According to the results of a recent study with rodents by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), antibiotics treatments during pregnancy may put newborns at risk of disease by challenging their immune system.

When they’re born, infants move from a largely sterile environment, their mothers’ womb, to one full of microorganisms, the outer world. Both animal and humans learn to adapt to this situation by being exposed to their mother’s microbes from the very moment of birth, as delivery kick-starts the immune system of the newborns. The results of the study, published in Nature Medicine, suggest that the mother’s gut microbiota may play an essential role in this transference as it foster the production of some white blood cells in charge of fighting infections, granulocytes, during the first days of life.

CHOP neonatology researchers showed that the immunological response was reduced in newborn rodents when the mother had prenatal exposure to antibiotics. In fact, that seems to leave young mice more vulnerable to pathogens. The reason behind this extreme vulnerability has to be looked for in the mother’s gut microbiota. The study showed signalling mechanisms within this huge microbial community that activate the newborn mices’ immune system and the production of white blood cells at birth. As antibiotics can harm the mother’s bacterial ecosystem and reduce its diversity, they may also impair resistance to infections in neonates.

Understanding how the newborn’s microbiota interacts with antibiotics is important as its administration is sometimes necessary when an infection appears during the course of pregnancy, and also in preterm babies. As we have done with previous studies, we will keep informing you about new findings around this interesting topic.

Interested in reading more about the CHOP study?