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Beefs and Beliefs

Antibiotics for momma can harm baby's gut health

Alan Newport Cow with calf
If we select cattle for reproductive health we should get healthier calves.
Human study shows fetal gut health set back by antibiotics given to mother during labor. What about cows and calves?

The more we learn how the gut bacteria of mammals works with and influences the rest of the body, the more it seems we should take care how we use antibiotics and other therapies.

It doesn't seem to matter what species, healthy gut biota is critical to overall health.

I read an article this week about a study published in the journal Scientific Reports that showed antibiotics administered to the human mother during labor damaged development of the gut biota in the baby for about two weeks. The longer the exposure of the mother and fetus to these antibiotics administered for Group B Streptococcus, the longer the delay in maturation of gut bacteria in the new baby.

The researchers explained that one out of three or four pregnant women test positive for Group B Streptococcus during routine screening and the majority choose to receive antibiotic prophylaxis during labor to prevent GBS transmission to their infant at birth. Infant infections can lead to serious illness including meningitis and death in a very small number of infants, and antibiotic treatment is an important prevention strategy.

The researchers also noted the effects of antibiotics for GBS on the gut bacteria in babies was dramatic at early time points, they largely disappeared by 12 weeks of age.

“It’s a good sign that bacterial groups recover by 12 weeks but it’s still unclear what these findings mean for infant health, especially since early infancy is such an important developmental time,” the report said.

The researchers said these babies were healthy, full-term, breast-fed babies, predominantly born vaginally, with a small percentage born by C-section who were also exposed to antibiotics to prevent surgical infection. As in previous studies, babies born by C-section had delayed expansion of the key gut colonizer compared to babies born vaginally without exposure.

A study published in 2013 suggests that the gut microbiota affected by antibiotics shows less capacity to absorb iron, digest certain foods and produce essential molecules for the organism.

This suggests to me we could have similar effects on young calves with our antibiotic therapies. At the least, it says calves born to cows that need antibiotic therapy late in gestation should be watched more closely for a couple weeks, if possible. Perhaps more important, I could argue, we should be selecting cattle that have better health, better reproductivity and fewer health issues.

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