Background: Newborn infants in modern maternity hospitals are subject to numerous factors that affect normal intestinal colonization--for example, cesarean delivery and antimicrobial agents. To study the duration of the effect of external factors on intestinal colonization, two groups of infants with different delivery methods were investigated.
Methods: The fecal flora of 64 healthy infants was studied prospectively. Thirty-four infants were delivered vaginally, and 30 by cesarean birth with antibiotic prophylaxis administered to their mothers before the delivery. The fecal flora was cultured on nonselective and selective media in infants 3 to 5, 10, 30, 60, and 180 days of age. Gastrointestinal signs were recorded daily by the mothers for 2 months.
Results: The fecal colonization of infants born by cesarean delivery was delayed. Bifidobacterium-like bacteria and Lactobacillus-like bacteria colonization rates reached the rates of vaginally delivered infants at 1 month and 10 days, respectively. Infants born by cesarean delivery were significantly less often colonized with bacteria of the Bacteroides fragilis group than were vaginally delivered infants: At 6 months the rates were 36% and 76%, respectively (p=0.009). The occurrence of gastrointestinal signs did not differ between the study groups.
Conclusions: This study shows for the first time that the primary gut flora in infants born by cesarean delivery may be disturbed for up to 6 months after the birth. The clinical relevance of these changes is unknown, and even longer follow-up is needed to establish how long-lasting these alterations of the primary gut flora can be.