It may come as a surprise to new parents that infants and children can benefit from probiotics just as much or even more so than adults. In fact, right after birth is one of parents’ greatest opportunities to help establish an optimal, life-long foundation of health for their child.
Your child’s microflora contains both beneficial “good” bacteria as well as less-than-beneficial microbes. Researchers are discovering that a healthy amount of good microbes can make a significant difference in health, both during an infant’s early years and throughout his life.
An infant acquires his or her microflora, or unique set of gut bacteria, from mom while in utero through the placenta and during and after birth. The womb really isn’t the sterile place we thought it was for so many years! Instead, we now know the growing fetus is receiving valuable strains of bacteria from mom during gestation to help educate his immune system.
With a vaginal birth, the baby is “seeded” with additional beneficial microbes as she passes through the birth canal. While a Caesarean-born baby doesn’t receive these types of microbes from mom, baby instead starts life with microflora from the surface of mom’s skin.
The days following birth are important, too, for baby’s microflora, regardless of how she entered the world. Skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding both offer valuable opportunities to seed baby’s new microbiome with beneficial bacteria.
Why an Infant’s Healthy Microbiome Matters
Your baby’s microflora lays the foundation for life-long immunity and overall well being. Researchers now know these microbes influence the activity of hundreds of genes within your child’s body.
Eighty percent of the immune system lies in the gut. That’s true for you and your baby. A healthy gut with diverse beneficial microflora is essential for your baby’s immune function. You want to help your infant develop a healthy microbiome as early as possible to help them defend against less-than-beneficial bacteria.
An infant with a good gut flora may also show a greater ability to resist allergens and other typical childhood health stressors. If your infant has the proper amounts of beneficial microflora in his gut, the beneficial bacteria can help protect him from “foreign invaders” as well as pathogenic viruses and bacteria.
A newborn’s gut lining is permeable and can allow “foreign” materials to pass through into the bloodstream, increasing the potential for an allergic response. When a baby is breastfed, mom’s first milk or colostrum helps form a protective barrier on this mucosal lining. This protective barrier also serves as a breeding ground for beneficial microbes that help provide additional reinforcement.
If for some reason you’re unable to breastfeed your infant, please consider providing some type of probiotics (suggestions below). Baby formula is not an acceptable substitute for mother’s milk when it comes to helping to build your child’s microbiome.
Providing your infant with additional baby probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, soon after birth can help ensure the development of a healthy microflora and help minimize the development of allergies.
Beneficial bacteria are key to your infant’s intestinal comfort. Studies show that babies who have an abundance of beneficial bacteria or receive probiotics for infants tend to experience less gas, colic, and reflux, and have more regular elimination.
Your Baby’s Microflora Can Only Be as Good as Mom’s
Your baby depends on you for passing on a healthy microflora. The quality of his gut microbes can only be as good as yours. And surprisingly, researchers are discovering that both mom’s and dad’s microflora matter!
If your baby was born via Caesarean, he missed out on some of the beneficial microbes that normally exist in the birth canal. But even if your baby was born vaginally, it’s no guarantee he will receive a healthy gut microflora. Many moms have a compromised microbiome and don’t know it. That can affect what baby receives throughout gestation.
Factors that can negatively affect a mother’s healthy microbiome include:
Using heartburn pills
Having a vaginal infection at time of delivery
Drinking fluoridated and chlorinated water
Eating processed and sugary foods
Consuming GMOs or bioengineered ingredients in foods
Eating foods with pesticides and antibiotic residues
For all these reasons, it’s very important for women (and men) who plan to have children to consider their own microbiome first. I recommend taking a high-quality probiotic supplement like my Complete Probiotics.
Starting life with a healthy microbiome is just the first step. Once your baby enters the world, additional factors jeopardize the health of his or her microflora, including:
Fluoridated or chlorinated water
Processed and sugary foods
Bioengineered ingredients, or GMOs
Pesticides and antibiotics in foods
An overly aggressive vaccine schedule
Safeguarding your baby’s or child’s microbiome requires vigilance, typically for their entire lifetime. Real threats to gut health aren’t about to vanish, so it’s up to you as his parent to make sure his beneficial gut microbes thrive early in life.
Protecting Your Child’s Well-Being With Baby Probiotics
Whether you want to make sure your baby starts life with a healthy supply of beneficial gut microbes, or you want to help replenish his microflora, there’s a simple step you can take, starting right after birth: Introduce your baby to fermented vegetables and fermented raw dairy products.
Many cultures around the world routinely give their young probiotic foods early in life. It may be kefir diluted with water or a bit of the juice from fermented vegetables.
Simply feeding your baby one or more spoonfuls of the juice will provide benefits and help get him used to the taste early on. Establishing the habit of consuming probiotic-rich fermented vegetables from an early age is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.
Preparing fermented vegetables at home is an activity the whole family can enjoy together. This simple-to-prepare recipe will get you started. Eating a serving or more of properly prepared fermented vegetables can offer healthful benefits to everyone in your household
Another powerful way to help restore your baby’s beneficial gut flora is to feed very small amounts of raw organic grass-fed yogurt or kefir (not commercial yogurt or kefir from the grocery store). Ideally, make your own at home with raw organic milk.
Using Probiotics for Infants and Children
It’s ideal to start probiotics as early as possible to help promote a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria. If your baby must receive antibiotics, give probiotics before and after treatment. Always consult with your newborn’s healthcare provider when using probiotics if your baby is ill or requires special medical attention.
Your baby’s gut may have millions of naturally occurring bacteria, but you must start slowly and proceed carefully when feeding your baby extra probiotics. His immune system is not yet mature, so you don’t want to overwhelm it, especially if your baby has any type of compromised gut integrity. Being born prematurely or being fed concentrated formula instead of breast milk can affect your baby’s gut.
No matter what form of probiotics you use, always dilute it with breast milk or water according to these guidelines. Preferred strains for newborns include Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. Lactobacilli are a minor component of your baby's intestinal microflora. Human strains of these bacilli are preferable because of their natural occurrence, long-term safety record for infants, and adaptability to their ecosystem. Multiple strains are preferable to single for optimal benefits.
Summary of Suggested Protocols for Use of Probiotics in Neonates
When the neonate is ready for enteral feeds, preferably within first 7 days of life
When to Stop
May need to stop the supplementation during an acute illness, such as sepsis, NEC, or perinatal asphyxia
Combination of strains containing Lactobacillus and at least one Bifidobacterium species is preferable; Lactobacillus GG alone may not be effective
Neonates less than 32 weeks gestation: 3 x 109 cfu/day in a single dose; ELBW neonates: 1.5 x 109 cfu/day in single dose until they reach enteral feeds of 50-60 ml/kg/day
Solution should be diluted to keep the osmolality below 600 mOsm/L
Sterile water or breast milk (NOTE: leftover solution should be discarded after giving small doses as it may become contaminated)
Volume for Administration
1.0 to 1.5 ml per dose
Patients should be monitored for intolerance (abdominal distension, diarrhea, vomiting), probiotic sepsis, and adverse effects (flatulence, loose stools) of additives such as prebiotic oligosaccharides.
Choosing the Ideal Child Probiotic
Another option for probiotics is to feed a probiotic supplement, formulated especially for children. My Probiotic Packs for Kids provide a child’s dose of 10 different strains of beneficial bacteria, including Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.
When choosing a probiotic for your child or infant, always look for one that contains both acid- and bile-resistant strains of good bacteria so they can survive the stomach’s hostile environment and reach your child’s intestine where they provide most of their benefits.
To help the probiotics thrive while they settle into your child’s digestive tract, look for one that provides valuable prebiotics in the form of Fructooligosaccharide (FOS). This is like food for the probiotics to help them survive.
When you choose the probiotic that’s best for your child’s needs, you’ll be helping to support their health in numerous ways, benefits that begin while they’re young and last for years. Don’t forget to take a healthy dose of probiotics as well – my Complete Probiotics can provide you with the optimal amounts you need. It’s a small yet powerful step that makes a significant difference in so many aspects of your and your child’s well-being.*
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