What are Probiotics and Should I Give Them to My Baby?

This is a featured post from Paediatric Dietitian and Nutritionist Susie Burrell, a proud mother of two and leading expert in early childhood nutrition.

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Of all the new dietary trends – the use of probiotics and prebiotics to help promote optimal gut health continue to grow in popularity. This is due to the continuing growth of new research linking their use to a number of health benefits.

What are probiotics?

So what are probiotics and should you give them to your baby or toddler?

Probiotics are known as the “good bacteria” and are microorganisms naturally found in the human digestive tract that improve the balance of healthy bacteria. Probiotics have been shown to:

  • Help reduce digestive symptoms such as constipation and bloating;
  • Help restore gut flora after consuming a course of antibiotics – antibiotics can kill the good bacteria naturally found in the gut; and
  • Help rebalance the bacteria required for optimal nutrient absorption.

Where do you find probiotics?

Probiotics are found in a variety of food sources including fermented drinks and yoghurts. For adults, just one to two serves a day of these foods can reduce bloating in sensitive stomachs. For individuals who cannot eat yogurts or milk-based drinks – probiotics can also be found in supplement form. Adding probiotics to your diet is an effective way to get your daily dose of “good gut health”.

As probiotics are active living microorganisms, they often need to be kept in the fridge and consumed by the used by dates.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics promote the growth and function of different types of good bacteria in the gut. Research has emerged that prebiotics may also play a significant role in immune function. Prebiotics found in various fibrous foods move through the digestive tract undigested and then act to feed the good bacteria to optimise gut balance. As a result, the gut is healthier and better able to absorb nutrients as they pass through the digestive tract.

Where do you find prebiotics?

For adults, there are a wide range of foods that naturally contain prebiotics. In particular, these include aromatic vegetables including onions, leeks and celery. Wheat bran, soybeans, rye based breads and bananas also contains prebiotics. Aim to include at least one to two serves a day of these foods to help feed the good bacteria in your gut and aid immune function long- term.

Benefits of feeding your baby probiotics and prebiotics?

When it comes to babies and young children it is important to know that babies are born with a sterile gut. They have bacteria introduced to them via breastmilk or breastmilk alternatives. There is no evidence to show that adding probiotics into the diets of infants or toddlers is an issue. Most importantly, evidence does link probiotic use to the prevention and management of allergies and eczema. Probiotics may also be beneficial in preventing diarrhea. This means adding an infant friendly probiotic to your baby or toddler’s daily food intake will be highly beneficial.

It is worth noting, foods including un-ripened bananas and fermented vegetables contain prebiotics. However, these are a little heavy for small infants and toddler’s guts. Children are best introduced to these types of foods as they get older – around four or five years.

Some toddler milks contain added prebiotics that have been shown to help improve stool consistency and frequency.

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Susie Burrell is one of Australia’s leading paediatric dietitian and nutritionists. For years Susie has promoted healthy eating practices in Australia by providing access to evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle advice. She’s also a proud mum to twins, bringing real-mum experience to her health and nutrition teachings. Susie develops content for Bellamy's to help communicate the importance of early childhood nutrition for life-long health and well-being.