Should I Give My Children Probiotics?

08/26/2019 | 7 min. read

Dr. Briana Sinatra

Dr. Briana Sinatra

Sometimes, as parents, shopping in the medicine aisle for your kids can be nerve-wracking. You want to feel fully informed and confident in everything you give to your child, so you may spend a lot of time researching, comparing products, and talking to your pediatrician. Good! This is what you should be doing. Now, here’s why I think you should do the same thing when choosing the best probiotics for your child.

Taking Care of Your Gut for Theirs

Your child’s microbiome is an extremely important component to their health from the very beginning. The early stages of gut health are some of the most crucial, as it can determine your microbiome’s strength for the rest of your life. Your child’s first microbes actually come from you! A child’s microbiome begins to develop in the womb and continues to develop into the early years of their life. If you’re pregnant, and even before you get pregnant, managing your health is so important for your newborn baby’s fresh start.

Once your child is born, everything from breastfeeding to playing on the ground can influence the types of microbes that make our bodies home. Recent research discovered that your child develops their adult microbiota by age three. While this microbial community within the gut is being established it is important that you make sure your child maintains a lifestyle that encourages healthy microflora to flourish and sustain gut health. This is where probiotics come in to play.

Benefits of Probiotics for Kids

Though your child’s microbiota is fully developed by age three, their gut is still being influenced all the time. Their microbiome can be affected by their environment, stress, illness, diet, and especially antibiotics. 

Did you know that a quarter of all medications given to children are antibiotics? Unfortunately, antibiotics can be overprescribed and given out when they are not needed. While antibiotics are effective in destroying bad bacteria that can make your child ill, they do not discriminate and will also destroy all of the good bacteria that makes his or her gut healthy. While trying to get rid of one illness with antibiotics, by disrupting the microbial balance, you may be at risk for creating another: whether it’s a Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infection or diarrhea, a common side effect with antibiotic use. We don't want to risk this unless absolutely necessary, especially since it can take up to nine months for your child’s microflora to become fully restored after a single round of antibiotics. However, avoiding antibiotics is sometimes impossible and there are many cases in which antibiotics are absolutely necessary to resolve an illness. The good news is that probiotics can help offset some of the damaging side effects of antibiotics. The benefits don’t stop there; probiotics greatly improve gut health and function in children, as well as immune health, setting them up for an overall healthier lifestyle.

Once on vacation, we were surprised when our youngest son woke up with a cough and congestion. Feeling helpless and unprepared without our usually array of immune-supporting supplements on hand, I stopped at the local drugstore and bought the only supportive supplement they had: a probiotic with a familiar strain I knew was well-researched. At least with probiotics knew I would be supporting his microbiome and immune health, hopefully giving him an advantage to nip this cold quickly. I gave some to my son and then to the rest of my family for good measure.

To my delight and slight surprise, when we woke up the next morning his congestion had cleared, and he was no longer coughing. No one else caught it and we were able to enjoy the rest of our vacation in good health. I share this not to say you will always get the same speedy results or even that we will be as lucky next time, but even as someone familiar with the benefits of probiotics for immune health, I was impressed with how effective this microbial support was for helping our son and it was a good reminder how supporting our gut health can support the health of our whole body.

We understand that delivering “bacteria” into your child’s body sounds a bit peculiar. As parents, we are careful about everything concerning our children, especially what they consume. Just remember that probiotics are healthy bacteria and essential to gastrointestinal health. The right probiotics are beneficial to the health and happiness of your little pride and joy.

Here are some of the health benefits of probiotics for kids:

  • Helps relieve digestive issues that cause those traumatizing “tummy aches” such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, cramping, and acid reflux
  • Helps reduce immune-related conditions like asthma, allergic reactions, and eczema
    • Schools are notorious for exposing children to all kinds of germs, putting them at a very high risk of getting sick from their classmates. By supporting the microbiome, you are supporting the health of the intestinal barrier, a key warrior in the battle against pathogens which affect our immune systems.
  • Helps with the digestion of food and the absorption of essential vitamins and nutrients your child needs
    • Children are routinely used as subjects in research studying the effect of probiotics on malnutrition and digestive health issues that are common in the developing world. Not only did probiotics improve intestinal health in these children but made a significant impact on their overall wellness.
  • Helps support the health of your child’s urinary tract

Are Probiotics Safe for Kids?

Hundreds of studies have classified probiotics as safe and effective for healthy infants and children. However, as with any supplement or medication, you should speak with your child's pediatrician before adding probiotic supplements into their dietary routines. Although benefits can be seen, caution should be used when considering probiotic use in children who are critically ill or who have compromised immune systems.

I recommend doing more at-home research to see just how many safety and research studies have been done on probiotics in both children and adults. Also, if there is a certain health concern you are looking to address with probiotics, you will need to consider the hundreds of clinical studies that have been conducted on specific probiotic strains and their unique effect on certain health conditions. This leads us to our next section on how to determine the best probiotic for your child.

What are the Best Probiotics for Kids?

Choosing the right probiotic for your child is very important. The best way to deliver them may be through a supplement. If your child can’t yet swallow pills, you can opt for probiotics that come in tasty powder form, gummy, chewable tablet, or even a liquid. First and foremost, talk to your pediatrician about which combination probiotic strains are the best for your child’s age and specific health needs. Once you’ve done your research, here’s a checklist of requirements you need to look for when choosing the best probiotic for kids:

  1. Scientific research on the probiotic species in the product
  2. Multiple probiotic strains, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium
  3. At least 1 billion Colony Forming Units (CFU) at the time of expiration, not the “time of manufacture” since this doesn’t guarantee that the probiotics in the product are still alive when your child takes it.
  4. Dosage or delivery technology to ensure the probiotics will be viable or highly resilient strains so they will successfully reach the area where they are needed (intestines)
  5. Third party testing of the product to ensure what is claimed on the label is indeed in the product and that it is not contaminated with any additional or pathogenic strains
  6. Clear dosing instructions and recommendations for children
  7. Prebiotic ingredients to help fuel probiotics

If you’re unsure about giving your child probiotics in supplement form, you can choose to feed them foods that contain probiotics instead. Here are a few kid-friendly probiotic foods to start with:

  • Yogurt with live or active cultures
    • Kids love flavored and sweetened yogurts… who wouldn’t? But all that added sugar is not good for your little one’s body. Try starting with plain yogurt, then adding fruits or natural jams from there. Also, stay away from all artificial sweeteners.
  • Buttermilk
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut

Probiotic foods should be included in your child’s diet to fortify and support gut flora, but should not be relied upon to provide a guaranteed dose or specific strains of probiotics. That’s what makes probiotic supplements so advantageous: you know the precise strains that you are providing and just how much you’re giving to your child.

All in all, remember to do your research and consult with a pediatrician before making any decisions on probiotics for kids.

Dr. Briana Sinatra

Meet Dr. Briana Sinatra

Dr. Briana Sinatra is a board-certified naturopathic doctor with a vibrant practice in the Pacific Northwest. There she focuses on women’s and family health, taking a holistic approach to healthcare by empowering women with the knowledge and tools they need to live their best life now and protect their future wellness by looking at how all the systems in the body work together and how diet, lifestyle, and environment all influence health.

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