Which Is Best for Baby: Prebiotics or Probiotics?

little girl feeding from a spoon on blue chair.
A baby eating with a spoon. (Image: vitaliksun/iStock/Getty Images)

Your baby's intestinal tract is occupied by beneficial microbes that help promote digestive health. These microorganisms, also referred to as your normal flora, produce vitamins and hormones, aid your immune function and prevent colonization of harmful bacteria. Enhancing your baby's normal flora with probiotic or prebiotic supplements can help promote intestinal health; however, it is important that you know which one is a safer and recommended option for your infant. Consult your doctor about giving probiotic or prebiotic supplements to your baby.

Probiotics

Probiotic products contain helpful microbes, such as Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, Streptococcus and Saccharomyces, normally present in your baby's normal flora. Situations, such as taking antibiotics, eating a poor diet, enduring stress and eating contaminated food, can compromise the intestinal flora, and taking a probiotic supplement can help restore the balance. Giving probiotics to your baby may reduce antibiotic-related diarrhea, treat infectious diarrhea, help relieve bloating, pain and other gastrointestinal problems and alleviate atopic dermatitis, or eczema, according to a study published in the "American Family Physician” in 2008.

Prebiotics

Where probiotic foods and supplements contain live bacteria, prebiotics are foods that help stimulate and support your baby's normal flora. Prebiotics are nondigestible nutrients that the bacteria in your intestines use as an energy source. MayoClinic.com reports that prebiotics may have a role in treating diarrhea, normalizing bowel function, reducing irritable bowel problems and boosting your baby's immune system. No specific guidelines for prebiotic intake are established, but a recommended dose may be around 3 to 8 g per day, according to MayoClinic.com.

Babies

Many baby foods have been fortified with prebiotics and probiotics and safety does not seem to be an issue, according to Beth Iovinelli, an expert for the babyzone website, a registered nurse and a maternal child health nurse. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using primarily prebiotics for babies. These may be a safer option and, instead of containing bacteria like probiotics, they help boost and support the bacteria already present in your baby's body. Although most likely safe for healthy babies, probiotics should not be used for babies who are seriously ill or immunocompromised.

Food Sources

Prebiotics are found in many high-fiber foods, such as artichokes, bananas, barley, berries, dairy products and whole grains, according to MayoClinic.com. Breast milk is also a good source of prebiotics, whereas yogurt and buttermilk are the safest forms of probiotics for babies. As with any new food, add these foods to your baby's diet gradually to make sure he is not sensitive to any of the ingredients.

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