In mouse models, antibiotic-damaged maternal microbiomes lead to big jumps in juvenile gut disease.

Gut bacteria would appear to be on a roll.

They account for about 95% of the microbiome, that cocktail of microbes which call your body home, and whose composition influences risk for conditions as diverse as depression, diabetes, allergy and obesity.

A new study adds to our esteem for this colony of bacteria, showing it may protect us from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), an effect that could be seriously undermined in the children of pregnant women who take antibiotics.

The research, led by microbiologist Martin Blaser from New York University’s Langone Medical Centre, US, took its lead from several troubling facts.

A disturbingly high number of women take antibiotics in pregnancy. A UK study found a third of pregnant women were prescribed antibiotics by a family doctor, mostly for respiratory, urinary tract, skin and ear infections.

Antibiotics also change the balance of gut bacteria. And their use in children increases the risk of IBD, an illness that delivers crippling abdominal pain, bloody stools and, for good measure, a heightened risk of cancer of the colon and rectum.

As it happens, a baby’s microbiome is massively influenced by the population of bacteria that inhabit the mother. During a vaginal birth the infant picks up mum’s bugs from the genital tract and from poo that tends to appear at the same time.

The researchers wondered, therefore, if maternal antibiotic use could be linked to IBD risk in their progeny.

Read the full article in Cosmos magazine here