January 13, 2023
Breathing is the essence of life. However, this simple act can be challenging for kids with asthma. Asthma is the leading cause of pediatric emergency room visits in Canada. Newly published research in Med reveals how breastfeeding can help to mitigate the risk of developing asthma.
In a twelve-year study, Dr. Stuart Turvey and his fellow researchers at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute found that infants who took antibiotics and were not breastfed had a three times higher risk of developing asthma later in life compared to those who were breastfed.
Why does breastfeeding a baby help reduce the risk of asthma?
Through funding from Genome BC, researchers of the CHILD study sampled the DNA from the dirty diapers of 1,338 Canadian infants and their mother’s milk. The results reveal powerful genetic clues about how asthma and allergies develop later in life.
Children are born with pretty much no bacteria in their gut. The development of good ‘gut’ bacteria, B. infantis bacteria, comes from breast milk. It trains the immune system, and this new research shows how it prevents asthma and allergies.
About 17 per cent of the kids received antibiotics in the first year of life. Early exposure to antibiotics disrupts the good bacteria in an infant’s gut and elevates the possibility of pediatric asthma. Turvey found that when infants are prescribed antibiotics, it “confuses” kids’ immune systems in the first few months of their lives. Breastfeeding seems to mitigate this risk.
What happens if you can’t breastfeed your child and they must take antibiotics?
“We realize that breastfeeding is not always an option for infants who have been exposed to antibiotics,” says Dr. Charisse Petersen, a research associate in the Turvey lab and another co-first author on the study. “We are hopeful that supplementing the beneficial microbes and the necessary prebiotics identified in the study may provide protection. Our findings could greatly improve how we treat and care for infants who need antibiotics and further reduce the burden of asthma for these children and society.”
A version of this story was originally published by the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute.