Today, we are seeing more infant products containing probiotics and prebiotics. This is because parents are becoming more aware of the benefits they bring to their precious little bundle of joy. To understand why both are so important, one must first know what they are and their roles in promoting health.
Probiotics are live and good bacteria in our gut systems that aid digestion and contribute to various health benefits like supporting your baby’s immunity. They are naturally found in fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchi and sauerkraut, just to name a few.
On the other hand, Prebiotics are indigestible fibre – a food source that probiotics feed on. They don’t actually contain bacteria and are present in foods like onions, garlic, under-ripe bananas, oats and whole-grain wheat. Prebiotics for babies is known to help improve their gut health, immunity, and resistance to allergic reactions. When you combine the use of prebiotics and probiotics, this is known as Microbiome Therapy, where both play essential roles in stimulating the growth and multiplication of gut bacteria.
Why are prebiotics and probiotics necessary for infants?
When in utero, a baby’s gastrointestinal tract is sterile and free from all forms of bacteria, including the good ones. Gut health is not crucial at this point because food, oxygen, blood and wastes are transported through the umbilical cord to and from the placenta. However, when they are born and their umbilical cord is cut, a baby’s digestive system will begin to function independently on its own, which could make them susceptible to distress. Therefore, your baby will undoubtedly benefit from having some good bacteria that will aid digestion and ward off harmful bacteria.
The good news for nursing mothers is that prebiotics and probiotics are naturally present in breastmilk. Breastfeeding mothers can introduce these good bacteria easily by nursing their newborns right after birth.
There is no need for non-breastfeeding mothers to feel like their babies are missing out because parents can choose from a range of probiotic-enhanced infant formulas on the market today. There are also infant probiotic drops and cereals enriched with probiotics for when their babies begin solids. Alternatively, parents can also offer natural, probiotics-rich food like unsweetened yoghurt when their babies are old enough.
Is giving prebiotics and probiotics safe?
Research has shown probiotics to be safe and well-tolerated in normal, healthy infants and children. To date, premature infants and those with very low birth weight have shown good tolerance. There were some cases of infection in babies with severe deficient immunity, but these were isolated cases of very unwell babies with complex medical concerns.
There are mixed feelings about probiotic use in infant produce as there are more studies done about its use in adults, but not so many when it comes to children.
The more common probiotics
It is good to note that there are many different strains of probiotics, and they all have varying effects on your baby’s gut microbiome. The more common ones that you’ll likely encounter in infant products are:
Both are a friendly colony of gut bacteria that stimulates regular bowel movements and contribute to softer stools in babies. They also help to digest food and destroy cells that cause diseases. Other studies have also shown that probiotics and prebiotics can also play a role in supporting your baby’s immune system. There’s even evidence that suggests that it could help with allergies and aid those with eczema.
Other benefits of Probiotics for Infants
Despite all the benefits mentioned earlier, here are more infant-specific instances where probiotics can come in handy.
Parents who struggle with a colicky baby can consider giving probiotics because research has found that it can significantly reduce daily crying time with no adverse effects. So if your baby is healthy and well-fed but is inconsolable for 3 or more hours, talk to your paediatrician about it.
If your newborn is suspected of an infection and needs to be given antibiotics, diarrhoea may be a side effect. This is another scenario where probiotics can help because studies have found that probiotics may be able to prevent the occurrence of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. Results from the test showed that babies who were given probiotics suffered fewer diarrheal episodes compared to the control group.
Necrotizing Enterocolitis in Premature Babies
Probiotics have been found to be able to reduce the risk of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) in premature babies in this study. NEC is a common infection that happens in the gastrointestinal tract of premies, and experts think it could be due to the baby’s premature digestive system. However, there need to be further studies to find the optimum strain of probiotic supplement to give and its long-term effects.
Infant Acute Gastroenteritis
The cause of Gastroenteritis is usually viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, fever, and poor appetite, all of which can result in dehydration. Although you should always seek medical advice from your baby’s paediatrician, there is some evidence that probiotics can help with acute gastroenteritis. Once probiotics are given, these good bacteria compete with the bad ones for nutrients and help build immunity.
Overall better immunity
Or your baby could be healthy, and you just want them to have stronger immunity because you need to send them to daycare. It is common for daycare babies and toddlers to fall sick more often compared to those who stay at home. This is because some illnesses are contagious, and those growing up in a daycare setting will always be more susceptible to viruses and infections as they are exposed to more people and germs.
Of course, there are other factors that contribute to healthy babies and children, like getting enough rest and nutritious food to support their rapid development. However, parents can give probiotics to them to help boost immunity, as experts have found that certain probiotic strains are effective for fighting the common cold and influenza-like respiratory infections.
If you are curious about prebiotics and probiotics for your newborn, it is best to speak to their paediatrician first before giving it to your little one. Not only will you be able to raise any concerns on the matter, but you’ll also have advice on the most suitable method, strain type and the proper doses.
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