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Probiotics may help support the immune system in babies born by cesarean or exposed to antibiotics

Mother and baby with special needs
6 Min read

Being born by cesarean or being exposed to antibiotics can disrupt the ideal balance of bacteria in the gut of babies (the gut microbiota). This can result in less bifidobacteria – a bacteria that is important in early life. Giving babies probiotics that contain bifidobacteria may help balance the gut microbiota and thereby support the immune system.


The gut microbiota is the collection of bacteria that live in the digestive system. The microbiota forms early in life and is important for health throughout the stages of our lives.

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A mother’s bacteria are passed on to her baby during birth

During vaginal birth, important bacteria from the mother are passed on to her baby. The bacteria passed on helps form the gut microbiota and is important for the development of the baby’s immune system.1 Therefore, the bacteria from the mother may have a long term, beneficial effect on the baby’s health.

Bifidobacteria is important for the development of the immune system

In the first few weeks of life, bifidobacteria is ideally the dominant, most abundant group of bacteria in the gut of a healthy baby.3 Bifidobacteria have a significant role in helping to develop a healthy and effective immune system.

The composition of bacteria in the gut can become imbalanced. This is called dysbiosis, and has been associated with an increased risk for some health conditions later in life.1, 2 Dysbiosis occurs frequently in early life and has two common causes: 1) being born by cesarean delivery, and 2) being exposed to antibiotics.

Baby with special needs due to preterm birth

Cesarean delivery may disrupt the ideal balance of bacteria  

Babies born by cesarean do not always receive the crucial bacteria from the mother that helps to form the baby’s gut microbiota.5 These babies have a much lower amount of bifidobacteria compared to vaginally delivered babies.2 Lower numbers of bifidobacteria are associated with increased risk of obesity later in life, excessive crying and fussing, and allergic symptoms.


Babies born by cesarean miss out on the important transfer of essential bacteria from their mother. 

Antibiotic exposure also disrupts the ideal balance of bacteria  

Another common disturbance to the baby’s microbiota is caused by the use of antibiotics. Antibiotic exposure during pregnancy may prevent the normal, ideal formation of the microbiota.5 Whether before or after birth, antibiotic exposure may decrease bifidobacteria and increase other species of bacteria, preventing the important dominance of bifidobacteria.5 This disruption to the normal and ideal development of the microbiota may impact the development of the baby, and the use of antibiotics in early life has been associated with future allergic conditions, obesity, and the associated health risks.7


Antibiotics given either to the mother before birth or to the baby may disrupt the baby’s microbiota.

In the first few months of life, the bacteria found in our gut is ideally dominated by bifidobacteria – probiotics may help

In a high-quality, human study, newborn babies were given either baby formula that had been supplemented with bifidobacterium called Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis, BB-12®  (hereafter referred to by use of the trademark BB-12®), standard baby formula, or were breastfed. At 1-month of age, the babies who were given the BB-12® baby formula had a similar amount of bifidobacteria in their gut as that of breastfed babies, which was a significantly higher amount than in the babies receiving the standard formula.

Further, in a 28-day study that included babies who cried excessively and fussed, babies who were given BB-12® probiotics had a significantly lower incidence of crying and fussing than the babies who were given a placebo treatment.

Newborn baby born by c-section

Lactobacillus rhamnosus, LGG® in early life may also be beneficial 

Other probiotic strains have also shown beneficial effects when used in early life, such as by supporting immune and digestive health.10, 11, 12, 13 For instance, supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus, LGG®  (hereafter referred to by use of the trademark LGG®), was associated with shorter episodes of diarrhea10, 13 and reduced the incidence of digestive infections11 and infections that cause cold and flu-like symptoms.11, 12  

Probiotic supplementation may help the developing gut microbiota

Therefore, probiotic supplementation during early life may be important as it may help balance the developing gut microbiota and support digestive and immune system health.6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13

Click to read about the LGG® and BB-12® strains.
BB-12® and LGG® are registered trademarks of Chr. Hansen A/S.

The article is provided for informational purposes regarding probiotics and is not meant to suggest that any substance referenced in the article is intended to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent any disease.
Bifidobacterium, BB-12® 

The probiotic strain Bifidobacterium, BB-12® is the world’s most documented probiotic bifidobacterium. It has been extensively studied and has been associated with improved outcomes across various health areas.

BB-12® is a registered trademark of Chr. Hansen A/S

BB-12 consumer logo TM

References Open Close

1. Gensollen T, et al. How colonization by microbiota in early life shapes the immune system. Science. 2016;352(6285):539-44. (PubMed)
2. Walker WA. The importance of appropriate initial bacterial colonization of the intestine in newborn, child, and adult health. Pediatr Res. 2017;82(3):387-95. (PubMed)
3. Korpela K, de Vos WM. Early life colonization of the human gut: microbes matter everywhere. Curr Opin Microbiol. 2018;44:70-8. (PubMed)
4. Ruiz L, et al. Bifidobacteria and Their Molecular Communication with the Immune System. Front Microbiol. 2017;8:2345-. (PubMed)
5. Korpela K, et al. Childhood BMI in relation to microbiota in infancy and lifetime antibiotic use. Microbiome. 2017;5(1):26. (PubMed
6. Rautava S. Microbial Composition of the Initial Colonization of Newborns. In: Isolauri E, et al., editors. Intestinal Microbiome: Functional Aspects in Health and Disease 2017. (PubMed)
7. Korpela K, et al. Association of Early-Life Antibiotic Use and Protective Effects of Breastfeeding: Role of the Intestinal Microbiota. JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(8):750-7. (PubMed)
8. Langhendries JP, et al. Effect of a fermented infant formula containing viable bifidobacteria on the fecal flora composition and pH of healthy full-term infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1995;21(2):177-81. (PubMed)
9. Nocerino R, et al. The therapeutic efficacy of Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis BB-12® in infant colic: A randomised, double blind, placebo-controlled trial. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2019. (PubMed)
10. Isolauri E, et al. A human Lactobacillus strain (Lactobacillus casei sp strain GG) promotes recovery from acute diarrhea in children. Pediatrics. 1991;88(1):90-7. (PubMed)
11. Hojsak I, et al. Lactobacillus GG in the prevention of nosocomial gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infections. Pediatrics. 2010;125(5):e1171-7. (PubMed)
12. Hojsak I, et al. Lactobacillus GG in the prevention of gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infections in children who attend day care centers: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Clin Nutr. 2010;29(3):312-6. (PubMed)
13. Aggarwal S, et al. Lactobacillus GG for treatment of acute childhood diarrhoea: an open labelled, randomized controlled trial. Indian J Med Res. 2014;139(3):379-85. (PubMed)

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