The use of antibiotics to prevent transmission of Group B Streptococcus to vaginally born babies seems to reduce the bacterial diversity of the infant gut microbiome.
Does Antibiotic Use or Birth Mode Influence Infant Microbiomes?
Vaginal birth is thought to convey a higher diversity of bacteria to newborn babies than cesearean section deliveries [1-4]. However, antibiotics are routinely used during c-sections to prevent infection. Antibiotic use may be what decreases bacterial diversity, not c-sections. Mothers positive for Group B Strep (GBS) giving birth naturally receive antibiotics too. Called intrapartum antibiotic prophylaxis (IAP), specific CDC guidelines for ampicillin doses and timing are established for GBS+ mothers. The antibiotic crosses the placenta and will be at active doses in the serum and amniotic fluids. Infants born vaginally to mothers given antibiotics have been found to have a different microbiome than vaginally born infants without antibiotic exposure, but these results could also be due to the methods used for the study, more on that another time.
IAP Reduced Group B Strep and Bacterial Diversity
In this study , ten Infants born vaginally to mother’s given antibiotics had lower levels of Actinobacteria and Bacteroidetes and higher amounts of Proteobacteria than the ten babies not exposed to antibiotics. So what does this mean? These are similar results to previous studies. Fewer Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis and more Enterobacteriaceae correlates with increased allergic status [6, 7]. Thus the use of IAP with vaginal birth may explain why some vaginally born babies have increased allergy issues. IAP vaginally born babies may have a disrupted gut microbiome. While the microbiome diversity studies are correlated with allergic conditions, they are beginning observations that can be used for to design hypotheses for future studies.
Follow up Studies with Breastfeeding?
Examining larger sample sizes of infants and following IAP and control babies that are exclusively breastfed, have mixed feeding regimes, and formula fed is warranted. Exclusive breastfeeding for 3 months in c-section IAP babies has shown an increase in Bifidobacterium sp.  Are all of the mom’s beneficial bacteria being transmitted, but at lower amounts the bacterial types could be adjusted with foods? Breast milk has been found to decrease Enterobacteriacea in infant feces and Bifidobacterium sp. increase . The sugars (oligosaccharides) found in breast milk can’t be digested by most bacteria. Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis does feed and grow on human milk oligosaccharides [8-10], so perhaps we can “feed the helpful bacteria and starve the less helpful/harmful bacteria”.
V4 Ideal Region of 16S rRNA for Infant Gut Microbiome Analysis
In addition to the IAP findings, this paper suggests that the V4 region of the 16S rRNA gene best identifies the broadest diversity of bacterial types in the infant gut. Thus, primer choice and region of the 16S rRNA investigated should be carefully considered. While this isn’t the first paper to warn about primer choice, it is good to see that they did explicitly see how primer choice changed bacteria identified in the infant gut.
- Small sample size
- Information on mom’s vaginal and gut microbiome would have strengthened the claims
- Antibiotic type and doses well controlled
- Amplification of multiple sets of 16S rRNA variable regions to best identify the infant gut bacterial diversity.
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- Azad MB, Konya T, Persaud RR, Guttman DS, Chari RS, Field CJ, Sears MR, Mandhane PJ, Turvey SE, Subbarao P et al: Impact of maternal intrapartum antibiotics, method of birth and breastfeeding on gut microbiota during the first year of life: a prospective cohort study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology 2015.
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