The study, published in Med, found that children who were not breastfed while taking antibiotics had three times the risk of developing asthma compared with children who were breastfed while taking antibiotics.
Previous studies have found that early exposure to antibiotics disrupts infants’ gut microbiome and elevates the level of the risk of pediatric asthma. Breastfeeding can act as a modulator of the gut microbiome, the study found.
The study followed 2,521 children and profiled the infant microbiomes in 1,338 children using shotgun metagenomic sequencing, which allows them to sample all genes in all organisms present in the sample. Researchers then compared the effects of human milk consumption in 561 of those infants.
The children were part of The CHILD study, which is the largest multidisciplinary, longitudinal, population-based birth cohort study in Canada. Investigators have tracked the health, growth and environments of kids from birth into school age looking into how asthma and allergies develop.
Researchers found that children who took antibiotics without breastfeeding risked getting asthma three times higher than children who received antibiotics while breastfeeding.
“While strides have been made to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions, we realize they are still an important treatment for babies when warranted,” said Dr. Stuart Turvey, an investigator at BC Children’s Hospital and professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of British Columbia. “According to our findings, breastfeeding may be one of the most influential factors in protecting these babies when they require antibiotics.
“Increasingly, we have come to understand the enormous influence infant gut health has on overall health.”
Asthma affects around one in seven children around the world and is the leading cause of pediatric emergency room visits and missed school days. It can also lead to lifelong poor lung health. The community of gut microbes, or microbiota, early in life supports immune development to prevent asthma. However, antibiotic exposure seems to disrupt this delicate microbial balance.
The general cohort of the CHILD study included 3,264 infants eligible at birth. After excluding those with incomplete data (n = 639) and those who had received antibiotics during the first year of life for respiratory symptoms (n = 104), this study was based on 2,521 children. Of those 2,521, a total of 2,102 (83.4 per cent) children did not receive any antibiotics (no Atbx) in the first year of life, 286 (11.3 per cent) children only received systemic antibiotics while breastfeeding (AWBF), and 133 (5.3 per cent) children received systemic antibiotics without breastfeeding (AWOBF) in the first year of life.