As a parent, you want the very best for your child, and setting your baby up for lifelong optimal health is one of the best gifts you can ever provide for her.
By starting life with a healthy gut and thriving immune system, your child will be on the path to optimal health and wellness, including healthy skin, digestion, and ideal inflammatory and immune responses.
By now you likely know about the importance of taking probiotics for supporting a healthy gut and strong immune system. It’s something I recommend everyone take and it’s part of my wellness essentials for children and adults.
However, did you know that newborns up to 2 years of age have specific bacteria in their microbiome and that they require a different type and specific strains of bacteria? That’s why it’s a key first step to get your child on a gut-healthy routine designed for this specific stage of her development.
To understand how valuable of a tool these specific infant probiotics are, let’s talk about the importance of your baby’s microbiome, the role of probiotics, and then we’ll cover how to choose and use an infant probiotic.
Why a Healthy Microbiome is the Foundation for Optimal Health
Microbiomes are clusters of bacteria and other organisms found in and on our bodies. Beneficial gut bacteria called “probiotics”, as well as certain strains of beneficial yeast, all work together to form a symbiotic community of microflora that aid in immune regulation, digestion, the assimilation of nutrients, the breakdown of toxins, and so, so much more.
Your child’s gut, specifically, is home to tens of trillions of those organisms, including up to 1,000 species of bacteria. And, since 60-80% of her immune system lives within her gut, a disruption in the balance of bacteria makes her more susceptible to illnesses and infections, and can even set her on the path to chronic illness.
If bad bacteria, yeasts, or even parasites are able to overpower the good bacteria in your child’s gut, it could lead to a huge array of symptoms, including everything from seasonal allergies to eczema and skin rashes to asthma to difficulty concentrating and ADHD, and more.
Scientists are only just beginning to understand the full importance the microbiome plays in our health, and new research is emerging every day that further confirms that building a diverse and thriving microbiome is a critical step in achieving optimal overall health.
Helping Your Baby Build A Healthy Microbiome
So how can you help your child build a strong and healthy microbiome? There are many different factors that to contribute to a healthy microbiome for your child, including the health of your own microbiome when your child is conceived, carried, and born, being born via a vaginal delivery or, if a c-section is necessary then using the “seeding” procedure, breastfeeding, and minimizing the use of antibiotics, to name a few.
However, life isn’t perfect and it certainly isn’t always within your control. Plus, as I mentioned, this science is incredibly new, so this information may not have even been available to you when your child was born. So if you missed or were not able to do any of the steps above, don’t worry!
Why Use An Infant Probiotic?
No matter how your baby was born or fed, or whether or not you or she were given antibiotics, there is still one very important health-promoting step you can take to build a healthy microbiome for your baby, and that is to give her an infant probiotic starting at birth until two years of age.
If your little one is already a little older, the general advice is to start or continue these benefits with a probiotic that is more suitable for children age 2 and up, however, check with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns.
And, if you’re a woman reading this article as research during pre-pregnancy or pregnancy, I highly recommend starting an adult probiotic now to help build a thriving microbiome in your womb and birth canal for your child.
How Infant Probiotics Build a Strong Microbiome for Your Baby
As I mentioned, your microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria and other organisms, and the “good” bacteria are called probiotics.
Probiotics promote healthy bacterial and yeast balance to keep your baby’s gut lining in check, so that the bad bacteria don’t grow out of control and cause your gut to become leaky. They also support a strong immune system in order to prevent and fight off infections1, and can help reduce the risk of allergies, eczema, and other inflammatory conditions.2
Probiotics are naturally found in your baby’s gut, especially if you took the steps mentioned above to build a healthy microbiome from conception. However, thanks to our toxic environment, the overuse of antibiotics (which wipe out good and bad bacteria alike), and the state of our food supply, the unfortunate truth is that our natural good bacteria simply aren’t enough to defend us from infections, toxins, and chronic illness.
Also, studies show that our children are not being exposed to the microbial diversity that our parents and grandparents were exposed to because we don’t spend nearly as much time outside, playing in the dirt and the grass, where we would naturally encounter a wider diversity of bacteria to build a healthy microbiome.3
Healthy Bacterial Balance With An Infant Probiotic
In fact, a leading theory for why children today are so much more likely to develop conditions such as asthma, eczema, and allergies is because they aren’t exposed to a healthy range of bacteria during childhood.4
This is why I generally recommend supporting healthy bacterial balance with proper supplementation which will provide you with an extra dose of good bacteria to maintain a healthy microbiome balance.
It’s particularly important for your baby to take an infant probiotic that contains the specific strains of bacteria that are critical for her developing microbiome at ages 0 through 2 years.
Choosing a Safe Infant Probiotic
Now that you know how valuable probiotics are for giving your child a strong foundation for optimal health, you might be wondering what to look for in an infant probiotic. After all, we spend hours researching the best and safest car seats, cribs, and toys for our babies and infant probiotics play just as important of a role in their well-being!
First off, you’ll want to look for a product that is hypoallergenic, does not contain harmful fillers or dyes, and is free of inflammatory ingredients; namely, gluten, dairy, corn, and soy. Exposure to these can stress your baby’s immune system, potentially leading to leaky gut, and causing symptoms of food sensitivity.
Your infant probiotic should also contain a balanced blend of multiple strains of the two most important beneficial bacteria: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Clinical research has shown that these two types of bacteria support digestive and immune health throughout this particular period of your baby’s development.
And it is important that your baby’s probiotics mimic the natural diversity of a healthy infant microbiome, which is why you need a blend of multiple strains. I like to think of the microbiome as a thriving rainforest with many different species of plants working symbiotically to maintain the balance. You want to make sure you’re growing a diverse set of flora, not just one species of tree.
Finally, a top-quality infant probiotic would ideally contain a small amount of “prebiotics”, such as inulin, chicory root extract, and/or fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Prebiotics keep probiotics healthy and well-fed while they’re in the bottle and on the shelf, and also help probiotic bacteria feed and colonize once they enter your baby’s digestive system.
How to Use Infant Probiotics
Infant probiotics typically come in a powder form and are very simple to use. You simply add ¼ teaspoon to breastmilk, formula, or water.
For Elle, we heat her bottle of breast milk and then add the infant probiotic. If you are breastfeeding your baby you can simply wet your finger and dip it in the bottle and have your baby suck your finger, or you can place the probiotics on your nipple as your baby is breastfeeding.
Here’s a video showing how I prepare Elle’s bottle of breastmilk with infant probiotics. (I am using these glass bottles from Joovy). Also, you’ll have to excuse my outfit, I had just gotten home from the gym when I recorded this!