Giving probiotics to babies is not a routine practice.
And most likely, it will take years before we know how they affect children in the long run.
That’s because many bacterial strains remain a mystery to medical experts. There are, however, some probiotics with a long history of research and clinical use. Nevertheless, many more clinical trials are required.
In the meantime, probiotics for babies are widely available in pharmacies and supermarkets.
But, are they really beneficial for babies?
And are they safe?
Do they really help soothe colicky babies and ease the symptoms of gastrointestinal conditions, like acid reflux?
I must admit that I give probiotics to my babies.
When my older daughter started having green, foamy, smelly poop, the doctor advised me to eliminate dairy products from my diet. And to give her probiotics. Since I was still breastfeeding and he suspected her to be lactose intolerant.
After a few days of using probiotics, things were significantly better. Her poop went back to normal. She was back to herself, and in fact, she was ok with dairy products. To this day, I am not sure what the issue was.
But, I continued to give her probiotics for a few more months.
A different doctor that I consulted about this problem didn’t seem to think it was the probiotics that helped her digestive issues. A classic example of divided opinion, which wasn’t very helpful.
Are Probiotics Really Beneficial For Babies?
Generally, much more research and clinical trials need to happen before administering a daily dosage of probiotics will be recommended routinely for all infants.
But, there is evidence that certain bacteria strains seem safe and can help with some conditions. These conditions include colic, acid reflux, diarrhoea and constipation. However, before giving your baby probiotics, you should first consult your doctor. It is vital to know which bacterial strain will be most effective for your baby’s condition, as well as the recommended dosage and duration of treatment.
1. Common Gut Disorders In Babies
Babies are born with sterile gastrointestinal tracts. Meaning – they have absolutely no bacteria in their gut.
For babies to absorb all the essential nutrients from milk and digest it, they need to gain friendly bacteria and build up their gut microbiome (the trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts).
But obviously, it takes time.
Therefore, during the first 6 months of their life, babies are prone to intestinal irritations and digestive functioning disorders, such as:
- Acid reflux
These conditions are caused by the fact that their gut is still relatively clear of the friendly gut bacteria that helps their digestive tract function properly.
Now, these are not severe or life-threatening disorders. But, they can cause havoc in day-to-day life and can be incredibly distressing for babies and parents.
Indeed, there are ways that these conditions can be managed.
It’s mostly about soothing your baby’s discomfort, making some lifestyle changes that help the baby feed more comfortably, changing your diet, etc.
Make sure you check out my blog ===> How Can I Help My Baby With Acid Reflux?
One of the ways to prevent sleepless nights and distress caused by baby gut disorders is to use probiotics.
Even though the opinion is divided between different groups of scientists, there is increasing evidence that probiotics can help and even prevent gastrointestinal conditions during the first few weeks of your baby’s life.
2. The Role of Microbiome In Babies Health
The gut microbiome plays a crucial role in a baby’s health.
In fact, without the microbes living in their bodies – they wouldn’t survive!
The gut microbiome affects vital functions and bodily processes in several different ways. To name a few;
- It controls the digestion of milk
- It controls the immune system and how the body responds to infections
- It benefits brain, heart and central nervous system healthy development
- It reduces the risk of many diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, eczema, inflammatory bowel disease and helps to maintain a healthy weight.
Therefore, babies must acquire well-balanced and diverse microbes in their digestive system to stay healthy and nourished.
3. How Babies Develop Their Microbiome?
The process of establishment of the gut flora starts at birth. Babies delivered naturally are exposed to the mother microbes found in the birth canal.
Those delivered by C-section are exposed to the microbes from the surrounding environment, skin and mouth.
Right after birth babies are literally bombarded by a variety of microbes. These are found in breast milk, formula, bacteria transmitted via physical contact with parents, nurses, the environment and later, through the food and drink they consume.
Babies who are exclusively breastfed gain their portion of healthy bacteria from breast milk. According to research, human milk contains around 700 different types of microbes.
Hence, exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months plays a crucial role in establishing a healthy gut microbiome in babies.
Nevertheless, supplementation with probiotics will help colonize your baby’s gut with beneficial microbes. It also introduces new bacterial species, which increases diversity in the gut microbiota.
And the more diversity in the microbiota, the more health benefits it brings to your baby.
4. Why Probiotics Aren’t Prescribed Prophylactically to Infants?
Because there have only been a small number of research and clinical studies conducted on this age group. So, there is not enough evidence proving that giving your baby a regular dosage of probiotics will have a positive long-term effect on their health.
Therefore, no medical authority has endorsed the use of probiotics in babies to date.
Furthermore, most of the research to date has involved randomised trials of probiotic supplements rather than strain-specific trials. These studies are based on either multiple bacteria strains versus single strain. To make things even more complicated – the dose and length of treatment are not standardized either.
In addition, probiotics can have different effects on different babies, which is partly due to their microbiota.
As a result, every baby has a unique gut microbiome. This means that probiotics suitable for one baby might not be the right choice for the other.
Therefore, there are too many variables to compare studies and reach an unbiased consensus.
Some of the better-known bacterial species include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces boulardi.
There is currently no pharmaceutical-grade probiotic available on the market, which doesn’t help matters. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve these products for use as medicines. Also, there are no regulatory standards for probiotic preparations manufactured as dietary supplements. This means there is a risk of contamination with undesirable microorganisms.
5. What Are the Risks of Probiotics Use?
Most adults use probiotics without any side effects, but that is not necessarily true for babies. Particularly those with a compromised immune system or premature or sickly newborns.
So, always check with your baby’s doctor before supplementing your baby with probiotics.
Generally, healthy infants shouldn’t experience any of the side effects.
But in case they do – you should stop using the probiotic supplement and consult your baby doctor.
Among the most common side effects of probiotics are gas and bloating. That’s because you are introducing new bacteria to your baby gut. This should get settled after a few days.
6. So, Should I Give My Baby Probiotics?
Based on the evidence available to date, it seems that probiotics can bring some relief to colicky babies and those suffering from other gastrointestinal conditions.
The question is – which one should I choose?
Well – the best thing is to consult your baby doctor to advise which probiotic (or strain) is the best for your little one’s conditions. Also, the appropriate dosage and duration of therapy.
One thing to note is using a specific strain versus multi strains provides a more targeted and effective solution.
Furthermore, the multi-strain supplements carry uncertainty about the survival of these strains until the date of expiry of the product. And this is difficult to establish. In fact, it is not uncommon to find a commercially available probiotic supplement that doesn’t contain the strains, their quantity stated on the label!
Remember – these are only dietary supplements, not medications. This means they are not going through rigorous testing by the FDA.
Therefore, you should choose a supplement from a reputable and high-quality manufacturer. Ideally, one that is tested by a third-party lab.
7. Final Few Lines
It seems that it is too soon to implement a routine use of probiotics.
Many probiotics are available, but not all of them have been thoroughly tested. But these which are well researched – mostly from the group Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium – can be safely administered to healthy babies suffering from colic and gastrointestinal conditions.
Furthermore, there is strong evidence that THE RIGHT SUPPLEMENT will help babies with these conditions.
At the end of the day, probiotics are another source of friendly bacteria that can provide more diversity in your baby’s microbiota and benefit their overall health!
I gave probiotics to both of my daughters. Not only did they not have any side effects, but they never had colic, constipation, diarrhoea and only mild symptoms of reflux.
There’s a possibility that it wasn’t the probiotics, but they just happened to be extremely lucky babies.
It’s hard to say. Probably I won’t ever find out.