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Children's health

05th Mar 2024

Study shows ‘fascinating’ biological changes in ‘Covid pandemic babies’

Jody Coffey

pandemic baby

If you welcomed a baby during the pandemic, you may have wondered how this impacted their development

A new study has discovered that ‘pandemic babies’ are beginning to show some ‘fascinating’ biological changes in their development.

The study was conducted by APC Microbiome Ireland (APC), based in University College Cork, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and Children’s Health Ireland.

Their findings revealed that babies born when most countries were in lockdown have a slightly different gut microbiome—the mix of helpful and potentially harmful bacteria in their stomachs that helps with digestion and fights off harmful bacteria.

This difference, according to the research, means that children born during this period have fewer allergies to food than those born before the pandemic.

The study looked at fecal samples of 351 Irish babies born in the first three months of the pandemic, between March and May 2020.

They then compared them to samples from those born before the pandemic.

Stool samples were collected at six, 12, and 24 months, and allergy testing was performed at 12 and 24 months.

Only around five percent of these ‘Covid babies’ developed a food allergy by the time they turned one

This is compared to almost 23 percent of babies born before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Researchers believe that the mothers of babies born throughout the pandemic passed on helpful microbes while pregnant and their offspring picked up more from their environments after their birth.

The study also found that ‘Covid babies’ need fewer antibiotics to treat illnesses

Just 17 percent of these babies needed an antibiotic by their first birthday, compared to those born before the pandemic.

The findings were described as ‘fascinating’ by Liam O’Mahony, joint senior author and professor of immunology at University College Cork.

He adds that this discovery correlates ‘with higher levels of beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria’.

Meanwhile, Professor Jonathan Hourihane, consultant paediatrician at Children’s Health Ireland Temple Street and joint senior author of the study, says the study offers a new perspective on ‘the impact of social isolation in early life on the gut microbiome’.

“Notably, the lower allergy rates among newborns during the lockdown could highlight the impact of lifestyle and environmental factors, such as frequent antibiotic use, on the rise of allergic diseases.”

Researchers hope to reexamine these children when they reach five years of age to determine if there are longer-term impacts of these ‘interesting changes in early gut microbiome’.