Though you may not realize it, infants and children can benefit from probiotics just as much as adults can. A newborn gets its first exposure to beneficial bacteria at birth when the baby goes through the birth canal. However, “If the mother doesn’t have a healthy microbiome or had to have a C-section, the baby is not exposed to the broad range of good bacteria. This can result in poor immune health and issues such as colic, where they don’t properly digest the breast milk or formula.” A child’s microbiome is developed within the first few years of his or her life, so this is the time to make sure your child is getting the beneficial bacteria they need.
From an early age, children can benefit from probiotic supplements. Not only will it support healthy growth and development, it will also promote a strong immune system. Let’s look at the different ways probiotics help children grow into healthy adults.
Just as different vitamins and minerals play specific roles in the body, different probiotic strains have specific influences. For example, some support normal bowel movements by lowering incidences of constipation and diarrhea, while others support healthy immune functions.
Boosting the Digestive and Immune Systems:
Probiotics are beneficial for babies and children of all ages because they help to strengthen a growing child’s digestive and immune systems. Probiotic strains, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus brevis, and Lactobacillus helveticus, thrive in the lining of the small intestine where they prevent harmful bacteria from overpopulating and irritating the digestive and immune systems.
Roughly 25% of infants suffer from colic during their first six months. It can be a very upsetting time for you and your baby. Though the exact causes of colic are not known, many medical experts believe that it is related to an imbalance of the infant’s healthy gut bacteria. The probiotic strain Bifidobacterium longum can help reduce the risk of colic.
Avoiding Constipation and Diarrhea:
Though it’s rare for babies to experience constipation, it is not uncommon for young children. Its cause is often due to a developing digestive system which is not populated by healthy bacteria. On the other hand, diarrhea, whatever the cause, can very quickly throw your child’s digestive microflora off balance. “Among children who take probiotics, the duration of diarrhea decreases and the stools form earlier on compared to those who do not take probiotics.” Lactobacillus reuteri can help your child avoid constipation and diarrhea by helping with the breakdown of food and nutrient absorption.
Protecting Against Allergies:
Research shows that children who suffer from allergies have a different combination of intestinal microflora from healthy children. An allergy to cow’s milk is one of the most common childhood allergies. Supplementing your infant’s formula with Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG helps to build up a tolerance to cow’s milk. Giving your child a probiotic supplement early in life can help protect him or her from allergies in adulthood.
Around 20% of children worldwide suffer from eczema. Eczema refers to a group of conditions that cause inflamed, itchy patches on the skin. It often appears in the first six months to 5 years of a child’s life. Research shows that children with atopic dermatitis have an unhealthy balance of bacterial flora. Adding beneficial bacteria to the diet can reverse this and rebalance the microbiome. Lactobacillus paracasei and Lactobacillus fermentum show promise for improving skin conditions like eczema.
Maintaining a Healthy Mood:
Unbalanced gut bacteria can make your child moody and cranky. This happens because microbes within the digestive tract communicate with the nervous system via the same neurochemicals that transmit signals to the brain. Probiotic strains Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus plantarum, and Bifidobacterium infantis may help support a healthy mood by balancing gut microflora.
Giving your Infant or Child Probiotics
There are two simple ways you can introduce a probiotic supplement into your child’s diet, whatever his or her age. For infants and very young children, you can use a probiotic powder which is easily added to baby formula or other drinks. For older children, probiotic gummies are an easy and delicious way to enhance their diet. Children who can swallow pills are encouraged to take probiotic pearls which are smaller than capsules and easy to take.
Remember, the microbiome is largely formed during the first three years of life, so this is a crucial time for children’s development. Although probiotics can be obtained from some food sources, many foods do not contain enough beneficial bacteria to help children stay well. Also, some children can be picky eaters, which can cause problems with their growth and development. The simplest and most dependable way to ensure that their microbiome is healthy and balanced is to give them a high-quality probiotic every day. That way, you can be confident that your child will have strong protection against illness not just now, but through to adulthood.