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Probiotics are beneficial for adults and children alike, but why and when would you give probiotics to your child?
Our gut microbiome plays a central role in supporting our health in a variety of ways. You may have recently read numerous blogs or research papers focusing on the positive impact of live bacteria on our immunity, digestive function and even the ability to alter our attention, behaviour and mood.1,2 Perhaps you would like to support your child’s health by optimising their gut flora, yet have a few questions we aim to answer.
The number of bacteria in the body, including our gut microbiome lining the gastrointestinal tract outnumbers even the body’s own cells. It has been known for a long time that the bacteria play a role in digestion yet a new field of study is finding that these bacteria can influence many organ systems in the body, including diseases of the digestive tract, immune system and even the brain.
Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen a huge growth in childhood allergies, behavioural problems and chronic disease. Many experts now consider disrupted microbiome as a major contributory factor, and one that is possible to do something about using simple appropriate dietary changes and supplements.
Baby’s initial exposure to bacteria via their mother’s placenta, birth canal or hospital environment in the case of Caesarean section births is essential for training the immune system to respond appropriately to recognise potential pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria.3 Once fully established, the composition and diversity of the microbiome is relatively stable, yet can be affected by dietary and lifestyle factors, such as the use of antibiotic medication.4
Why and when to consider probiotics for your child:
Significant differences in infant microbiome have been noted depending on methods of birth. Babies born by C-section have lower bacterial counts and reduced populations of Bifidobacteria at 1 month compared to those born vaginally.5 However, the simple solution to this is to populate your babies’ microflora as soon as is possible after birth, by giving a daily probiotic bacteria supplement for a minimum of 6 months.6
Certain probiotics have been designed to include the prebiotic GOS (galactooligosaccharides) in order to most closely emulate breastmilk.
Whilst it is sometimes important to give prescribed antibiotics to your baby, it is also vital to consider the longer term effects of this. Antibiotic medication not only destroys harmful bacteria, it does not discriminate therefore also affects beneficial microflora. This can leave us susceptible to recurrent infections, therefore following antibiotics it is vital to replenish healthy gut flora to enhance immune resistance.
Whether you are breast or bottlefeeding your baby, milk contains the sugar, lactose, which can be difficult for some babies to digest efficiently. If your baby has been checked over by their GP and is still experiencing stomach pain, diarrhea, bloating or excessive wind (usually within 1-3 hours after a feed), it can be helpful to try lactase enzyme to predigest lactose, added into formula or expressed milk. Probiotic supplementation has been shown to support lactose digestion.7
In rarer cases; 4-7% of bottle fed babies and 0.5% of breastfed babies,8 can experience more severe reactions, for example, swelling of the lips or wheezing, as an immune response allergic reaction to the proteins in milk such as casein. This would need further GP investigation and possibly prescription of suitable hypoallergenic milk formula.
For breastfeeding mums, it may be beneficial to take a daily probiotic supplement and eliminate your intake of cow’s milk protein. Although breastmilk does by nature contain some lactose, this would limit exposure and improve microbial diversity of breastmilk.9
Baby thrush (e.g. white tongue coating) can be stubborn to alleviate and incredibly painful for mum on feeding. Low amounts of healthy gut bacteria (e.g. following antibiotic medication) can leave individuals susceptible to recurrent infections or thrush, due to overgrowth of yeast.It may also be helpful for feeding mums to temporarily avoid all sources of refined sugar, yeast, alcohol and fizzy drinks, until significant improvement is seen.
Colic symptoms such as intense prolonged periods of crying (over 3 hours) and arching their back be disturbing and difficult to manage for parents desperately trying to relieve their discomfort, often feeling helpless.
Growing evidence suggests the infant’s immature digestive system may be responsible for this, the proteins present in milk in particular being particularly difficult to digest.10 Probiotics may be helpful in supporting efficient digestion and movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract. Whilst your child is under GP investigation, it may be helpful to choose a simple probiotic product to start with.
As they grow older, review your baby’s progress and adapt their supplement programme as necessary for their specific age and needs. You could also consider visiting a local registered cranial osteopath, many of which specialise in infant colic.
A healthy gut wall is vital as our structural first line of immune defense, acting as a barrier with the environment. Lactobacillus species have been found to stimulate our immune system’s natural function. The “PROCHILD” study in 2015 involved giving children aged 3-6 years, a combination of probiotics containing Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactic and Bifidobacterium bifidum, alongside a small amount of vitamin C daily, for 6 months. The results showed a 50% reduction in coughs and colds, antibiotic use and reduced absence from school.11
Common skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or milia (“milk spots”) can be incredibly sore and also distressing for parents trying to alleviate discomfort and determine possible underlying factors such as food allergy/intolerance or stress. Food allergies are an increasing concern in young children, where the incidence of food allergy is estimated to be greater in toddlers (5-8%) than in adults (1-2%).12
Would you like to try a probiotic for your child but you’re not sure how to administer it? It’s quite easy once you find what suit you and your child. Most high strength live bacteria products for children come in a powder. For infants, they can be mixed with a little milk and ingested directly from mum’s nipple, or sucked from her finger/a dummy. The powder can also be given directly into their mouth before a feed. Practically, try whichever method best suits you and your baby.
For toddlers, the powder can be dissolved into milk/juice, onto a spoon to ensure they ingest it all, or into their porridge, yoghurt or mashed banana. The prebiotic often used, FOS, tastes sweet, therefore taste isn’t a concern and they often like it!
We all want the best for our children’s health. Digestion plays a crucial role in regulating immune function, in addition to supplying the body with the nutrients it requires during this critical period of growth and development. Adequate intake of vegetables, fruits, fibre and fluid encourages regular bowel movements, essential for effectively eliminating toxins. Taking a daily probiotic supplement provides a safe and effective way to support their immunity, digestion and even improve their mood, behaviour, learning and concentration.
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1 Reichelt, K. et al. Effect of a Dietary Intervention on Autistic Behaviour. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. 2003; 18 (4): 248-257
2 Owen, L. et al. A double blind, placebo controlled, randomised pilot trial examining the effects of probiotic administration on mood and cognitive function. 2014; 73:E29
3 Aagaard K et al. The placenta harbors a unique microbiome. Sci Transl Med. 2014; 21;6(237):237ra65
4 Madden, J. et al. Effect of Probiotics on Preventing Disruption of the Intestinal Microflora Following Antibiotic Therapy: A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study. International Immunopharmacology 2005; 5:1091-1097
5. Huurre, A., et al. Mode of delivery - effects on gut microbiota and humoral immunity. Neonatology. 2008;93(4):236-40.
6 Allen, S. et al. Dietary Supplementation with Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria Is Well Tolerated and Not Associated with Adverse Events during Late Pregnancy and Early Infancy. Nutrient Physiology, Metabolism and Nutrient-Nutrient Interactions. 2009;483-488
7 Oak, S. & Jha, R. The effects of probiotics in lactose intolerance: A systematic review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2018; 1-9.
8 Turnball, J., et al. Review Article: the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy and Food Intolerances. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2015; 41: 3-25
9 Koletzko, S. et al. European Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition. Diagnostic approach and management of cow's-milk protein allergy in infants and children: ESPGHAN GI Committee practical guidelines. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2012;55(2):221-9
10 Leung A., et al. Whole cow's milk in infancy. Paediatr Child Health. 2003;8(7):419-21
11 Garaiova, I et al. Probiotics and Vitamin C for the Prevention of Respiratory Tract Infections in Children Attending Preschool: a Randomised Controlled Pilot Study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015; 373-379
12 Pawankar R, C. G. The WAO White Book on Allergy (Update 2013).
13 Allen, S.et al. Probiotics in the Prevention of Eczema: a Randomised Controlled Trial. Arch Dis Child. 2014; 1-6