October 8, 2022

Giving birth is one of the most exciting times in parents’ lives. And doctors do everything in their power to help deliver healthy babies. This often includes providing antibiotics to protect infants from contracting an infection during vaginal or cesarean deliveries.

Currently, antibiotics directed at a wide range of bacteria are prescribed to 4-10% of all newborns.* However, new research conducted by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) and the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) reveals that antibiotic treatments in newborns can change the immune system’s response to lung infections like pneumonia. 

 Researchers studied a group of rhesus macaque infants and their reactions to antibiotics vs. a group that did not receive the medication. The result? The animals that received antibiotics showed a more severe reaction to pneumonia than the control group. 

 “Early life antibiotic use has been linked to chronic health conditions in children but we don’t understand the underlying biology of these effects. This important study is the first to provide experimental evidence of a potential negative effect of antibiotic treatment in infancy in a relevant animal model of childhood development,” said Dr. Lisa Miller, co-author on the study.

The researchers will continue their studies in other animals, including mice, to eventually test and screen human babies as part of preparing to help those more at risk of contracting pneumonia after receiving antibiotics during birth.

Researchers also have a clear message for parents: infants who need antibiotics should still get them. Antibiotics transform lethal infections into minor diseases and have saved countless lives. 

“The next step is to learn how to balance the benefits of antibiotic treatment with the impact on the immune system to avoid potential health risks in susceptible infants,” says Miller.

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