, the researchers analyzed the data on 226 Finnish children who took part in a 2009-2010 probiotic research. The mothers of the child participants were asked about their breastfeeding activities while the researchers looked into purchase records for the children's antibiotic usage.
Almost 97 percent of all the infants breastfed for at least one month, with eight months as the average for total breastfeeding durations.
About 113 babies didn't take antibiotics prior to weaning. Among them, breastfeeding was associated with lesser infection cases post-weaning. As the babies grew, this group also showed lower weights compared with kids who took antibiotics as infants.
The researchers found that for each month spent on breastfeeding, the need for antibiotics usage was reduced by 5 percent.
Nicklaus Children's Hospital pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. William Muinos said that it is well known that babies who were breastfed have better chances of fighting infections due to the immunity they get from their mother's milk.
Breastfeeding introduces healthy [probiotic] bacteria and antibiotics kill off these bacteria, leaving children with lesser defense against infections. Muinos warned that parents should not give babies antibiotics for every infection or fever.