Infants and antibiotics
Your body is full of bacteria and has been from the moment you were born. Most of these bacteria are harmless, and many of them are helpful. Scientists and doctors are only just beginning to understand the many ways that bacteria support your body’s healthy, normal function. Research into the bacteria that live in your digestive system, which are part of your gut microbiome, has found that these microbes are vital for proper immune system function.
Antibiotics can throw off the microbiome in your gut by killing beneficial bacteria. Research has found that in infants, whose immune systems are still developing, causing too many changes in the microbiome may put children at risk for autoimmune disorders and other diseases later in life. As a result, your child’s pediatrician may recommend avoiding antibiotics when possible and allowing common infections to resolve on their own.
However, there are times when the benefits of taking antibiotics outweigh any risks. Many infants’ immune system are not strong enough to fight off certain bacterial infections on their own. For severe infections, antibiotics are the only way to protect infants and prevent them from developing life-threatening secondary infections.
Premature infants in the hospital are also frequently given antibiotics as a preventative measure. In these cases, these babies are at risk of being exposed to bacteria that their underdeveloped immune systems are not able to able to manage, and antibiotics protect against life-threatening infections.
Many common childhood illnesses are viral. In these cases, your baby will not need antibiotics because they are ineffective against viruses. However, many bacterial infections can resolve on their own without antibiotic treatment as well. Even in cases where antibiotics are commonly prescribed, researchers have found that they might not actually provide much benefit.
February 27, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN