Probiotics (meaning “for life”) is a word that you may run across when shopping for infant formula for your baby. Some formulas are fortified with these probiotics, which are types of live bacteria. They are “good” or “friendly” bacteria that are already present at high levels in the digestive system of breastfed babies. In formula-fed babies, the introduction of probiotics to formulas is designed to promote a balance of bacteria in your baby’s intestines, and offset the growth of “unfriendly” organisms that could cause infections and inflammation.
The most common types of probiotics are strains of tiny organisms called Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. Some research has shown that these probiotics may prevent or treat disorders such as infectious diarrhea and atopic dermatitis (eczema) in children. Other possible health benefits are being studied as well, including whether probiotics can lower your child’s risk of food-related allergies and asthma, prevent urinary tract infections, or improve the symptoms of infant colic.
With many of these health conditions, the evidence confirming any positive effects of probiotic use is limited and more research is needed. At this time, any benefits appear to occur only as long as the probiotics are being taken. Once your baby stops consuming probiotic-fortified formula, the bacteria in the intestines will return to their previous levels.
Before giving your child infant formula that is fortified with probiotics, discuss the issue with your pediatrician.