Probiotics have been a popular health resource for adults for some time, but if you’re a parent or guardian, you may have wondered if probiotics are good for children. While research into the health benefits of probiotics is still in the early stages, they are generally regarded as safe, and have been safely tested in children and infants.
Many studies have shown that certain bacterial strains can be beneficial for children’s developing digestive and immune systems. In many European countries, probiotics are embraced by the medical community, and even given to premature babies as a matter of course to help boost their immune systems.
While probiotics shouldn’t be given to a seriously ill child without consulting a doctor, generally healthy children often experience positive effects from regular doses of good bacteria. Different bacterial strains have different health benefits, so it can be helpful to consult with your pediatrician to find the right strains to support your child.
Some of the reported benefits of probiotics for infants and children include:
Eases Tummy Trouble
Babies and young children often experience stomach problems like diarrhea, constipation, gas, and general tummy ache. Studies have shown that probiotics can help prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotics, and can shorten the duration of any type of diarrhea by about a day when taken in the early stages. Promoting healthy microflora in the gut also keeps the digestive system working properly, which can help with regular bowel movements.
The crying, colicky, unsoothable baby is every parent’s worst nightmare. But one experiment showed that regular probiotics eased infants’ discomfort to such an extent that it cut their crying time in half. For moms and dads who are already woefully sleep-deprived, even with a healthy baby, news doesn’t come much better than that. An extra hour of sleep, anyone?
Many children develop eczema—an irritating, itchy skin condition that is no fun for anyone—early in life. Probiotics may reduce the appearance of eczema significantly, especially when the condition flares up as a reaction to milk or other dairy products (which many people, including little ones, have trouble digesting.)
The same probiotics that make eczema less likely to crop up in your child’s early years are also linked to minimizing the risk of allergies. The majority of children with eczema also develop hay fever or asthma later in life, and many also develop food allergies. Studies indicate that treating childhood eczema with probiotics can also have a positive effect on related conditions—even stopping them before they have a chance to develop.
Supports a Healthy Immune System
Our bodies play host to bacteria of all kinds—some of which live with us in a healthy, symbiotic relationship, and others that can cause serious damage. Supporting the good bacteria allows those microbes to return the favor by driving out bad bacteria and viruses that can threaten our health. While research in this area is still new, some promising early studies have shown that probiotics may significantly reduce cold and flu symptoms in children, help prevent respiratory infections among children at daycares, and decrease infections among preschool children.
Maybe the best news of all for parents dealing with the “terrible twos” is that there is some evidence to suggest that probiotics can actually help to regulate your child’s mood. The more we learn about the microbiome, the more we’re discovering that the gut and the brain have a big influence on each other. Gut microbes are responsible for producing neurotransmitters and hormones that influence mood and stress response. Probiotics have shown benefits for depression and anxiety in adults, and are being studied as treatment for ADHD and mood disorders in children.
Where To Find Probiotics For Children
While probiotics are found in many foods, such as yogurt, kefir, soft aged cheeses, and buttermilk, most foods don’t contain enough to make a real difference to your child’s health. Some of these products (particularly many yogurt brands) may also contain high levels of added sugars. So the most effective way to support your child’s system with probiotics is to give them a supplement.
Be aware that since probiotics are not currently considered “medicine,” they aren’t regulated in the same way as pharmaceuticals. While this doesn’t make them harmful, it does mean that quality can vary from one supplement brand to another. It pays to do some research and consult your child’s pediatrician to understand which strains to look for, what CFU count is appropriate for your child, and other factors that can affect supplement quality.
Another thing to note is that probiotics don’t build up in the system. They are living entities that will eventually die off and need to be replaced. So it’s necessary to give your child probiotics regularly if they’re going to continue having an effect. It’s also important to follow packaging instructions for storing your probiotics properly to ensure they survive as long as possible.
Fortunately, probiotics come in a variety of tempting forms that kids have no problem taking, including tasty chewables and gummies. It’s up to you to decide if probiotics are right for your child, but as far as current research is concerned, they’re not likely to do any harm, and may provide some great benefits.