Few people will argue the benefits of antibiotics in fighting infection and disease. However, Australian research has found that pregnant mothers using such medication increase the likelihood that their babies will develop an infection.
In fact, the study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, pegged that likelihood at 20 percent.
The exhaustive experiment looked at information gathered from more than three quarters of a million pregnancies that took place between 1997 and 2009, and classified the data with records of antibiotic use as well as hospital accounts of admitting children plagued by infections.
Coming up with a ratio of one child out of five likely to need medical treatment was alarming enough. But what made the calculations even more distressing, were findings that the ration increased when a mother took more than one type of antibiotic or continued taking antibiotics closer to her delivery date. Male babies were also at higher risk than their female counterparts. On the other hand, additional findings determined that babies born via C-section were less vulnerable to infection, believing vaginal birth babies are more likely to be exposed to a mother's microbiome (micro-organisms that reside in a mother's abdomen).
While researchers were unable to conclude what determined those risk levels, they believe that there's a relationship between antibiotics and bacterial content in the mother, which could lead to an increased vulnerability of a fetus to infection once born. Any bacteria altered in the mother would be passed on to the baby, which could increase the likelihood of infections in the child later in life. Another possibility being looked at is the potential side effects of killing bacteria in the mother that would be beneficial to a child's well-being.
According to the Australian Medical Association, pregnant mothers tend to be prescribed antibiotics to combat urinary tract infections or take them if they're about to undergo surgery.
One recommendation that's currently being looked at is administer probiotics (microorganisms to help the newborn develop its own antibodies to fight infection) to newborns, although not enough findings are available to confirm whether the method would work.
Even though not all of the evidence is conclusive, researchers say the results illustrate the negative, long-term consequences associated with the ingestion of antibiotics.