Probiotics for babies are said to treat diarrhea, ease allergies, and even help baby colic. But do they work?
And are they really a good idea for babies?
We’ve enlisted the expertise of Registered Toddler Dietitian and Nutritionist (RDN) Kacie Barnes to share everything you need to know about infant probiotics.
In this article: 📝
- What are probiotics for babies?
- Are probiotics safe for baby?
- Should all babies take probiotics?
- What are the best probiotics for babies?
- How should babies take probiotics?
- When should babies take probiotics?
- Probiotics for babies: The bottom line
What are probiotics for babies?
Probiotics are dietary supplements that are said to help improve the health of your gut.
They can also be foods that contain live cultures
Probiotics for babies are the same – but the idea is they’re baby-friendly.
Let’s start from the top:
A healthy adult gut contains bacteria, both ‘friendly’ and ‘not so friendly’.
In fact, your gut is one great big collection of bacteria, AKA a ‘microbiome’, that all exists in a delicate balance.
“Babies are also still working on developing this gut microflora,” explains Barnes, “so theirs just isn’t as advanced as ours is!”
That’s where probiotics come in.
These are ‘good’ bacteria you can take as a supplement – or eat in yogurt, cheese, and fermented foods – to help restore the balance in your microbiome.
By restoring that balance, you ease those uncomfortable symptoms.
For adults, there is some evidence that they work.
But what about babies?
Are probiotics safe for baby?
The evidence suggests that probiotics are safe for babies and that they tolerate them well.
That goes for healthy babies, pre-term babies, and babies with very low birth weight.
But while probiotics may be perfectly safe for babies, we don’t know if they have the same positive effect that they do in adults.
Though probiotics have been well tested in adults, that’s not the case with babies.
So, what’s the situation?
Let’s go back to the gut again.
We know adult guts are a rich, diverse paradise for bacteria.
But baby microbiomes are not that well-developed.
In fact, babies are born with sterile guts, where bacteria will develop in the future.
As your baby eats and drinks, their microbiome flourishes.
They get better and better at digesting food, and we know that their immune system develops, too.
So, encouraging the growth of their microbiome with infant probiotics seems like a good idea, right?
The trouble is that the little evidence we do have suggests something different.
While probiotics are safe for babies, ‘probiotic exposure during infancy has limited effects on gut microbial composition’, as one study puts it.
In other words, there might not really be any benefits.
Let’s dig in further:
Should all babies take probiotics?
Many people claim that probiotics can help lots of different conditions in babies.
But is this true?
Let’s take these claims one by one.
Do probiotics help fussy babies?
Here we may be in luck.
Two studies have had success treating colic symptoms with probiotics.
One found that giving babies probiotics during the first three months can prevent colic.
Another found that babies who take probiotics before feeding tend to cry less.
But the jury is still out.
Another study found that babies treated with probiotics fussed more.
Do probiotics help a baby poop?
Baby constipation can be a tough one – but there is some evidence that probiotics can help.
Do probiotics help gassy babies?
While doctors have suggested that an immature microbiome can maybe make babies gassy, there’s not much evidence to show that probiotics actually help.
“Gas in infants can be caused by several other things, as well,” explains Barnes, “so it can be tricky to nail down the cause and find the right solution.
Allergies and intolerances can also cause gas and fussiness.”
Does probiotics help with baby diarrhea?
There seems to be good evidence to support the idea that probiotics can help with the frequency, duration, and recovery time from diarrhea, particularly if they’re taken to counteract the side effects when your little one needs antibiotics.
For this one, at least, thumbs up.
Do probiotics help babies with allergies?
While it’s a common idea, there’s no evidence to support using probiotics for allergies – just yet, at least.
However, if you’re considering using them, it’s best to talk to your doctor first.
They’ll be able to tell you everything you need to know.
What are the best probiotics for babies?
Not all probiotics are created equal.
While we tend to group them, there are lots of different strains of probiotics that can have lots of different effects.
“The dose is also important as well,” says Barnes.
“I would recommend looking for a dose that is similar to what is used in the studies that show positive results.”
As for which one is best?
That depends on what you need it for:
- Lactobacillus: One of the most common probiotics out there, it’s credited with helping baby colic and diarrhea.
- Bifidobacterium: This is the dominant strain of bacteria in the gut throughout babyhood, and it seems to help their immune system develop
- Saccharomyces boulardii: Studies suggest this one might be the best bet for diarrhea.
A big heads up. Probiotic supplements aren’t regulated by any government health board. So, you can never really be sure what you’re getting.
Again, it’s probably best to talk to your doctor for advice before giving your baby probiotics.
How should babies take probiotics?
Finally, what’s the best way to give your little one what they need?
Here are some important tips to keep in mind before giving probiotics to babies:
Babies don’t have to take the probiotics if you’re breastfeeding
What you eat can help your baby too.
It’s known that lactobacillus and bifidobacterium can be passed to your baby through breastmilk, which means that your baby doesn’t need to take probiotics at all if you are.
Babies can have too many probiotics
Particularly if they’re immunocompromised or very unwell, probiotics might not always be completely safe.
We just don’t know the full impact.
Babies can get probiotics from food too
While we don’t know everything about probiotic supplements, we do know that foods that contain probiotics are incredibly healthy for humans of any age.
When should babies take probiotics?
There aren’t any hard and fast rules on the best time for taking baby probiotics – mainly as we don’t yet know enough about how they work.
But the studies we do have say taking probiotics before eating could be a good idea.
In terms of age, different products are marketed at different ages.
But, as noted above, if you’re taking probiotics and still breastfeeding, you won’t need to give your baby any supplements.
Probiotics for babies: The bottom line
Probiotics for babies may be useful for helping with diarrhea, colic, and constipation.
But we don’t yet know for sure.
“We don’t have enough evidence to promote prophylactic use,” says Barnes, “but there may be some evidence that they could be helpful tools in treating certain GI discomforts.”
If you’re breastfeeding and taking probiotics at the same time, your baby can get a probiotic boost through your milk.
And as soon as your little one is ready for solid foods, they can get all the probiotics they need from them.