Babies are born with a sterile gut. Soon after birth, they introduce bacteria to their gut through the breast milk or formula they drink and later, through the food they eat. Bacteria are essential for healthy development and probiotics can confer multiple health benefits on infants.
What Are Probiotics And Why Are They Important For Infants?
Probiotics are good and friendly bacteria that are found in the human intestines that help to maintain a balance of organisms in the intestines. This kind of beneficial bacterium helps infants to stay healthy by digesting food, improving immunity and absorbing and synthesizing vitamins B and K.
Research indicates that probiotics are safe for healthy infants and children. Good tolerance has also been observed in premature babies, very low birth weight babies and in HIV-infected children. There have been some cases of probiotic use complications, like septicemia in immune-compromised adults and children, but these have occurred in sick individuals with severe medical problems.
Probiotic Benefits for Infants
Here are four potential benefits of probiotics for babies and toddlers according to current medical evidence.
- Digestive system
According to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics on Jan. 13/2014, probiotics could prevent colic and other gastrointestinal distress in infants. But the research needs to be replicated before probiotics can become standard care.
Probiotics also have been associated with less incidence of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (infection and inflammation of intestines) among premature babies according to an Australian study. Probiotics may help improve diarrhea symptoms in children. Lactobacillus species was found to be safe and effective in treating infectious diarrhea in infants.
- Immune System
In a few studies, consumption of the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains have demonstrated a reduction in certain acute respiratory symptoms associated with allergies and the common cold. However, immune protection by probiotics has not yet been well understood, and the evidence indicates that probiotics are of limited use.
Atopic eczema is an allergic skin condition which is more common in infancy. Research indicates that probiotics reduce the likelihood that your baby will develop atopic eczema and it can help reduce eczema flare-ups triggered by milk allergies.
- Brain Development
An infant’s microbiome (micro-organisms in the body environment) helps direct brain development and it has long-term implications for brain health and function.
In a recent study of 75 children who were given a probiotic during the first six months of life, researchers found a lower rate of ADHD at age 14 years, in children who took the probiotic compared to children given a placebo.
Strains of probiotics and their benefits
The most common strains of probiotics are:
- Saccharomyces Boulardii
All of these different strains of probiotics can have different effects in the body and can be beneficial to your infant but here are the top three:
- Bifidobacterium Bifidum (B. Bifidum) – it’s one of the first strains to colonize a baby’s intestines. It may help with infant skin conditions like eczema, yeast infections, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), constipation, diarrhea, and even lung infections.
- Bifidobacterium Infantis (B. Infantis) – it’s the most prevalent strain in an infant’s gut and declines as we age. One review found that it can reduce inflammation and have an immunomodulatory effect on the microbiota.
- Lactobacillus Reuteri (L. Reuteri) – it has been found to have many benefits for young children and infants with diarrhea, respiratory infections and colic.
Breastfeeds And Probiotics
Breast milk is the gold standard for a baby’s nutrition, and if you nurse, you help your baby build up more good bacteria. This is because breast milk contains substances known as prebiotics that promote the growth of healthy microbiota. Breast milk also helps develop the immune system and contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria.
Also, if you’re breastfeeding, you want to be sure that you’re also consuming probiotic-rich foods like kefir, yogurt (dahi), miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, natto. This will help enrich your bacterial balance, which will help your milk and baby.
How To Give Probiotics To Infants
Probiotic supplements that are recommended for infants come in the form of drops, powder, or chewable tablets. Routine use of probiotic supplements in infants younger than three months should only be done under the supervision of your pediatrician due to your baby’s immature immune and digestive system.
Probiotic supplements should be used prophylactically to prevent thrush whenever your baby has to take a course of antibiotic to help to recover the healthy balance of gut flora.
The marketplace is filled with specific strains of each of these bacterial groups, and there has not yet been sufficient scientific evidence about which particular strains might be most useful for certain conditions.
While probiotics have some health benefits for your newborn and there is an association between probiotic use and decreased allergies and relief from eczema symptoms in infants, never give your infant any supplementation without consulting your doctor pediatrician first.