Highlights

12 february 2013

Newborn's bacteria differ according to delivery, breastfeeding

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(Michael Zamora/Corpus Christi Caller-Times/Associated Press)
How an infant is born could affect what types of bacteria they acquire in their gut.

Babies born by caesarian section have different bacteria in their gut and that may increase their risk of developing a host of illnesses, according to a new study.  Vaginal delivery gives babies a specific group of “good bacteria” that develop their immune systems. Without those bacteria they may be more likely to get illnesses like asthma, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Babies fed exclusively formula also have different bacteria from babies who were breastfed.

Next, researchers will try to find out for sure whether this bacteria footprint actually does make a difference in the child’s health. Meghan Azad is a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Alberta and the Manitoba Institute of Child Health who worked on the study. She spoke with RCI’s Lynn Desjardins.
“We know from other research that the gut bacteria are really important in training the immune system,” said Ms. Azad, “so helping it to know which bacteria are good, which are maybe not so good and helping the immune system to not overreact…In allergy and asthma,  that’s really a result of overreactions of the immune system

“Gut bacteria are also important for digesting food and extracting energy from the food we eat. So, because of that, gut bacteria have also been linked to obesity as well as diabetes. There have even been recent reports connecting gut bacteria with autism so we’re really in the beginning stages of understanding just how important these gut bacteria are for health.”


Members of the CHILD Study Manitoba Team

Knowing that bacteria are important to the immune system, the scientists wanted to find out if the birth experience made a difference. In the past it was difficult to test the bacteria because researchers could not grow them very well in the lab. But now with the development of new technology for genetic sequencing, scientists are able to analyse which bacteria are and are not present.

The job involved collecting stool samples from 24 babies, some of whom were born by C-section and some who were breastfed, others fed formula. Researchers found the babies born by caesarian lacked a specific group of bacteria and there were differences in the bacteria mix depending on whether they were formula fed or breastfed. The next step will be for the team to do a larger study, first of 200 infants and later, they will look at data from 2,500 infants. They will be followed for five years to see how their health develops and whether they develop asthma, allergies or other health conditions.

But even before those studies are concluded, Ms. Azad said these results suggest some recommendations: first this confirms that breastfeeding is good for babies and mothers should carefully consider whether C-sections are the best thing for them. “Of course we know that in many instances caesarian section is absolutely necessary. It’s a life-saving procedure for moms and babies so we recognize that absolutely,” said Ms. Azad. “But more and more often some women are choosing caesarian section as an elective procedure and maybe with this new information they’d want to think twice about that and make an informed decision.”

The infants are part of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study.  The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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