Antibiotics and children

children and antibiotics blog image

I get a lot of messages every day. Messages from people of all ages, from all walks of life, the majority of whom need help because they have a digestive or gut disorder. Last week was no exception, but three of the messages struck a particular chord, and I’d like to tell you about them a little more. They were all from mothers worried about their children. 

Three real-life examples

One of the enquiries was from the mother of a 19-year-old girl who had IBS symptoms, another came from the mother of a 4-year-old little boy who had developed eczema and food intolerances, and the last one from the mother of a 9-year-old boy who suffers with chronic constipation. 

When I’m trying to get to the root cause of anyone’s digestive or gut problems, I always want to know about their antibiotic history because of the detrimental impact antibiotics, especially those taken in early life, can have on the gut microbiome, and so I asked all three mothers for details about the antibiotic history of their children. 

It transpires that the 19-year-old girl had a history of tonsillitis when she was younger, that required multiple courses of antibiotics; the mother of the 4-year-old boy told me that when she was pregnant she had taken antibiotics, and again when she breast-fed, and her little boy had had at least three or four courses of antibiotics (remember, he’s only four). The mother of the 9-year-old also had antibiotics whilst pregnant, and her baby had been prescribed antibiotics soon after his birth. 

What does the research show?

Research shows that antibiotics can pass through the placenta to the developing baby, and they can also affect the baby’s developing gut microbiome via breast milk.  It’s very important that the pros and cons of taking antibiotics during pregnancy are carefully considered and that the most ‘narrow’ of antibiotics are used, as opposed to ‘broad’ strain antibiotics, to reduce the collateral damage to the beneficial gut bacteria.

You can read the science behind the effects of taking antibiotics during pregnancy here.

The earlier in life you are exposed to antibiotics, the greater the risk of developing digestive and/or bowel problems. You can read more about this connection in my blog ‘Pregnancy, antibiotics and baby’s immune system’.

How can we resolve this problem?

I have long wondered why medics don’t advise the taking of probiotics after antibiotics – it is totally beyond me. They prescribe antibiotics to kill bacteria causing an infection, but don’t they realise that the antibiotics will also decimate the levels of beneficial bacteria in the body, particularly in the digestive system?  The effects of these antibiotics are felt nowhere more so than in the gut, hugely increasing the risk of developing not only conditions like IBS, constipation, and ‘leaky’ gut, but also inflammatory bowel disease (the two most common being Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), auto-immune skin diseases like eczema and food sensitivities, not to mention the detrimental effect antibiotics can have on the immune system, up to 80% of which is located in the gut, especially that of a developing baby. 

There’s an easy way to stop many of these conditions affecting the quality of children’s and adults’ lives for decades, and that is for GPs to simply advise people, including the parents of babies and children who have had antibiotics, to take probiotics afterwards for a minimum of three months.