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Are probiotics safe for babies? What you need to know before feeding them to your child

Probiotics replish the gut microbiota and improve overall health. You can add probiotics in your diet with supplements or using natural foods!

Bacteria always get a bad reputation, but not all bacteria are harmful. Your body has a thriving colony of good bacteria in your gut and you need them to stay healthy. These healthy bacteria play an important part in digestion. Probiotic supplements can restore a healthy balance of your gut bacteria and improve your overall health. They are even starting to be included in baby food and are touted as a great nutritional bonus. But are probiotics for babies safe and when are they needed? Here is what you need to know about healthy bacteria in food and in supplements for your baby.

Health conditions where probiotics for babies can help

The gut flora of a baby immediately after birth exactly mimics the mother. The bacteria from a mother get passed into her baby during gestation and while the baby passes down the birth canal during vaginal delivery. Babies delivered through a c-section are not exposed to this natural way of getting a healthy dose of good bacteria. Preterm babies  as well as babies who have had to take antibiotics, will not have enough healthy bacteria. This can put them at risk of various infections. Probiotics have been found to be beneficial in many conditions, however, there have not been conclusive studies on the benefits of probiotics for babies.

1. Probiotics for babies on antibiotics

Antibiotics fight bacterial infections but in the process, they also kill the beneficial bacteria. A baby’s gut microflora sets the stage for their lifelong health and this is why antibiotics are rarely prescribed for infants unless absolutely necessary. A probiotic can supply a dose of healthy bacteria back into your baby’s gut if they are on antibiotics. Always ask your doctor first about prescribing probiotics for babies on antibiotics. 

2. Probiotics for babies with gas and colic

An imbalance of microflora may cause your baby to show symptoms like acid reflux and persistent symptoms of colic. Probiotics for babies with gas and stomach colic can ease the symptoms. Studies show that probiotics are particularly helpful for reducing gas in babies as young as 3 months. Nursing mothers pass on prebiotic fibers through their milk to their babies. Prebiotics are foods for probiotics, which encourage the bacteria to become healthy and multiply. While your baby’s body cannot digest these fibers, bacteria in the gut love it and multiply happily.

3. Probiotics for babies with diarrhoea

All babies will show changes in their bowel movements at one time or the other but diarrhoea and constipation in babies can be a cause for concern. Probiotics for babies with digestive issues will help to reduce the symptoms and occurrences as well. 

4. Probiotics to improve eczema

An imbalance in gut flora can cause skin infections and inflammation. Eczema is a chronic skin problem that first appears when babies are very small. A compromised immune system can show itself in the form of eczema. After all, 80% of our immune system lies in our gut. Probiotics can help to reduce the sensitivity to many allergen triggers that cause eczema. 

Are probiotics safe for newborns?

Doctors will not recommend probiotics for newborns less than 3 months. All newborns are born with a sterile gut. After birth, healthy bacteria reach a baby’s gut during vaginal delivery as well as when a mother starts breastfeeding her baby. These probiotics play a very important role in developing a baby’s immune system. 

There are different types of probiotics, each having a strain-specific effect. There are numerous beneficial strains of probiotics and natural foods rarely contain them all. This is why probiotic supplements are useful.  Well-researched strains that appear to be safe for most children are 

  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus 
  • Bifidobacterium lactis 
  • Bacillus reuteri

A study conducted in Naples shows that babies with chronic constipation when given probiotics that contained these strains of bacteria, showed an improvement in bowel movement. While there have been studies that show that supplements can help, the scientific community has still not reached a definitive conclusion on the question, ‘are probiotics safe for newborns?’.

Probiotic supplements vs natural foods

If you are wondering if probiotic supplements or foods are better, there is no clear answer. Getting nutrients from foods is always safe. If probiotic supplements for babies are needed, it must always be under a doctor’s advice. This is because not all supplements in the market are safe as they are not regulated by a standard body. 

Some of the common probiotic Indian foods you can include in your baby’s food are:

1. Yogurt 

Yogurt is the best way to keep the microbiome healthy, especially when it is made at home. Processed and preserved foods are best kept away from infants as they might be contaminated. One way of feeding your child yogurt is by mixing half a cup of plain yogurt with a cup of fresh fruits and blending it until smooth.

2. Dhokla

This is another Indian dish that has a healthy dose of probiotics. It is made of fermented gram flour and is also rich in vitamins. It is less spicy and easily digestible, making it perfect for your baby if they are on solid food. Idlis are more commonly found in South India and are another fermented food that can be beneficial for your baby. 

In case your baby is not on solids yet, don’t worry. If they are being breastfed, they will get all the probiotics they need through breast milk. For reliable parenting advice, download the mfine app and schedule an instant consultation with your city’s top paediatricians!

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