As parents, we’re constantly aiming for the best for our children. The best and most stimulating toys, the best quality food, and the best schools. Historically, apart from acute cases of diarrhea or stomach flu, gut health has not been on new parents’ radar. However, new research is emerging indicating that early life intervention to gut health can help conditions in young babies and throughout their lives. There are promising links between probiotics and fewer bouts of diarrhea, constipation, colic and acid reflux in young babies. A healthy gut flora is also associated with a reduced risks of type 1 diabetes, eczema, developing allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, and depression. We asked renowned Hong Kong Naturopath, Dr. Benita Perch about giving probiotics to infants.
Why should babies under 1 have probiotics?
As the research now clearly shows, probiotics can play an important role in alleviating common digestive upsets such as colic, acid reflux, diarrhea, gas and constipation in young babies. There are wider benefits as well: probiotics support babies’ developing GI system and overall immunity, thus reducing the number of infections. Healthy gut flora also is associated with a reduced risk of allergies such as asthma and eczema. For those babies delivered by a C-section, supplementation with high quality probiotics is even more crucial as the little one would not have had any exposure to mom’s flora through the vaginal canal.
Are there any side effects of probiotics parents should be aware of?
Good quality probiotics are extremely safe. For most babies, there are not really any side effects. For some babies, if gut dysbiosis was present, there may be more bowel movements, tummy aches or diarrhea at the start of taking probiotics.
I would advise that you choose a high-quality probiotic, that has been specifically designed for babies, and one that has been manufactured in such a way that the strains are still alive when it reaches the digestive tract. If probiotics are not alive, they don’t work.
What’s the best way to give probiotics to babies under and over 6 months? Powder or liquid drops?
Either type works, as long as the probiotics are alive. However, powdered formulas are generally more potent. If you are breastfeeding, you can apply some of the powder around your nipple, or, around the teat of the bottle. If you put in the bottle with the milk, you need to take care that the milk is not too hot, as probiotics are sensitive to heat.
Once children start solid foods around 6 months, do they need to continue having probiotic supplements?
Yes, definitely. Did you know that 80% of your immune system is located in your digestive tract? Supporting the ongoing development of a strong immune system can help to protect your child from common illnesses, such as coughs, colds and flu through to reducing the risk of developing allergies such as asthma or eczema.
Should probiotics be included in my baby/children’s overseas medical kit?
Absolutely. Apart from the possibility of gastroenteritis while travelling or the need to take antibiotics, using probiotics preventatively will strengthen your baby/child’s immune and digestive system to help to reduce their risk of falling sick whilst you are on holiday. That said, if you are travelling to a warm climate, and/or do not have access to a fridge, you would need to ensure that the probiotics you travel with are temperature stable.