Everyone always has an opinion on what’s best for your baby, including on how you should feed them. Now there’s opinion on probiotics for babies.

It’s no secret that the breastfeeding versus formula methods are always in contention. Breastfeeding is considered the healthiest method for most people, but for infants without access to breastfeeding, formulas are the obvious choice.

Some parents choose to breastfeed for the first months, then wean their child onto formula. But what formulas are safe and effective at delivering the healthy nutrition an infant needs?

Formulas nowadays are complex, with different versions for every stage of infancy. There are versions for infants and toddlers, for infants with sensitive stomachs, and even vitamin and electrolyte supplements. Perhaps the most popular formulas are those with probiotics, known as “the friendly bacteria.”

Should you give your baby probiotics? Let’s take a look at what probiotics are, first off, and then we’ll break down whether they’ll prove helpful for infants.

Probiotics for babies | ActivatedYou

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are considered “friendly” bacteria that are already present in high levels in the digestive system of breastfed infants. Formulas with probiotics are designed to promote gut health for infants by balancing bacteria in a baby’s intestines. Probiotics also offset any growth of “unfriendly” organisms that could cause sickness, by making changes in the bacteria that’s already found in the intestines.1,2

There’s a ton of information about probiotics out there, but it can be hard to determine what exactly they can do for your baby. Different strains of probiotics cause different effects.3

The most common probiotics are Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus – and even those probiotics have different strains that have been used in various studies to determine the safety for infants.4,5

These are just a few strains used in studies over the past 20 years:6-9

  • Bifidobacterium breve
  • Bifidobacterium lactis
  • Bifidobacterium bifidus
  • Bifidobacterium infantis
  • Bifidobacterium longum
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus reuteri
  • Lactobacillus paracasei
  • Streptococcus thermophilus
  • Saccharomyces boulardi

How Can Probiotics Help Infants?

While there have been more studies conducted on the effects of probiotics in adults, the studies that are concerned with how probiotics affect infants are growing. The evidence is becoming clear, with more and more studies suggesting that probiotics are healthy agents working to combat any illness in both adults and babies.

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  • Gut Health

The most obvious use for probiotics in formula are to promote a healthy stomach for infants. Long-term consumption of probiotics for infants is believed to be safe.10

Premature infants are at risk for a condition known as necrotizing enterocolitis (NE), a condition which affects bowels. “Bad” bacteria can cause infection and inflammation so severe that it can destroy a baby’s intestinal wall. This is where probiotics may be able to help.11,12

Since NE mainly affects premature infants in the first few weeks of life, probiotics have been utilized in studies to prevent the condition. The exact cause of NE isn’t known, but milk feedings and bacterial growths are believed to play a role. One study believed probiotics to be an appropriate for preventing NE in infants who weighed between 2.2 and 3.3 pounds.13

Another study also suggested that probiotics, when fed directly to the gastrointestinal tract, reduced any incidence, risk, and death from NE in premature infants.14

Studies have also suggested the use of probiotics to address conditions such as diarrheal disease, antibiotic associated diarrhea, acute gastroenteritis (commonly known as stomach flu), and reduction of infection for infants.15,16

  • Atopic Dermatitis

Surprisingly, probiotics have been suggested to help reduce the appearance of eczema-like symptoms in infants. One study suggested that infants given probiotics were at a lower risk for the skin condition.17

  • Colic and Excessive Crying

Recently, researchers have begun to study the effects of probiotics in soothing infants who cry excessively or experience colic. Evidence is still emerging about whether probiotics can help with colicky babies, but so far, studies are giving probiotics the green light.

Researchers found that the use of probiotics in an infant’s diet, particularly in breastfed infants, helped reduce crying times for the babies. Two separate studies found crying times were shortened after seven days to three weeks.18,19

Probiotics were believed to help soothe colic for breastfed infants, but less so for formula-fed infants. The researchers did note that though the evidence found supports probiotics to treat colic, more studies do need to be conducted to confirm the belief.20

  • T-Cell Maturation

T-cells help the body’s immune response against any invaders. One study, which followed infant ingestion of probiotics via cereals over nine months, suggested that probiotics had moderate effects on helping to mature the babies’ T-cells. More research is needed to further study probiotics’ effects on infants, the researchers said.21

Since no adverse effects have been recorded from treating infants with probiotics, the health benefits are almost too good to pass up. The safety of probiotics for infants has been studied on more than one occasion. One review analyzed 57 clinical trials and found no adverse effects related to probiotics given to infants under two years of age.22,23

There are some noted exceptions for probiotics. For a formula with probiotics to nourish an infant, one serving must contain at least 100 million live cultures.24

Research into the effect of probiotics on infants with an extremely low birth weight is ongoing.These infants often are unable to tolerate even small volumes of milk feeds for days after birth, so the dosage of probiotics can be crucial.25

What Formula Companies Use Probiotics?

Probiotics for babies | ActivatedYou

With studies suggesting probiotics have a beneficial effect on infants’ digestive systems (and more), is it any wonder that formula companies are scrambling to add the healthy bacteria to their lineups? Here a just some of the formulas with probiotics available to consumers.

  • Gerber

Gerber recently released a new line of formulas with probiotics and claims to be the only brand to offer probiotics in all milk-based powder formulas.26

The Good Start line includes three stages of formula with probiotics. Its third stage caters specifically to toddler nutrition needs. Good Start also launched Good Start Soothe products for infants who experience colic and/or excessive crying. The Soothe products use Lactobacillus reuteri, which may help to reduce crying times.27

  • Similac

Similac, another leader in infant formula, launched a line of probiotic formulas known as Similac Pro-Advance and Similac Pro-Sensitive. The formulas also enlist the help of prebiotics and bacteria similar to probiotics to help nourish infants and boost immune systems.28

Similac boasts the use of a prebiotic named 2’-FL HMO. The ‘HMO’ stands for human milk oligosaccharides, which are a group of prebiotics found in human milk. There are over 100 kinds of HMOs, and they have been suggested to help in the development of infant immune systems.29

According to Abbott Laboratories, which markets Similac, 2’-FL represents the most abundant HMO, scientifically known as 2’-fucosyllactose. Advances in science have made it possible to recreate a structurally identical version of the HMO, allowing formula-fed infants to have access to the prebiotic that was once only available to breastfed infants.30

  • The Honest Company

The Honest Company offers a formula with prebiotics for infants with sensitive stomachs. Sensitive Organic Infant Formula includes lactose for growth and development, but at reduced levels for easy digestion.31

  • Enfamil

Enfamil contains various probiotics and prebiotics in its formulas. Enfamil Enspire, Newborn, and Infant are all formulas that have prebiotics in them. The company also has a line for infants with stomach troubles as well as formula for toddler nutrition.32

Scientists have spoken: Probiotics introduce good bacteria which can promote gut health in infants. They are generally considered safe to use in formulas and beneficial for infants on several different fronts. After all, there’s a reason they’re known as the “friendly bacteria.”

As always, you should speak with your pediatrician about adding probiotics to your infant’s diet. With all of these studies suggesting benefits, it’s definitely something to consider.

For more helpful health articles, click the links below:

10 Health Benefits of Probiotics (You Probably Didn’t Know About)

5 Signs of Probiotic Deficiency

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