Baby Probiotics: A Complete Guide to Treating Colic

Sarah Glinski, RD 

Written by: Sarah Glinski, RD 

Updated: June 3rd, 2024

 If you’ve recently welcomed a little one into the world, you’re likely trying to do everything possible to give them the best start in life. From feeding to sleeping to pooping, everything your baby does feels important. It’s no wonder you’ve probably found yourself Googling all types of questions at all hours of the night. 

In your search, you may have stumbled upon the world of probiotics. These beneficial bacteria and yeasts can be found in almost any store and have many benefits. The first years of life are critical for the healthy development of the gut microbiota, the trillions of microorganisms that live in the human gut. Many different factors affect your gut microbiota, from the mode of delivery (vaginal birth or C-section) to whether you were breastfed or formula-fed. Probiotics offer a practical way to ensure your baby is exposed to beneficial microbes early on.       

Interested in learning more about probiotics? Read on to learn what probiotics are, where to get them, and the benefits of baby probiotics for treating conditions such as colic.

What are Probiotics? 

Before defining probiotics, it’s important to understand the gut microbiota. The gut contains a diverse community of trillions of microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Collectively, this community is known as the gut microbiota and plays a crucial role in human health.  

Dysbiosis, or an imbalance of good and bad microbes, has been associated with the development of several diseases. For this reason, there is growing interest in finding ways to promote a healthy gut microbiota of beneficial microbes. That’s where probiotics come in.  

Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide a specific health benefit to humans when taken in adequate amounts. The word “probiotic” comes from Greek and means “for life.” To be a probiotic, the microorganism must survive its transit through the gastrointestinal tract and reach the large intestine alive.  

Probiotics are most often bacteria but can also be yeasts. They are naturally present in some fermented foods, added to certain food products, and available as supplements. Probiotics have been researched to help treat a wide variety of conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and infant colic.  

What is the Difference Between Probiotics and Fermented Foods? 

Fermented foods are foods that have undergone a process called fermentation. This is where microorganisms break down carbohydrates (such as sugars and starches) in the food, producing compounds like alcohol, organic acids, and gases. This process can alter the food’s taste, texture, and nutritional profile. Some examples of fermented foods include: 

While fermented foods are made with microorganisms, not all fermented foods contain probiotics. This is because the live microorganisms are often destroyed during processing (such as in sourdough bread) or might not survive transit through the stomach. A probiotic must reach the large intestine alive to exert its beneficial effects. Fermented foods that do contain live microbes after fermentation include: 

Only some fermented foods contain added probiotics. One food to which probiotics are commonly added is yogurt. Many commercial yogurts have beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus added to them. To ensure your food product has live microorganisms, look for “live and active cultures” on the label. 

What is a Probiotic Supplement? 

A probiotic supplement is a product that contains live beneficial bacteria and/or yeasts that are believed to provide a health benefit when taken in the correct amounts. There isn’t one probiotic that will treat all health conditions. Probiotics can be identified by their strain, which includes their group (genus), species, subspecies, and strain designation. You need to choose the correct probiotic strain for the right reason to see a health benefit.  

For example, Culturelle®’s LGG strain has been shown to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea and reduce gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. In contrast, Escherichia coli Nissle 1917 and VSL#3 effectively treat ulcerative colitis when used alongside standard therapy. Since different strains have different health benefits, it’s important to clearly understand what benefits you’re hoping to get from probiotic supplementation. 

Do Babies Need Probiotics? 

A baby’s gut microbiota will mature during the first few years of life, becoming stable after about three years. Babies need to be exposed to beneficial bacteria during this time to ensure beneficial species colonize their gut.  

Some of the exposure to beneficial bacteria is due to how the baby was born, with vaginal births having exposure to more beneficial microbes than births via C-section. However, breastfeeding remains the strongest variable influencing a baby’s gut microbiota during the first year of life. If a baby is not able to be breastfed, baby probiotics may be beneficial for helping establish a healthy gut microbiota if the formula you’re using does not contain probiotics. 

Baby probiotics can also be beneficial if your baby has colic. Studies show that certain strains of probiotics can help ease colic

Does Breast Milk Have Probiotics? 

Human breast milk has a unique microbiota and plays a vital role in helping a baby’s gut develop a healthy population of microorganisms after birth. Some of the beneficial bacteria present in human breast milk include Bifidobacterium species, Lactobacillus species, and Staphylococcus species. 

Breast milk also contains human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). These are indigestible carbohydrates fermented by a baby’s gut bacteria, stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacteria.  

Does Formula Contain Probiotics? 

For many reasons, some babies cannot be breastfed. Since formula becomes the sole source of nutrition for the first months of life in these cases, the formula needs to be as close as possible to human breast milk. While many infant formulas lack the diverse communities of microorganisms found in human breast milk, some formulas have started including baby probiotics in their product formulations.  

The probiotics added to infant formula in the correct amounts are safe and can ensure normal growth in healthy babies during infancy. Some of the probiotics added to infant formulas include Bifidobacterium species and Lactobacillus species. 

In addition to adding probiotics to infant formulas, some infant formulas contain prebiotics. Prebiotics are substances that cannot be digested by humans but are fermented by our beneficial gut microbes, benefiting overall health. HMOs are the prebiotics found in breastmilk. Some manufacturers have started adding prebiotics similar to HMOs to formula. 

Are Probiotics Safe for Babies? 

Studies show that probiotics are generally considered safe for healthy babies. However, probiotics contain live bacteria or yeasts, so they may not be recommended in certain situations, such as if your baby is immunocompromised, has short-gut syndrome or is critically ill.  

What are the Benefits of Baby Probiotics? 

There are several potential benefits of baby probiotics, including: 

Remember, probiotic benefits are strain-specific. To see the above benefits, you need to choose a probiotic strain shown in research to improve that condition. If you’re unsure which strain to buy, talk with your doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist, or consult the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products Available in Canada

Baby Probiotics to Treat Colic 

Colic is common and typically affects babies in the first four months of life. Your baby may have colic if they are healthy but cry for longer than three hours per day with no known cause. When a baby has colic, they are difficult to soothe, which can greatly impact your and your baby’s mental well-being. 

Studies show that certain probiotics are effective at treating colic. Culturelle® Baby Calm + Colic Probiotics Drops contain two probiotic strains: Bifidobacterium longum subsp longum KABP™ -042 strain and Pediococcus pentosaceus KABP™-041 strain. Research has shown that these strains can provide colic symptom relief in infants by reducing crying, fussing, and irritability in as little as seven days.  

What Forms Do Baby Probiotics for Colic Come in? 

Baby probiotics are typically liquid and many come with a convenient dropper. You can place the drops directly in your baby’s mouth or bottle. 

The Bottom Line 

Probiotics can provide your baby with beneficial microbes that can effectively lower the risk of developing eczema, prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea, treat colic, and more. 

If you’re unsure which probiotics to choose, don’t worry. You can speak with your baby’s pediatrician, pharmacist, or registered dietitian if you need help choosing the best probiotic for your baby’s needs!  

References 

  1. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (2023, November 3). Probiotics: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Retrieved April 25, 2024, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Probiotics-HealthProfessional/ 
  2. Dogra SK, Doré J, Damak S. (2020). Gut Microbiota Resilience: Definition, Link to Health and Strategies for Intervention. Front Microbiol. 11:572921. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2020.572921.  
  3. Anadón, A., Ares, I., Martínez-Larrañaga, M., & Martínez, M. (2021). Probiotics: Safety and toxicity considerations. Nutraceuticals (Second Edition), 1081-1105. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-821038-3.00065-3  
  4. Thomas DW, Greer FR. (2010). American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition; American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition. Probiotics and prebiotics in pediatrics. Pediatrics. 126(6):1217-31. doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-2548. 
  5. Dimidi, E., Cox, S. R., Rossi, M., & Whelan, K. (2019). Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease. Nutrients, 11(8). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11081806  
  6. Szajewska, H., & Kołodziej, M. (2015). Systematic review with meta-analysis: Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG in the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea in children and adults. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 42(10), 1149-1157. https://doi.org/10.1111/apt.13404 
  7. Di Stefano M, Miceli E, Armellini E, Missanelli A, Corazza GR. (2004). Probiotics and functional abdominal bloating. J Clin Gastroenterol. 38(6 Suppl):S102-3. doi: 10.1097/01.mcg.0000128939.40458.25  
  8. Fedorak, R. N. (2010). Probiotics in the Management of Ulcerative Colitis. Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 6(11), 688-690. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3033537/  
  9. Lyons, K. E., Ryan, C. A., Dempsey, E. M., Ross, R. P., & Stanton, C. (2020). Breast Milk, a Source of Beneficial Microbes and Associated Benefits for Infant Health. Nutrients, 12(4), 1039. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12041039  
  10. Lemoine, A., Tounian, P., Adel-Patient, K., & Thomas, M. (2023). Pre-, pro-, syn-, and Postbiotics in Infant Formulas: What Are the Immune Benefits for Infants? Nutrients, 15(5). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15051231  
  11. Lundelin K, Poussa T, Salminen S, Isolauri E. (2017). Long-term safety and efficacy of perinatal probiotic intervention: Evidence from a follow-up study of four randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 28(2):170-175. doi: 10.1111/pai.12675.  
  12. Hojsak I, Fabiano V, Pop TL, Goulet O, Zuccotti GV, Çokuğraş FC, Pettoello-Mantovani M, Kolaček S. (2018). Guidance on the use of probiotics in clinical practice in children with selected clinical conditions and in specific vulnerable groups. Acta Paediatr. 107(6):927-937. doi: 10.1111/apa.14270.  
  13. NHS (2022, April 26). Colic. Retrieved April 26, 2024, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/colic/  
  14. Culturelle Probiotics (n.d.). Culturelle® Baby Calm + Colic Probiotic Drops. Retrieved April 25, 2024, from https://www.culturelleprobiotic.ca/products/baby/calm-comfort-probiotic-drops  

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