An infant is born without any intestinal bacteria, but friendly gut microbes gradually colonize the baby's digestive tract over the first year of life. Human breast milk contains Bifidobacterium and supplies the first probiotics to the nursing infant. Babies who are not breastfed or who encounter medical issues such as rotavirus, may need a boost to their gut microbes. Probiotic supplements or foods with probiotics can help supply these friendly microbes that the infant needs, but seek your pediatrician's professional guidance before introducing any supplements into your baby's diet.
Probiotics consist of a variety of helpful microorganisms that can colonize the gut. These bacteria and fungi work alongside the natural bacteria in the intestines to fight off dangerous microorganisms. Most bacterial probiotics belong to the groups Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which each contain many different species. Another common probiotic is the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii. Different probiotics may be beneficial for specific conditions; always consult your child's pediatrician before administering supplemental probiotics.
Benefits for Babies
One of the major uses of probiotics in babies is for the treatment of diarrhea, such as that caused by rotavirus and E. coli infections, according to Tufts Medical Center. Strains used in the treatment of diarrhea include Lactobacillus rhamnosum strain GG, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Enterococcus faecium and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Parents of babies with colic may also use probiotics. A 2007 study in the journal "Pediatrics" reported that the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri reduced symptoms of colic better than the commonly used pharmaceutical remedy simethicone. The symptoms decreased within one week of using the probiotic bacteria. Other conditions common in infants that probiotics may help include atopic eczema, thrush and lactose intolerance.
Infant formulas containing Bifidobacterium lactis can provide this probiotic bacteria to formula-fed infants. This bacteria is similar to the one found in breast milk, so breastfed babies don't need additional supplementation to get it. Once a baby has started solids, typically around six months of age, baby foods containing probiotics can be introduced. A less expensive alternative is to introduce the infant to yogurt containing live cultures.
Probiotic supplements for babies are available in powder form. An easy way to provide these to an infant is to dip a damp finger into the powder and place the finger into the baby's mouth to let him suck it. Probiotics can also be added directly to expressed breast milk, formula or baby food. A common dosage for babies is one to three billion live cultures per day. Once the baby stops taking supplemental probiotics, the level of bacteria in the gut will return to previous levels, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports.