A new study shows that babies who are born to mothers who were prescribed antibiotics while they were pregnant are at a 20 percent higher risk of getting infections and being hospitalized from them. The study was published in the latest issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Australian and Danish researchers collaborated for this study and they show that the antibiotics that the mothers take during their pregnancy can change the good bacteria in their guts and this can impair the development of their immune system and leave them vulnerable to infections. For this study the team looked at 750,000 pregnancies that occurred between 1995 and 2009. Results showed that 18 percent of these pregnant mothers had at least one antibiotic prescription during their pregnancy. Of the babies born to the mothers studied, 28 per cent or 222,524 children needed hospitalization for their infection before the age of 14 years, they noted.
Researchers also noted that babies who are born vaginally are at a greater risk of getting gastrointestinal infections compared to those born via caesarean section when both sets of mothers were prescribed an antibiotic during pregnancy. They noted that babies born vaginally get the gut microbes from their mother’s birth canal where as those born surgically get the microbes from the skin of the mother and from the hospital surfaces. If the mother was prescribed antibiotics, her gut microbe environment tends to change and thus the baby’s gut microbiota may also be altered leading to an altered immune development. Male babies were at a greater risk of infections than female babies they noted in addition.
The researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute also noted that if the mothers were prescribed the antibiotics closer to their delivery, the risk of the infections in the children was higher. Antibiotics taken by the mothers before conception did not however have an association with infections in the babies. However mothers who needed antibiotics before conception were likely to have lower immunity and it was seen than there a 10 percent higher rate of infection in the babies. This could be because the mothers maybe passing on genetic information to the babies that make them more prone to infections, they speculate.
Senior author David Burgner says that the purpose of this study was not to advise clinicians to stop prescribing antibiotics in pregnant mothers but a reminder that they need to be prescribed only when necessary. He added that, like in all age groups, pregnant women also need to be prescribed antibiotics judiciously. He said that this study shows that injudicious use of antibiotics can have an effect on the next generation and this study is a proof of that. The World Health Organisation calls antibiotic resistance a “global health emergency” and this study emphasizes the importance of rational antibiotic use.
At present 12 percent of Australian women are prescribed with an antibiotic during their pregnancy for infections and 20 to 30 percent children from developed nations need at least one hospital admission for infections. Over half of all Australian babies are prescribed an antibiotic within the first year of their lives, making them one of the highest rates of early antibiotic prescription requirement in the world finds another study.
Maternal antibiotic exposure during pregnancy and hospitalization with infection in offspring: a population-based cohort study, Jessica Eden Miller Chunsen Wu Lars Henning Pedersen Nicholas de Klerk Jørn Olsen David P Burgner – International Journal of Epidemiology, dyx272, https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyx272