Did you give your baby his daily dose of germs? No? Well, you should. Your baby’s daily diet is incomplete without germs. Relax! We are only asking you to give him healthy germs that are the good bacteria. As strange as it may sound your baby needs good bacteria called ‘probiotics’.
These healthy germs are the red hot trend but are they really necessary for a baby? MomJunction tells you if babies need probiotics, if they are safe and how they work for your baby.
What Are Probiotics?
The word probiotic means “for life”. In simple terms, probiotics are live bacteria (the friendlier ones) that you eat, drink, and swallow to have a healthier gut (gastrointestinal tract). They play a vital role in the regulation of the immune response.
Interestingly, your baby’s gut is as unique as his fingerprints. Each baby has trillions of different microbes living inside him and no two babies have the same mix of microbes.
There are different types of friendly bacteria, but the common ones are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus, Saccharomyces boulardii.
Are Probiotics Safe For Infants?
Yes, in general, probiotics are beneficial to most infants but they aren’t recommended for babies who are extremely ill, who have recently undergone major surgery or have a compromised immune system.
Take the advice of your pediatrician before giving your baby probiotic-rich food or supplements.
Why Do Probiotics Matter For Babies?
A healthy inner ecosystem of your baby requires a proper balance of beneficial micro-flora, including good bacteria and yeast. This micro-flora plays an important role in conquering pathogenic viruses, and bacteria. This is nature’s way of vaccinating your baby and building his immunity so that he can live healthily, but there is more!
- Digesting food and milk: These helpful germs, besides keeping the harmful pathogens under control, also play a vital role in ensuring that your baby digests milk and food.
- Your baby says hello to bacteria in the womb itself: A healthy gut determines the overall health and well–being of the baby, both during their formative years as well as adulthood. Most of the bacteria are present since the birth of the baby. Your newborn’s first exposure to bacterial colonization occurs through the amniotic fluid in the womb. His gut gets colonized with good, bad and benign bacteria as he passes through the birth canal.
- He collects microbes from his mother: As the newborn passes through the birth canal, he picks up some of his mother’s microbes. One would always hope that there would be friendly bacteria in the birth canal but if the mother does not have a healthy and good microflora in her gut and vagina, then she will not be able to pass on healthy bacteria to her baby.
- Good bacteria for C-Section babies: Babies delivered through C-section also miss out on good bacteria which they would have got if they had a vaginal delivery (1). The C-section babies end up with a different collection of flora.
- Probiotics as the reserve corps: Due to illness or other reasons, if a pregnant woman, nursing mother or the baby consumes antibiotics, then it becomes essential to have probiotics since some antibiotics wipe out friendly bacteria along with the bad ones. You can think of probiotics as the reserve corps – the reinforcement which is sent in to bulk up the numbers of healthy and good bacteria and flush out the illness-causing bacteria.
- Building your baby’s immune system: Newborns that lack an abundance of healthy bacteria at the beginning of their lives may start their life with painful gastrointestinal problems. Some babies may also have constipation. As babies have an immature immune system, exposing them to good bacteria helps them have a healthy start. Healthy microbes enable good digestion and a robust immune system that fights infections and resists the development of various allergies.
Having healthy germs allows your infant to build his little ecosystem by acquiring healthy organisms, during and after birth.
How Do Probiotics Work?
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract plays host to a wide variety of species of bacteria, both good and bad. Good bacteria (or buggers) create ‘colonization resistance,’ also called as ‘barrier effect,’ which means they out-number and fight the harmful pathogens in the stomach by preventing them from attaching to the gut. Probiotics control the harmful bacteria, yeast, and parasites that tend to distract the immune system from protecting the body.
Probiotics prevail over the pathogenic microorganisms of the gastrointestinal tract by generating metabolic products that positively influence the immune system.
Probiotics have their influence on various parts of the body.
Benefits Of Probiotics
Let’s see how they are good for your baby’s body in more than one ways (2):
1. Digestive system:
Probiotics aid digestion in babies and adults. Regular bowel movements indicate well-balanced gut bacteria. Diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux and colic in the baby make it necessary to balance the gut bacteria with probiotics.
Sometimes imbalanced gut bacteria may even cause serious issues such as bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease.
- Diarrhea: Probiotics reduce the severity of diarrhea. Lactobacillus (probiotics) which is commonly found in yogurt is safe and effective in treating infectious diarrhea in babies. The strains of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardi bacteria have been useful in treating antibodies associated diarrhea.
- Colic: Studies have found that colicky babies who took the Lactobacillus reuteri Protectis bacteria saw results within one week. On their fourth week, the babies were crying for lesser time (3).
- Acid reflux: Infants are susceptible to acid reflux because their lower esophageal sphincter may be weak or underdeveloped. The condition usually peaks at four months. If the symptoms continue past 24 months, it may be a sign of a severe condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease also known as GERD. Probiotics may help in reducing the symptoms of infant reflux.
2. Immune system:
Generally, 80% of the immune system is located in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue of babies (and adults). Therefore, the babies who do not quickly develop a healthy inner ecosystem in their GI tract have a weakened immunity.
The friendly bacteria are your baby’s first line of defense. The intestinal wall, which prevents the disease-causing harmful bacteria from entering the body, contains these friendly bacteria.
Yes, there is a connection between the brain and the gut. Gut bacteria directly affects the mood such as depression, anxiety, and shyness. Certain bacteria produce compounds that travel from the intestine to the brain. Probiotics such as Lactobacillus are effective at easing anxious and depressive symptoms. Some call it psychobiotics.
4. Skin problems and allergies:
Suboptimal gut flora contributes to less efficient skin, which becomes susceptible to inflammation and infections. Babies’ skin is particularly sensitive to rashes, eczema (4), baby acne and cradle cap.
Most of the developing countries have children with skin allergies. The increase in allergic reactions and diseases is linked to the lack of an optimal inner ecosystem in infants.
Studies have shown that probiotics can be helpful in reducing eczema flare ups.
5. Weight regulation:
Probiotics help break down fiber that the baby’s body can’t digest, turning it into beneficial short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate. The body weight seems to be related to the balance of two families of bacteria in the gut, called bacteroidetes and firmicutes. Obese infants have more firmicutes and fewer bacteroidetes.
Are There Any Side Effects Of Probiotics?
In general, probiotics have a good safety record in babies who are largely healthy. If side effects occur, they usually are mild digestive symptoms such as flatulence (gas), bloating, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea in the first few days of probiotic therapy.
These symptoms mostly occur as the digestive system rebalances in favor of the good bacteria. Above mentioned symptoms should subside after a few days. However, if they persist, then you can reduce the dosage and ramp up slowly.
How Can You Give Probiotics To Babies?
Like we have mentioned above, you will pass on healthy micro flora to your baby during his birth. However, if you are short of such bacteria or he could not receive enough for some reason, then he might be in need of probiotics.
You might be asking, “Doesn’t my baby already have friendly bacteria?”
A quick answer is yes. But several factors can reduce the number of protective bacteria. Poor dietary habits, the presence of infection, use of antibiotics, and hyper-processed foods allow bad bacteria to populate the body.
Therefore, you can add probiotic-rich foods to your baby’s and your diet. Here are a few ways to give your baby a healthy gut flora.
We would recommend all mothers to gradually introduce your babies to fermented food and drinks once they start weaning, as most fermented foods are rich in probiotics. But for the first six months, it is the breastmilk alone.
It’s the best way to keep baby’s gut lining intact and healthy. Your breastmilk helps the baby build up good bacteria because the milk contains substances known as ‘prebiotics’.
Prebiotics supply nutrients to the living bacteria and enhance their ability to survive and thrive in your baby’s gut. Breastmilk also helps in educating the developing immune system by shaping the content of your infant’s gut. If you nurse, you not only supply prebiotics and probiotics but also provide him with immunoglobulin A( IgA) which helps seal the gut lining of the baby.
In order to give your baby probiotics through breastmilk, you need to have probiotic-rich food in your daily diet.
2. Formula milk:
Formula foods also contain probiotics (5). However, the GI flora composition is lower in formula-fed babies than that in breastfed ones. Also, the amount of bifidobacteria is higher in the latter than in the former (6).
Once the baby is old enough for solids, you can add naturally fermented food to his diet after consulting his pediatrician.
Yogurt is a bacterial fermentation of milk and is an excellent way to get good bacteria into your baby’s digestive system. Yogurt made from goat’s milk has more friendly bacteria than that made from cow’s milk.
When you are buying yogurt, look out for the words “contains active/live or probiotic cultures”, on the label.
Prefer chilled yogurt as opposed to a frozen one because the latter contains fewer probiotic bacteria than the former. Frozen yogurts often have added sugars too. Buttermilk and cheese are also good sources of probiotics.
Kefir is a probiotic drink. It can be made from goat, cow, sheep, soy, rice or coconut milk. It contains a range of good bacteria and yeasts. In consistency, kefir is similar to a milkshake. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and helps lactose intolerant infants to digest lactose. You can introduce kefir after the baby completes one year. But talk to the doctor before starting on this food.
5. Cultured vegetable juices:
Infants are not ready to have a crunchy bite of sauerkraut but the probiotics in sauerkraut are also present in the juice of the thinly sliced fermented cabbage. Simply dip a baby spoon or your clean finger into the cultured pickle or other fermented vegetable juice and give them just a little of that. However, you can experiment with it only after your baby completes his first birthday.
Probiotic supplements for babies:
There is no concrete proof to say that probiotic supplements are beneficial for babies. Your baby may not need the supplements as long as he is feeding on your breastmilk and you are taking care of your diet. Even during his weaning period, focus on giving him a balanced diet and probiotic foods.
However, if you or the baby is on antibiotics, the doctor might prescribe the supplements. They are available in a variety of forms such as drops, liquid, and powder.
The doctor would usually prescribe the safer organic probiotics. A few of them are:
1. Garden of Life RAW Probiotics Kids:
RAW probiotics is suitable for babies three months and above. It contains 23 organic vegetables and fruits, powerful probiotics and prebiotics. It claims to deliver five billion live probiotic cells per daily serving. The gluten-free product is vegetarian and contains no soy allergens.
You can buy it here.
Your baby’s doctor is the best person to decide whether he needs supplements or not.
2. SunBiotics Just 4 Kids:
The banana or apple-flavored organic probiotic contains genuine yacon and provides five billion cells per serving.
You can buy it from here.
Before buying any over-the-counter probiotic supplements for your baby, consult a pediatrician and take his advice.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that keep your baby’s digestive system happy. They make sure that he digests your breastmilk or formula, and also protect him from certain health problems as mentioned above. The body is capable enough to generate the good bacteria. But occasionally, during diarrhea or when using antibiotics, your baby might need additional probiotics. In general, you can make sure to give a diet that has good amount of probiotics.
What is your take on probiotics for babies? Let us know in the comments section below.
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