Probiotics are live microorganisms that confer a health benefit on the host when administered in adequate amounts. They are often called “good” or “friendly” bacteria because they help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria. Let’s dive into the details of probiotics, particularly in the context of babies.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics have come into the spotlight in the last decade or so because of their suggested health benefits. The National Health Interview Study 2012 shared with trusted sources that 4 million adults and 300,000 children had used probiotics within a month before the study.
The term probiotics is an umbrella term. It represents many different strains of live microorganisms, usually bacteria, that are considered to be good for your body because they may help maintain a good balance of bacteria in the digestive tract.
You can find probiotics as supplements as well as in foods like:
- other dairy products
Some of the main strains of probiotics you may see are:
- Saccharomyces boulardii
You likely already have these good bacteria in your body, but adding probiotics to your diet or taking them in supplement form can increase their amount in your body.
Probiotics may help infants because they are born with a sterile GI system that might be susceptible to distress. Over time, infants build up bacteria that will help them build a barrier in their GI tract, gain a stronger immune system, and prevent infections.
Infants may develop a condition that causes constipation or pain anytime, including before they naturally build up their bacteria. They could also develop colic.
Probiotics may help add good bacteria to an infant’s stomach more quickly. A baby acquires good bacteria from breast milk, formula, and food. The bacteria in your baby’s stomach may be altered by many factors, such as delivery method, gestational age, and whether they take an antibiotic early in life.
- Nature & Composition: Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts with health benefits. They can be found in certain foods and supplements.
- Main Types: The most common bacteria used as probiotics include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Each of these has different species and strains that provide different benefits.
Probiotic Benefits for Babies:
- Digestive Health: Probiotics can help to balance the bacteria in the intestines, which can be particularly beneficial for babies who suffer from conditions such as colic, acid reflux, constipation, and diarrhea.
- Immune System Boost: Some studies suggest that probiotics might help bolster a baby’s immune system, protecting against potential infections and illnesses.
- Eczema and Allergies: Some research has shown that certain strains of probiotics can reduce the incidence of eczema in babies and young children.
- Prevention of Necrotizing Enterocolitis: Some probiotics can reduce the risk of a severe intestinal condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) for premature babies.
Potential Risks of Probiotics for Babies:
- Infection: There’s a small risk that people with compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions might get an infection from probiotics. This risk is greater in premature babies or babies with weakened immune systems.
- Unknown Long-Term Effects: The long-term effects of giving babies probiotics are poorly understood since most research focuses on short-term outcomes.
- Interactions with Medications: Probiotics might interact with medications, so always consult with a pediatrician before giving them to your baby.
- When starting probiotics, Some babies might experience digestive symptoms like gas or bloating.
Considerations When Choosing Baby Probiotics:
- Strain Specificity: Not all probiotics are the same. Choosing a strain that matches the health benefit you’re seeking for your baby is important.
- Dose: The amount of probiotics given is crucial. More doesn’t necessarily mean better. Again, consult a pediatrician for guidance.
- Purity: Ensure the probiotic doesn’t contain harmful additives or contaminants.
- Storage: Some probiotics require refrigeration to maintain potency, while others do not. Always check the storage recommendations.
While probiotics can offer numerous benefits for babies, it’s crucial to approach their use with caution and guidance from a healthcare professional. Each baby is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. As with any supplement or medication, it’s important to weigh the potential benefits against the risks and ensure that you’re making an informed decision that’s best for your child’s health.