The Benefits of Probiotics for Children and Babies
By Kelly Mulhall
Probiotics are the good bacteria that live within us as part of a mutually-beneficial relationship; we provide a great environment to live and they support us by helping with digestion and immunity. They are sensitive though, and are prone to being overtaken by “bad bacteria” which take hold after antibiotics, food poisoning, a travel bug or long term poor diet.
For parents of babies and young children, there remains a lot of unanswered questions about the benefits of probiotics for babies and children. If you’re wondering if your child might benefit from probiotics, or simply curious about how to best care for your child’s digestive health, then read on...
At what age should you start taking probiotics?
This will vary from case to case. Babies are born with a sterile gut and the first colonisation of gut bacteria is via the mothers’ vagina through the birth canal. In the days leading up to labour, the mothers’ vaginal flora changes to replicate that of her gastrointestinal tract, so during labour the baby ingests a full spectrum of bacteria. Mum passes on not only genetic information, but a complete gut biome.
C-section babies miss this first inoculation, however it can be built up slowly through breast feeding, and long term through food and/or the use of probiotics. Either way, it’s important that mum has great gut health, which can be supported through supplements, especially if antibiotics have been administered post surgery.
Should kids take probiotics?
Why the conversation of probiotics for kids is being discussed lately is the link with increased childhood illness, asthma and allergies. Although there is currently limited information, the area has started to be heavily researched, so in the next few years we can expect to see much more research pointing towards the benefits of probiotics for children.
If your child has taken antibiotics, it should also be accompanied with a course of probiotics during and after the course of antibiotics. Try and get them to take it at the opposite time of the antibiotics - otherwise you’re just wasting a capsule.
For children who suffer from common allergies, find a probiotic that contains Lactobacillus rhamnosus, for example this one from Garden of Life.
Is it okay to give a baby probiotics every day?
Probiotics should always be cycled so that you get a mix of variety in the bacteria. I advise my clients to change their probiotics every couple of months with a 2 week break in the middle. If the child has been sick with a tummy bug then I would say yes give them every day, but it's not necessary for children to be on probiotics long term if they don't have digestive issues.
Can a child overdose on probiotics?
You wouldn't necessarily overdose but too much too soon is likely to cause some digestive discomfort such as bloating, constipation or diarhhoea.
How much probiotic should a child take?
This is completely age dependent. Babies and children will vary in the levels and it always depends on the quantity and variety of each brand. My best advice is to go with the recommendations on the label. If the child has been sick then I would advise you speak to a nutritionist or speak to the brand directly. They are likely to have on call nutritionists who you can explain the situation to and they can advise on dosage.
Of course though, the best way to populate toddlers and childrens’ gut is by feeding them nutritious foods that feed the good bacteria already living inside or promote growth of new bacteria strains.
Prebiotic foods include: onion, garlic, asparagus, leeks, flaxseeds (grind up and hide in porridge, pasta, smoothies) apples and bananas. These foods feed the ‘good bacteria’ in our gut which help boost our immune system, synthesise vitamins and help them outgrow the ‘bad bacteria’ which cause digestive issues such as bloating or constipation.
Probiotic foods include: Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir (yoghurt), miso soup and kombucha (great alternative to fizzy drinks, but one portion is only 40ml so be careful!) or anything else you can put in a mason jar and ferment!
If you’ve never eaten fermented foods before, just like exercise, take it slow and build up a tolerance. So start with one tablespoon a day, increasing until there’s a little bit in every meal.
I hear you down the wifi connection - there’s no way you’ll get your child to eat that, let alone yourself! It is a challenge to embrace fermented foods as an adult, let alone for children. I suggest making the whole process fun for both of you. Think of it as part cooking, part science experiment! There are many blog posts, YouTube and Instagram videos that show you how to do it. Then you and the kids can watch it ferment, test and trial recipes until you find one perfect for your kids tastes and your busy lifestyle.
Here are just a few recipes to get you started:
Fermented homemade Salsa - serve with tortilla chips and you’ve got a great healthy snack.
Ketchup - because kids put it on everything.
Root Beer or Water Kefir - another great substitute for fizzy drinks, just add a splash of juice or throw in some berries for the Water Kefir.
Note: this is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor before prescribing any sort of medication/supplements to yourself or your children.