OBJECTIVE. The aim of this study was to examine the contribution of a broad range of external influences to the gut microbiotic composition in early infancy.
METHODS. Fecal samples from 1032 infants at 1 month of age, who were recruited from the KOALA Birth Cohort Study in the Netherlands, were subjected to quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction assays for the enumeration of bifidobacteria, Escherichia coli, Clostridium difficile, Bacteroides fragilis group, lactobacilli, and total bacterial counts. Information on potential determinants of the gut microbiotic composition was collected with repeated questionnaires. The associations between these factors and the selected gut bacteria were analyzed with univariate and multivariate analyses.
RESULTS. Infants born through cesarean section had lower numbers of bifidobacteria and Bacteroides, whereas they were more often colonized with C difficile, compared with vaginally born infants. Exclusively formula-fed infants were more often colonized with E coli, C difficile, Bacteroides, and lactobacilli, compared with breastfed infants. Hospitalization and prematurity were associated with higher prevalence and counts of C difficile. Antibiotic use by the infant was associated with decreased numbers of bifidobacteria and Bacteroides. Infants with older siblings had slightly higher numbers of bifidobacteria, compared with infants without siblings.
CONCLUSIONS. The most important determinants of the gut microbiotic composition in infants were the mode of delivery, type of infant feeding, gestational age, infant hospitalization, and antibiotic use by the infant. Term infants who were born vaginally at home and were breastfed exclusively seemed to have the most “beneficial” gut microbiota (highest numbers of bifidobacteria and lowest numbers of C difficile and E coli).