Combined probiotics use may help reduce pre-term infant mortality

A mother holds the tiny hand of her premature baby in hospital

The combined use of probiotic and prebiotic supplementation may reduce the mortality rate of preterm infants if given in their first few months of life, a new Griffith University study has found.

Using advanced big data analysis to identify specific probiotic supplements, researchers from the School of Medicine analysed 45 randomised controlled trials with 12,320 participants from 19 different locations including the US, Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia.

They found Bifidobacterium plus prebiotic supplementation is the optimal intervention in reducing infant mortality, while Lactobacillus plus prebiotic supplementation is the optimal intervention in reducing necrotising enterocolitis (NEC).

The duration of treatment varied from two to nine weeks or covered the infant’s hospitalisation. Baseline parameters including gestational age, birth weight, sex and sample size were similar across the study.

“Despite improvements in gestation management and healthcare, pre-term birth remains a common and serious pregnancy problem,” says lead researcher Associate Professor Jing Sun from the School of Medicine.

“The prevalence of pre-term birth ranges from 5% to 18% across 184 countries and 15 million infants are born pre-term globally.

“As intestinal muscosa is a natural barrier for migration of bacteria, immature immune system and gastrointestinal tracts are at risk of complications and are a leading cause of neonatal death.”

Associate Professor Sun said recent studies suggest the composition of infants’ gut microbiota is affected by birth weight and gestational age.

“Altered gut microbiota has been proven to put infants at high risk of developing NEC and sepsis and they often present at a late stage.

“It is evident that early probiotic supplementation may benefit premature infants by improving their gastrointestinal tolerance again potential pathogens and regulating the altered gut microbiota to that of a healthy infant.

“We hope this study will contribute to a better understanding of combined probiotics and its effectiveness in reducing future disease burden caused by preterm birth.”

Effects of Probiotics in Preterm Infants: A Network Meta-Analysis has been published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.