Probiotics for Babies

07 September, 2020
Bacteria-based supplements report various benefits in the gastrointestinal tract of adults, but is it healthy to give probiotics to infants and newborns? Here we give you the answer.
 

Is it appropriate to provide probiotics to very young babies? What are the risks of changing an infant’s intestinal flora? Before making any decisions related to pediatric health, it’s essential to clarify some uncertainties.

Probiotics are living microorganisms that we add to certain aspects of the diet and remain active in the intestine. Thanks to their activity, they modify the microbiota of the digestive system of those who consume them.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), if we consume the right amount, they bring many health benefits. Among probiotic foods, there are fresh yogurts, kéfir, sauerkraut, and many more.

Intestinal flora

A balanced microbiota in the intestine is essential to human health. The cooperation between the person and the microorganisms that live in them determines both long and short term health.

According to several studies, the bacterial flora that lives in the gastrointestinal tract has several benefits. For example:

  • They assist in the specialization of lymphoid tissue associated with the mucosa of the intestine. This translates into synergy with the immune system, which learns to recognize beneficial bacterial strains and prepare for future illnesses. In short, it helps the defenses.
  • Intestinal bacteria recognize and break down certain plant-based polysaccharides that we couldn’t do alone. According to scientific publications, this activity is 10% of the daily calories of a human being.
 
  • As the digestive system is open to external factors, it’s always at risk of external agents attacking it. Normal bacterial flora colonizes surfaces in contact with the outside world, preventing foreign bodies from multiplying.

These are some benefits that gut bacteria bring to humans. It’s a symbiotic relationship as we wouldn’t exist without them, nor them without us.

A cluster of bacteria.
The usual flora of the digestive system is vital to human survival

To learn more: Good habits to boost your intestinal flora

Probiotics for babies

Probiotic foods contain bacteria that are beneficial to the overall functioning of the intestinal microbiome. Some of these are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces boulardii

Healthy microbiota already contain these microorganisms, but increasing the amount of them can be good if the person consuming them doesn’t have existing illnesses. But is this different for newborns?

Studies that favor the use of probiotics for babies

An investigation carried out in 2014 showed the following results:

  • They monitored 589 newborn children during their first 90 days of life. Some were given the probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus reuteri, and others were given a fake.
 
  • Parents were asked to monitor how often they spit-up, how long they cry for, the number of visits to the pediatrician, and hospitalizations, among other factors indicative of the intestinal health of the baby.
  • There was a significant difference in variables between babies taking probiotics, and those that weren’t. Meaning that the microorganisms protected newborns from intestinal disorders.

But that’s not all, as other studies like this also show the benefit of the Lactobacillus reuteri bacterium in the proper functioning of the intestine. In this case, a reduction of symptoms associated with colic was observed in infants with the application of probiotic drops in breast milk.

General benefits of probiotics

It’s generally estimated that probiotics help adults and children on several fronts:

  • First, they promote the growth of beneficial bacteria when the one who consumes them is taking antibiotics.
  • They decrease symptoms of intestinal diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Finally, they also prevent diarrhea caused by infectious agents.

Risks of probiotics for babies

Probiotics are usually safe, but certain scientific sources warn that complications can arise from their use.

People with a compromised immune system, heart valve disease, or premature babies are possible risk groups. This is because the bacteria would have the tendency, in these situations, to multiply disproportionately, generating gastrointestinal inflammation, excessive activation of the immune system, and, in the worst case, bacteriemia.

 

We don’t fully know the extent of these illnesses in newborns. The effects of long-term use of these bacteria on child development are also difficult to ascertain, as this would mean several years of follow-up in babies who consumed them.

A baby lying down.
Pediatric colic was less frequent in children who consumed probiotics, according to some research.

This may interest you: What’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

Probiotics for babies: what to remember

Using probiotics on infants appears to have several benefits. Even so, scientific sources warn that we need to continue to study the interactions between these microorganisms and the intestinal health of the newborn. Potential risks and adverse effects should also be assessed.

That’s why it’s always best to seek advice from the pediatrician before carrying it out, because they know the medical history of the newborn better than anyone else, and will know what’s best. Not everyone should consume probiotics, but the amount of probiotics in the parent’s home should be assessed.

 
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  • Inman, M. (2011). How bacteria turn fiber into food. PLoS Biol9(12), e1001227.
  • Indrio, F., Di Mauro, A., Riezzo, G., Civardi, E., Intini, C., Corvaglia, L., … & Del Vecchio, A. (2014). Prophylactic use of a probiotic in the prevention of colic, regurgitation, and functional constipation: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA pediatrics168(3), 228-233.
  • Koonce, T., Mounsey, A., & Rowland, K. (2011). Colicky baby? Here’sa surprising remedy. The Journal of Family Practice60(1), 34.
  • Doron, S., & Snydman, D. R. (2015). Risk and safety of probiotics. Clinical Infectious Diseases60(suppl_2), S129-S134.
  • Probiotics, Cleveland Clinic. Recogido a 27 de junio en https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14598-probiotics.
  • Merino, A. Barrio. “Probióticos, prebióticos y simbióticos. Definición, funciones y aplicación clínica en pediatría.” Revista Pediatría de Atención Primaria 8.Suplemento 1 (2006).
  • Román Riechmann, E., and G. Álvarez Calatayud. “Empleo de probióticos y prebióticos en pediatría.” Nutrición Hospitalaria 28 (2013): 42-45.