Probiotics for Infants

Dr. Selena Colarossi, RPh, PharmD, BASc

Written by: Dr. Selena Colarossi, RPh, PharmD, BASc

Updated: March 26th, 2024

Welcoming a new child into the world is both incredible and exciting, but we know that the responsibility of caring for an infant can also be, at times, overwhelming. As parents, you are conditioned to worry about your child every step of the way. You may find yourself constantly wondering if your newborn is feeding, sleeping, pooping, and growing ok, and then agonizing over the best techniques or products to make sure that they are. From shampoos to diapers – every decision feels immensely important for the baby’s health and wellbeing.

To help alleviate at least some of that stress, we’re going to walk you through the benefits and safe usage of probiotics for infants. The goal is to empower you to make the most informed decision possible when it comes to supporting your little one’s gut health, which will ultimately contribute to a happier, healthier start in life, and take at least one thing off your plate!

More of a visual learner? Download our infographic!

What are Probiotics?

Before getting into the benefits of probiotics for babies, it’s important to understand what probiotics are.

Inside our bodies, there are many tiny living things like bacteria, fungi, and viruses that form our microbiome. Specifically, our gut is home to different kinds of bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiome or intestinal flora1. Normally, our gut has a balance of good and bad bacteria. However, this balance can be disrupted by things like medications or illnesses, which can lead to health problems.

Probiotics are special microorganisms that, when taken in the right amounts, provide a health benefit to the body2. They are used to replenish the good bacteria in the gut and restore the balance. This can be helpful in managing various conditions and their associated symptoms. The aim is to bring harmony back to the gut by introducing these beneficial microorganisms through probiotics.

The Infant Microbiome

Your newborn’s microbiome develops before, during, and after birth. Traditionally, it was believed that a baby grows inside the womb in a completely sterile environment. However, recent research suggests that some bacteria can be transferred from the mother to the baby before birth3. What we do know for certain is that during the birthing process, babies encounter bacteria from the mother’s vagina, feces, and skin. This leads to a massive colonization of bacteria in the newborn’s body, meaning that the bacteria now live on and in the baby4. This is the moment a baby develops their own microbiome.

As your child grows, their microbiome continues to develop significantly throughout the first year of life and beyond. Different factors, such as the method of delivery (C-section or vaginal birth), the source of nutrition (breastfeeding or formula), and any prenatal exposure to antibiotics, can influence the composition of an infant’s microbiome4. These factors may disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the baby’s gut.

Benefits of Probiotics for Infants

Probiotics for infants have many benefits. They help support your baby’s microbiome by restoring a healthy balance and supporting proper development. Select probiotic strains have been shown to manage or prevent certain pediatric conditions5.

Digestion and Nutrients

Probiotics can aid in the breakdown and absorption of nutrients in the gut, which supports healthy digestion in infants. Early probiotics supplementation is shown to enhance the intestinal lining, improve gut motility, and promote a healthy number of good bacteria in the gut6.

The Immune System

Probiotics help stimulate the development of a strong immune system, potentially reducing the risk of infections, allergies, and autoimmune diseases. This is because probiotics help restore the microbiome, and the microbiome is proven to play a role in the development of a normal and balanced immune system5. While we often associate vitamins and a healthy diet with a strong immune system, probiotics are part of that healthy diet. As we know, they help us absorb more vitamins and minerals from what we eat, and overall contribute to a healthy life from infancy through adulthood.

Colic

Colic is a very hot topic when it comes to infants. It is when a healthy baby cries for periods of longer than 3 hours per day with no known cause, and can have a huge impact on parents and families. Colic causes distress for both the infant, and the caregivers, who often feel helpless. Certain strains of probiotics, like Bifidobacterium longum subsp. longum and Pediococcus pentosaceus help improve colic symptoms of crying, fussiness and irritability. They provide benefit to crying time and frequency as early as seven days after starting use.

Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea

Diarrhea is another digestive condition that can impact infants. While keeping your newborn healthy is the main goal, avoiding illnesses that require treatment with antibiotics is not always possible. When babies are prescribed antibiotics, their gut bacteria can be disrupted, leading to diarrhea. Probiotics can help restore the balance of good bacteria and reduce the risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Probiotic strains that are shown to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea include L. rhamnosus GG, S. boulardii, L. acidophilus and others5.

Eczema

Eczema is a non-contagious skin condition that causes itchy, dry, red and sometimes broken skin. Though it is the most common allergic condition in babies, it can be hard to prevent, treat and manage. It is thought that the gut microbiota plays a role in the development of allergic skin conditions, when there is an imbalance. The World Health Organization concludes that there is a possible benefit from preventative use of probiotics in pregnant women and newborns. L. rhamnosus GG is the most studied strain when it comes to infant probiotics and the prevention of eczema5.

Infant Probiotic Products

Now that you know why infant probiotics are beneficial, it’s important to understand what to use and how to use them.

Choosing Infant Probiotics

Choosing the right infant probiotic can seem like a daunting task. While they may look similar, probiotic products can differ by both their strains and added ingredients. Look for the strains we mentioned earlier that have been studied to help certain conditions. If you’re still unsure about which strain your child needs, the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products Available in Canada includes a helpful list of infant probiotics that have been proven to prevent, treat, or reduce the symptoms of various medical conditions.

For added ingredients, it’s best to avoid possible allergens or irritants when selecting products for your infant, as these can have harmful effects on your child. Infant probiotics are usually made without added sweeteners, dyes, or allergen ingredients like dairy or wheat, but always be sure to read the label of the product carefully before purchasing.

Safety Considerations

While generally considered safe, probiotics may not be recommended for use in infants with certain conditions or illnesses. This is because probiotics contain live bacteria or yeast. For example, if your baby is immunocompromised (because of a condition or medication), critically ill, premature or has short-gut syndrome, you should consult their doctor before starting them on probiotics7.

Administering Infant Probiotics

Probiotics for infants are conveniently available in concentrated liquid formulas, so that you can easily administer them from day one of life. Culturelle®’s Baby Calm + Colic Probiotic Drops, for[1]  example, comes in a bottle with a dropper for optimal dosing ease and accuracy. Probiotic drops can be placed right into the baby’s mouth or into their bottle. For breastfed babies, I recommend giving them their probiotic drops during feeds while they are already suckling. Infant probiotics are often formulated to be flavourless so that they don’t change the taste or smell of milk or formula and impact your child’s appetite.

Storing Infant Probiotics

Most infant probiotics are okay to store at room temperature, while some may require refrigeration before or after opening. Keep this in mind when selecting a probiotic for your newborn. If you’re often in a rush or on the go, it’s best to opt for something that can be left out in the nursery or on your bedside table without going bad. Depending on the preservatives used, infant probiotics may need to be discarded after a certain amount of days of being open.

Regardless of these recommendations, always follow the specific storage and dosing guidelines on the label of the probiotic product that you select, to ensure that their safety and effectiveness are maintained.

Conclusion

Probiotics are an important addition to an infant’s daily routine. They can improve digestion and nutrient absorption, strengthen the immune system, reduce colic, prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea, lower the risk of eczema, and provide many other benefits.

Consult your baby’s Pediatrician, Pharmacist or other Certified Healthcare Professional if you still need help deciding which probiotic to give, or if you are still unsure about giving them at all. Uncertainty is completely understandable, but hopefully probiotics are now one less thing for you to stress about so you can go spend more time with your bundle of joy… and the mountain of laundry that comes with them!

probiotics for infants infographic

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