At birth, infants are colonized by maternal bacteria, which plays an important role for the developing immune system,1 and may have a long term impact on the infant’s health.2
In the first few weeks of life, bifidobacteria is the most abundant group of bacteria in a healthy infant gut.3 Bifidobacteria have a significant role in the development and maturation of a healthy immune system, as they have been observed to interact with immune cells, modulating innate and adaptive immune processes.4 Through this process, a balanced and tolerogenic immune system evolves, reducing the risk of symptoms related to atopic or autoimmune diseases.2
If the composition of the infant intestinal microbiota is disturbed, there is an altered ratio of large bacteria taxa, and less bifidobacteria – this is called dysbiosis, and has been associated with an increased risk for some diseases later in life.1, 2 Dysbiosis occurs frequently in the initial colonization of the newborn’s intestine and has two common causes: 1) cesarean delivery, 2) use of antibiotics.
Infants born via cesarean delivery bypass the critical vertical transmission of maternal bacteria, especially bifidobacteria, that contribute to the formation of the infant gut microbiota.5 These infants have a much lower amount of bifidobacteria compared to vaginally delivered infants,2 and, thus, have a greater proportion of bacilli and enterobacteria.3 Lower numbers of bifidobacteria are associated with increased risk of obesity later in life, colic and atopic diseases.6
Another common disturbance to infant microbiota is the use of antibiotics. Perinatal antibiotic exposure may compromise the microbiota's normal formational pattern.5 Whether pre- or post-natal, antibiotic exposure may decrease bifidobacteria and increase other species, resulting in a shift away from bifidobacteria’s important dominance.5 This disruption of the normal microbiota succession may impact infant development, and the use of antibiotics in early life has been associated with future allergic diseases, obesity, and the associated health risks.7
In the perinatal period, bifidobacterial probiotic supplementation can contribute to bifidobacteria in the gut microbiota, supporting optimal dominant prevalence of bifidobacteria.6, 8 In a three-arm, randomized, double-blind, controlled study, new born infants either received Bifidobacterium, BB-12® (hereafter referred to by use of the trademark BB-12®) supplemented formula, received standard infant formula, or were breastfed. At 1 month of age, supplementation with BB-12® increased bifidobacteria colonization to a prevalence that was similar to that of breastfed infants, but significantly higher than the standard infant formula group.8 Further, in a 28-day clinical study of BB-12® probiotic supplementation in infants with colic, baseline vs. end-of-treatment microbiota analyses demonstrated that in those infants who responded to the BB-12® supplementation, there was a significant increase in the abundance of bifidobacteria. Additionally, improvement in symptoms of colic in the BB-12® treated group were significantly greater than in the control group.9 Click to read about probiotics and colic.
Other probiotic strains have also shown beneficial effects when used as probiotic supplementation in early infancy, such as supporting immune and gastrointestinal health.10, 11, 12, 13 For instance, supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus, LGG® (hereafter referred to by use of the trademark LGG®) has been associated with shortened occurrence of acute diarrhea10, 13 and reduced incidence of gastrointestinal tract11 and respiratory tract infections.11, 12
Therefore, probiotic supplementation during early life is important as it may help balance the infant gut microbiota, which studies suggest can impact the incidence of colic,9 diarrhea,10, 13 respiratory tract infections,11, 12 and gastrointestinal tract infections11 as well as obesity and atopic disease later in life.6
Click to read about LGG®, BB-12®, probiotics and infant colic, or probiotic supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
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.
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