Babies & Bacteria
Living intimately with microscopic organisms comes with ginormous implications. Our gut microbiome—the bacteria living in our alimentary canal, assisting us in the process of digesting food while also ‘training’ the immune system—is the topic of an increasing body of research. Our gut bacteria are with us since the very beginning: they undergo extensive development during the first year of babies, and so, the environment in which the latter grow plays a critical role in this process.
The type of birth (natural or caesarean section), the food consumed by the baby (breastfeeding or formula feeding) together with the early use of antibiotics constitute a combination of factors that are suspected to affect the developing gut microbiome. The new research focuses on a new method to show how these interventions can modify the intestinal bacterial populations of babies.
Variations in Gut Bacteria
Otherwise, in the past, scientists have tried to understand how gut bacteria would vary from person to person based on these differences. They have expressed concern pertaining to whether this might affect the health of babies in the long term—all questions that the investigators behind the new study wanted to answer. Lead author Anita Kozyrskyj from the University of Alberta, Canada, explains that their aim has been to “characterise the combined influence of cesarean delivery, antibiotic treatment, and formula-feeding on the development of gut microbiota in infants.”
Changes in Bacterial Colonisation in Bottle-Fed Babies
Kozyrskyj and her colleagues quantified changes in gut bacteria in a group of 166 babies throughout their first year. The method known as Significance Analysis of Microarrays was used. This study is one of the few research works that look into the rates of colonisation of each species of bacteria in infants, showing the dynamics of domination among the different types of bacteria in the gut.
The findings show that formula-fed babies or those delivered by C-section had trajectories of bacterial colonisation in their later years that were very different from those babies who were born naturally or who were breastfed; note that the latter two are characterised by the normal progression of gut bacteria.
Possible Effect: Food Allergies
Kozyrskyj and her team believe that the findings might have implications for the future health of babies because the unusual colonisation trajectories are linked with food allergies and rapid weight gain. Several other studies suggest a potential development of food allergies in these babies.
“We hope this research will help clinicians and parents understand that cesarean section increases the chance of antibiotic treatment or formula-feeding of newborns, which can affect the development of gut microbiota in later infancy,” says Kozyrskyj.