Probiotics have popped up in infant formulas, supplements, and food products marketed for babies. You may be wondering what probiotics are, whether they are safe for infants, and if they have any benefits for your child.

Probiotics are recognized as good bacteria. These bacteria are supposed to be good for your gastrointestinal (GI) system and help with other health conditions.

There is still a lack of research on the benefits of probiotics for infants. Some studies link their use to helping GI conditions and colic. Always speak to your child’s doctor before giving your infant probiotics.

Most studies on infants and probiotics point to the safety of their use in healthy infants. Keep in mind that there is still a lack of significant research on probiotics and infants. No large medical body has endorsed their use for this age group.

You should discuss probiotics use for your infant with your doctor before using them. This is for a few reasons:

  • There are several strains that work in different ways.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers them a supplement. Therefore, they are not regulated like medications nor proven to be safe.
  • There is no official recommended dose for infants at this time.
  • Some of them have side effects that cause allergic reactions, stomach pain, diarrhea, and gas and bloating.

Infants require special care. You should talk to your doctor about any type of supplement before giving it to your infant. Your doctor can discuss the need to use probiotics and may recommend them or another course of treatment most appropriate for your child.

Probiotics have come into the spotlight in the last decade or so because of their suggested health benefits. The National Health Interview Study in 2012 shared that 4 million adults and 300,000 children had used probiotics within a month before the study.

The term probiotics is an umbrella term. It represents many different strains of live microorganisms, usually bacteria, that are considered to be good for your body, because they may help maintain a good balance of bacteria in the digestive tract.

You can find probiotics as supplements as well as in foods like:

  • yogurt
  • other dairy products
  • sauerkraut
  • pickles

Some of the main strains of probiotics you may see are:

  • Lactobacillus
  • Bifidobacteriu
  • Saccharomyces boulardii

You likely already have these good bacteria in your body, but adding probiotics to your diet or taking them in supplement form can increase the amount in your body.

Probiotics may help infants because they are born with a sterile GI system that might be susceptible to distress. Over time, infants build up bacteria that will help them build a barrier in their GI tract, gain a stronger immune system, and prevent infections.

Infants may develop a condition that causes symptoms like constipation or pain at any time, including before they naturally build up their bacteria. They could also develop colic.

Probiotics may help add good bacteria to an infant’s stomach more quickly. A baby acquires good bacteria from breast milk or formula, and later, food. The bacteria in your baby’s stomach may be altered by many factors, such as delivery method, gestational age, and whether they take an antibiotic early in life.

Reasons to use probiotics in infants may be different from reasons to use them if you are a child or an adult.

For adults and children, clinical evidence says probiotics may help:

  • boost good bacteria if you take medications like antibiotics
  • balance out the different types of bacteria in your body
  • decrease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
  • prevent diarrhea caused by infection or antibiotic use.

Minimal clinical evidence points to probiotics possibly working for some other conditions, though more research is needed. Probiotics may help:

  • control eczema, asthma, or food allergies
  • prevent urinary tract infections
  • improve oral health, such as reduce tooth decay and periodontal disease

Infants have other more specific health conditions that probiotics may help. Infants may have conditions affecting their GI system like acid reflux or have colic. These conditions can be very troublesome to manage and cause sleepless nights for both baby and parents. Probiotics may relieve symptoms and help infants cry less.

Some recent research on the benefits of probiotics for infants include:

  • A 2014 study found that there was a health and financial benefit of treating healthy babies in their first three months with one specific type of probiotic. This helped to avoid the onset of GI conditions, like reflux and constipation, as well as reduce overall crying time.
  • A 2011 study connected a reduction in colic symptoms with the use of probiotics. The study examined the results of breastfed infants who were administered five drops of a probiotic supplement 30 minutes prior to feeding for 21 days. The study found that the infants using the supplements cried less than those not using the supplement.

The benefits of probiotics will likely only last while actively using them.

Probiotics are not regulated by the FDA, and the use of them can carry risks. You should be cautious when administering probiotics to an infant and talk to your doctor first.

Probiotics in general have very few side effects in healthy adults and children, but more research is needed to understand their benefits and risks. Those with weak immune systems, health problems, or those born prematurely may have adverse reactions to probiotics. For example, they may develop an infection.

There is no current standard that specifies a way to administer probiotics, particularly for infants. Keep in mind that not all probiotics are the same. Rely on the advice of your child’s doctor before proceeding. There may be one type that works better for your child’s needs than others.

Probiotics for infants are available as supplemental drops as well as in infant formulas. Older children may eat foods that contain probiotics, like yogurt.

Probiotics may become less viable over time if dispensed in a bottle. A 2018 study looked at how long the probiotic supplement Infolran would stay stable in breast milk, sterile water, and formula. The study concluded that the probiotics should be administered within six hours if dispensed in breast milk or sterile water kept at 39.2°F (4°C). The probiotics lasted longer in formula kept at this temperature.

You may be interested in using probiotics with your infant to help with certain GI conditions and colic. Some studies conclude that there are benefits to using probiotics with an infant, but more research is still necessary.

There are probiotics available in many formulas and supplements. None of these products are regulated by the FDA. Consult your doctor before using any probiotics to keep your infant safe and healthy.