Antibiotics Weaken Protective Effect of Breastfeeding on Pediatric Infections and Obesity Interview with:

Dr. Katri Korpela, PhD University of Helsinki Helsinki

Dr. Katri Korpela

Dr. Katri Korpela, PhD
University of Helsinki
Helsinki What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Korpela: Previous studies have shown that breastfeeding reduces the frequency of infections in the child and is associated with lower risk of childhood overweight. Conversely, antibiotic use in early life is associated with increased BMI. Both antibiotic use and breastfeeding are known to influence the infant’s microbiota. However, these two factors have not been studied together and it was not known whether antibiotic use could modify the beneficial effects of breastfeeding. We collected data on lifetime antibiotic use, breastfeeding duration, and BMI in a group of daycare-attending children aged 2-6 years. We found that the beneficial effects on long breastfeeding, particularly as regards BMI development, were evident only in the children who did not get antibiotics in early life. Antibiotic use before or soon after weaning seemed to eliminate the protection against elevated BMI in preschool age and weaken the protection against infections after weaning. What should readers take away from your report?

Dr. Korpela: The main message of the study is that the protective effects of breastfeeding are most likely conveyed by the microbiota. Breastfeeding promotes the natural development of the infant’s intestinal microbiota, which is disrupted if the infant is given antibiotics. In breast milk, unlike in formula milk, the infant receives bacteria from the mother, and specific sugar components that promote the growth of certain bacteria. By breastfeeding, the mother guides the development of the infant’s microbiota. Antibiotic use alters the intestinal microbiota and thus disrupts the natural microbiota development, which seems to be important for the development of the infant’s immune system and metabolism. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Korpela: We still know very little about the mechanisms behind the observed associations. The health effects of the early microbiota development are becoming increasingly evident, so future research on the early-life metabolic and immunological programming of infants should consider the possibility that the microbiota may play a significant role. Research should address the host-microbe interactions that influence the development of the infants. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Korpela K, Salonen A, Virta LJ, Kekkonen RA, de Vos WM. Association of Early-Life Antibiotic Use and Protective Effects of Breastfeeding: Role of the Intestinal Microbiota. JAMA Pediatr. Published online June 13, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.0585.

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Last Updated on June 13, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD