A healthy, bacteria-rich gut microbiome plays an important part in many functions of the body. Research has begun to better understand the health benefits of consuming and stimulating so-called good bacteria—even when it comes to the gut microbiome of your little one.
Good bacteria exist naturally in the body. The main dietary substances used to influence gut health and promote good bacteria are probiotics and prebiotics. Here’s a look at probiotics and prebiotics for babies.
What Are Baby Probiotics?
Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain living microorganisms. These so-called friendly bacteria can help change the bacteria balance in the gut, adding to the population of healthy microbes in the body’s microbiome. Probiotics can be found in many foods but are especially bountiful in dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and kefir.
Different strains of probiotics have different effects on the gut microbiome. The groups of probiotics you’re likely to encounter are:
- Saccharomyces boulardii
One way to understand the benefits of probiotics for babies is to consider this: Not only does breastmilk naturally contain probiotics, the probiotics in breastmilk have been shown to help babies develop a healthy gut microbiome.
When & How To Give Baby Probiotics
- Feed with a probiotic-enhanced baby formula
- Supplement with probiotic drops designed for babies
- Introduce probiotic-rich foods like yogurt when old enough
What Are Baby Prebiotics?
Prebiotics help stimulate the growth of friendly bacteria found in the gut by acting as food for the bacteria. Prebiotics are prevalent in many high-fiber foods, including bananas and whole grains. Researchers have focused much of their work around these types of prebiotics:
- Fructooligossacharides (FOS)
- Galactooligosaccharides (GOS)
Like probiotics, prebiotics are abundant in breast milk—they’re the third-largest component, in fact, which means they’re even more prevalent than probiotics. It’s safe to say that means prebiotics can be safe for baby.
When & How To Give Baby Prebiotics
For babies who aren’t breastfed, opportunities to add prebiotics to their diet include:
- Choose a formula enhanced with prebiotics
- Supplement with a probiotic drop that includes prebiotics
- Feed prebiotic-rich foods when introducing solids
What Are Synbiotics?
Synbiotics are combinations of microorganisms or their substrates. In this case, probiotics and prebiotics are combined to help ensure the good bacteria found in probiotics make it to the gut and thrive. Probiotics and prebiotics are both available in breastmilk, becoming synbiotics.
Are Probiotics And Prebiotics Good For Babies?
We know that naturally occurring breastmilk probiotics are both beneficial and safe for baby, but what about introducing probiotics to formula-fed little ones?
While the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics (supplements or otherwise) for babies are still being studied, they can be a safe addition to your baby’s diet—unless baby is immunocompromised, has cancer, or was born prematurely. Make sure to work with your little one’s doctor to ensure you’re choosing appropriate baby prebiotics and probiotics and dosing correctly.
Do Probiotics Or Prebiotics Help With Colic?
Caregivers looking for ways to ease or prevent colic in their little ones may find some relief in adding probiotic supplements or foods to baby’s diet. While there’s no definitive answer to what causes colic, it may be linked to gastrointestinal (GI) issues—many of which are helped by the addition of healthy gut bacteria.
Do Probiotics Or Prebiotics Help With Eczema In Babies?
There is strong evidence that baby probiotics and prebiotics help reduce inflammation in babies—including the appearance of eczema. The results are mild and dependent on supplementing with the correct strain, but any relief is welcome when it comes to being itchy.
Do Probiotics Or Prebiotics Help With Allergies In Babies?
Even fewer studies have been done on whether or not baby probiotics or prebiotics can help prevent allergy development—and those that do exist have had mixed results. Researchers believe that there may be strains of probiotics that can be used in this way but isolating them and testing appropriately will take time.