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Understanding If Your Infant Really Needs Extra Probiotics

flickr / Sergio Maistrello

As a caring father you’ll want your kid to have friends who will offer support and help through an entire lifetime. You’ll want those friends to aid during sickness and give a boost during health. And you’ll want those friends to live comfortably in your kid’s lower gastrointestinal tract … because they’re microbial life that aid in absorbing nutrients and producing gloriously healthy poops.

These friends are known in the parlance of our times as “probiotics.” But you can’t just invite B. bifidum and L. acidophilus over for a playdate in your kid’s small intestine. One, because they don’t make cell phones small enough to text them on. And two, because you’d look crazy if you tried. So how do you get these “good bugs” into your kid? And are they really always good?

Putting The ‘Pro’ In ‘Biotics’

You might think that the only thing yeasts and bacteria are good for are making bread and making you sick. You’d be wrong. There are a whole host of bacteria and yeast which make up the probiotics that live in your body naturally. They do things like help you process dairy and get nutrients into your system, which is what you thought nachos were for.

Probiotics (as opposed to amateur biotics, presumably) are essential in helping humans develop a beneficial “microbiome” that keeps us in general good health. But don’t get it confused with micro-Biodome, which is home to a teeny-tiny Pauly Shore and not healthy for anyone.

Probiotics For Baby

Your kid wasn’t born with a thriving microbiome. Like Mars, colonization is the goal for their innards. Good bacteria and yeast will land in their system through normal day-to-day life. Imagining a little Matt Damon farming potatoes in your kids small intestine.

But the question is, do you let this process happen naturally, or do you get them mainlining acidophilus right away? The problem with answering that question is that research on the issue has been scant. Here’s what science knows now:

Sure, Why Not?

Current recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offer what can only be termed as a skeptical shrug when it comes to the use of probiotics in infants. They suggest that there could be therapeutic usage in treating diarrhea brought on by antibiotic use in otherwise healthy kids. It could also be effective in reducing the misery of a stomach bug by one day, during which you’ll be free from poop panic.

They also note that probiotics are generally safe for healthy kids, so giving them probiotics won’t hurt them, probably. That said, the AAP doesn’t recommend their standard use in formula. And there’s just not enough evidence to suggest administering probiotics helps with issues like colic.

Maybe Don’t

One report exists linking probiotic use to an infant’s fatality. The probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG caused an infection leading to the child’s death. The child receiving the probiotic was born with an intrauterine growth restriction. The diagnosis means they were born on time but underweight. Doctors administered the probiotic.

The AAP makes a point that there is not enough known about probiotics to recommend their use for kids who are not healthy. And while this is simply one case, it might be best to use caution before introducing your kids to new bacteria pals.

In the end, it’s important to keep in mind that these bacteria have been colonizing our systems on their own for many thousands of years. Our friendship goes way back. While it may not hurt to give some extra pals to your kid, it might be best to let them make those friends on their own.