Study probes link between antibiotics during pregnancy and allergies

The Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital has launched a new pilot study which will be the first to examine the link by recruiting patients.

Anaesthetists say the use of antibiotics during pregnancy and childbirth has been rising over the past two decades.

Doctors are investigating whether increased use of antibiotics during pregnancy and childbirth contributes to the rise in allergies. (Getty)

“Really over the last 10 to 20 years, it’s now thought that 50 per cent or more of women do get exposed to antibiotics and of course their babies do too,” Associate Professor Victoria Eley, specialist anaesthetist at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, said.

She said all women who undergo a planned or emergency caesarean are given antibiotics before birth to prevent infection.

Antibiotics are also used for other indications such as when the membrane surrounding the baby ruptures early or when a woman experiences fever during labour.

Dr Eley says some of her collaborators have found that when a baby is exposed to antibiotics, it influences the type of bacteria that grows in their mouth and their gastrointestinal tract.

Antibiotics are also used for other indications such as when the membrane surrounding the baby ruptures. (iStock)

“The antibiotics that babies are exposed to at birth may influence the bacteria in their gut and how their immune system develops,” Associate Professor Eley said.

The first stage of the new pilot study will focus on babies born by caesarean. One group of women who receive antibiotics will be compared to a group that won’t receive the medicine.

Researchers will collect samples of breast milk, a baby’s stools and amniotic fluid to examine any differences.

“It’s very important to keep women safe so only very low risk women will be included in this study,” Associate Professor Eley said.

The study will provide early clues as to whether antibiotics given during childbirth make children more susceptible to food allergies, asthma and eczema.

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Ongoing research will help determine whether a more targeted approach in prescribing antibiotics is needed.

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