Probiotics are becoming increasingly popular among adults. But what does this mean for children and babies? Are probiotics effective at treating conditions like constipation among infants and newborns—are they safe at all? What is safe for adults may not be safe for small children, so always talk to your child’s pediatrician before giving any type of supplement to your child.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are the good type of bacteria that live in your digestive tract and work to maintain the balance of bad bacteria that can cause infections and other problems if their levels get too high. While newborns do have probiotics in their system, there are certain theoretical benefits that could potentially come from increasing the amount of good bacteria in babies’ systems.
What are they used for?
Typically, probiotics are used to treat certain digestive problems, such as infectious diarrhea (caused by viruses or bacteria), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and constipation. However, the uses of probiotics are slightly different for young children. Since babies have immune systems that are not fully developed yet, some of the potential benefits of probiotics may include reducing allergies, as well as immune system-related conditions such as asthma and eczema.
There are other uses for probiotics in children as well. Recent studies have shown that probiotics can help to reduce diarrhea and constipation among infants, as well as other conditions such as colic, colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
Where do they come from?
Probiotics can most commonly be found in fermented foods, such as yogurt and buttermilk. However, since newborns cannot have these types of yogurt quite yet, a supplement in liquid form would be necessary if you decide to give probiotics to your child. Probiotics are also able to pass through breast milk, so another way to give them to your child would be to increase your intake of probiotic-rich foods if you are currently nursing your infant. There are also some baby formulas that contain probiotics.
Are they safe for children?
While there are some doctors who disagree, most experts generally agree that probiotic use in healthy infants is not damaging in any way to your child. However, this does not mean that it is necessarily beneficial—most of the research done on giving infants probiotic supplements is still very inconclusive, as far as being able to measure the actual health benefits that can be gained. For this reason, you should always talk with your child’s pediatrician to determine if giving your child supplementary probiotic yogurt or milk is absolutely a necessity.
There are also some cases that probiotic-fortified milk or yogurt would be dangerous to give to infants. This would include babies who were born prematurely, as well as children with weakened immune systems. Children who are hospitalized or have medical devices such as catheters inside of them would also need to avoid probiotics, since there is an increased risk of infection. There are also some cases of sepsis that are related to probiotic use in children. It is difficult to determine at this time exactly how beneficial probiotic use in children is when compared with the risks. If your child is not experiencing any constipation or digestive problems, probiotics are probably not necessary.