More and more formulas are being fortified with probiotics, and you may have heard of these probiotics as a way to promote immune and digestive health for your little one. But what are probiotics, and does baby need an infant formula containing them? We have all the answers here.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts, which can provide health benefits when baby consumes them. The most common probiotics are live bacteria, which are often called "good” bacteria due to the benefits they provide.
They’re different from other body organisms because they’re already alive before baby eats them, and stay alive in the body after baby eats a food containing them.
Probiotics and baby gut health
Usually, probiotics live in someone’s gut and help build or restore the natural balance of gut bacteria. This assortment of good bacteria aids in digestion, absorption of nutrients, and proper GI function.
Babies aren't born with all the good bacteria they need in the gut, though. Their GI tract starts out weaker, so they're more susceptible to infections and GI conditions (such as colic or reflux). But when baby consumes probiotics, this can help build up, or restore, the good bacteria in the GI tract.
Gut health is vital for baby's future well-being. Having enough good bacteria in the gut in infancy helps build up baby's immune and digestive systems, which sets up foundations for a healthy future. Good bacteria help baby’s body stop the growth of “bad” bacteria that could cause an infection, and help fight inflammation. They also help strengthen the gut lining, so “bad” bacteria don’t get absorbed into the bloodstream.
How can babies get probiotics?
The food babies consume is important for building up the needed gut bacteria for a healthy GI tract, whether that food is breastmilk, formula, or solids. If a baby is breastfed, they’ll get the probiotics they need from breastmilk. But if a baby is formula-fed, a formula with probiotics is another way to start building up the gut bacteria prior to eating solids. These formulas mirror the high probiotic levels found in breastmilk, and help add the helpful bacteria into baby's gut. Only some formulas are fortified with probiotics, though.
Types of probiotics
There are many different types of probiotics that can be found in baby formula. Each type has several different strains, and every strain has its own unique benefits.
Some types of probiotics include:
- Lactobacillus (bacteria)
- Bifidobacterium (bacteria)
- Streptococcus (bacteria)
- Saccharomyces (yeasts)
The two most common kinds of probiotics found in baby formula are lactobacillus strains and bifidobacterium strains.
Possible health benefits of probiotics for babies
Bifidobacterium bacteria are the first types of bacteria to colonize naturally in the gut. They help build immunity, and help fight off bad bacteria.
And some types of lactobacillus bacteria may help fight against colic, reflux, diarrhea, and other GI issues.
Other types of probiotics may be helpful in managing baby eczema.
More research is needed on all of these possible benefits, though, because studies on the positive effects of probiotics are limited and results are mixed.
Is formula with probiotics beneficial?
Despite all the possible health benefits of probiotics, more research is needed to determine if probiotics really do lead to the many claimed health benefits they’re associated with, especially when they’re included in infant formula.
Right now, evidence shows that probiotics are safe for babies. However, it appears that probiotics in formula only lead to health benefits for as long as baby keeps consuming them, and good bacteria levels go down to their original amount after the probiotics are removed from their diet. This is very different from the probiotics that breastmilk contains, which stick around and provide long-lasting benefits well after breastfeeding stops.
So, your baby doesn’t necessarily need formula with probiotics. Whether you use a probiotic-enriched formula is up to you and your doctor.
Another option to add probiotics into a baby's diet is a separate probiotic supplement; talk to your doctor about this option if you’re interested.
If you’re interested in feeding baby formula with probiotics (or giving a probiotic supplement), always talk to your pediatrician before starting to add probiotics to baby’s diet. You should also ask them about the kinds of probiotics you’re planning on feeding within the formula, as each type of probiotic is different.
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