The intestinal bacterial colonisation in preterm infants: a review of the literature

Clin Nutr. 2006 Jun;25(3):361-8. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2006.03.002. Epub 2006 May 4.


The aim of this study is to review the normal development of the intestinal microflora of preterm infants and the factors influencing its development. Preterm infants have an increased intestinal permeability, which may lead to bacterial translocation to systemic organs and tissues. In combination with immaturity of the immune system the risk to systemic infections might be increased. Especially potential pathogenic bacteria are able to translocate. The intestinal microflora of breast-fed term infants, dominated by bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, is thought to suppress the growth of potentially pathogenic bacteria. Many attemps have been made to stimulate the presence of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli with changes in the diet and ingredients-like prebiotics and probiotics. After selection, six studies were included reviewing the intestinal bacterial colonisation of preterm infants. In general, these studies show that the intestinal bacterial colonisation with beneficial bacteria is delayed in preterm infants. The number of potentially pathogenic bacteria is high. Antibiotics influence the intestinal colonisation. Many preterm infants receive prophylactic antibiotics at birth. As antibiotics delay the normal intestinal colonisation, caution should be given to the treatment with broadspectrum antibiotics in preterm infants at birth and every attempt has to be made to restrict the period of treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / adverse effects
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Bacterial Translocation
  • Bacteroides / growth & development
  • Bifidobacterium / growth & development
  • Breast Feeding
  • Clostridium / growth & development
  • Delivery, Obstetric / methods
  • Escherichia coli / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Klebsiella / growth & development
  • Lactobacillus / growth & development
  • Pseudomonas / growth & development
  • Staphylococcus / growth & development
  • Streptococcus / growth & development


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents