Does your child need a probiotic?

Probiotics can be beneficial, if you use the right ones at the right time

By Edwena Kennedy

Probiotics seem to be everywhere: your sister is taking one daily to treat her bloating, your doctor may have recommended one for your colicky baby, and the yogurt aisle in the grocery store is screaming about all the probiotics it contains. Is it worth giving your child one too?

Probiotics are live microorganisms (AKA bacteria) that survive in the digestive tract and promote gut health. We have trillions of natural bacteria living in our guts. The good bacteria keep the bad ones at bay, strengthening the gut’s mucosal barrier so that foreign materials and germs cannot bind to it. They can also work by lowering the pH of the intestine (making it more acidic) so that it would be an inhospitable environment for unfavourable materials and germs to live.

Having lots of good bacteria keeps us healthy. And even though the gut is constantly hosting new probiotics, it is important to ensure that the balance between the good and bad bacteria is not offset. We always want the ratio of good to bad to be very high.

There are lots of different types of probiotics. It’s important to understand that each specific strain (or specific variety within a general family of bacteria) has a specific benefit. Some have no proven benefit. Research on all this is new so we don’t have the full picture yet, but there’s no use in taking any probiotic for the sake of it if you don’t understand which are clinically proven to have positive effects.

Most research shows that Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Saccharomyces are a few general family groups of bacteria that are naturally occurring in the body and seem to have beneficial properties. But again, what’s important is the specific strain within each of these general categories.

From birth, an infant’s gut will begin to populate with different bacteria (making up their “microflora” or specific population of bacteria in their gut). Different factors, such as genetics, the type of delivery (caesarean or vaginal), the infant’s diet (breastmilk or formula), and other factors such as the environment and presence of antibiotics, influence the composition of gut microflora.

For example, according to a study done in 2009, infants acquired different types of bacteria during their first months via breastfed milk compared to formula feedings. Those infants that were fed mom’s milk had a high level of Bifidobacterium species that dominate in the gut while on the other hand, formula fed infants have more Enterobacter microbes in the gut. The difference was due to the makeup of the breast milk, therefore influencing the makeup of their general microflora.

You can get more good probiotics naturally occurring in some foods or via supplements (chews, powder, or drops). But these supplemental probiotics won’t stay in your gut forever. They’re somewhat water soluble, which means they enter and then they leave. Millions of probiotics leave in simple diaper change.

This means that as far as we know, to see any benefits from supplemental probiotics, we need to be consistently giving them to our children. Does this mean we should all be handing out daily probiotics? No. Most kids don’t need them at all. However, in certain circumstances where environmental or medical changes may affect the colonization of good vs bad probiotics, help from supplements or food can be warranted.

If your child has been sick for an extended time, has digestive issues, or is taking antibiotics, this may be a good time to introduce a probiotic supplement. Remember, the health benefits of probiotics are strain specific (meaning a specific type of bacteria must be present in a specific quantity). Furthermore, probiotic supplements haven’t been proven to be completely safe for the immunocompromised (e.g. premature babies). Always consult a doctor or dietitian before giving your child any probiotics supplements.

Sometimes medication our kids need to take, such as antibiotics, can upset the gut’s balance by wiping out all bacteria, not only the bad stuff. This can significantly decrease the body’s ability to protect itself against germs and unwanted foreign materials, meaning your kids are at risk for things like antibiotic-associated diarrhea. In times like these, experts often recommend a probiotic containing Lactobaciallus rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Note that while most probiotics should be taken after taking the antibiotics (so that they won’t be affected by the antibiotic), one type called Florastor can be taken during antibiotic treatment.

Sometimes your child will just have diarrhea for other reasons (most likely due to a viral or bacterial infection). Research has shown that there can be a reduction of stool frequency and duration of diarrhea (by about a day) in children when they take probiotics containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii.

The effects that probiotics have on constipation are heavily debated. Research gives no clear answer, though some studies have shown that Lactobacillus reuteri Protectis was more effective than placebo in improving the frequency of bowel movements in adults and children with functional constipation.

Research shows that the type of bacteria found in the gut is different in those with eczema versus those without (such as lower bifidobacteria presence with eczema). While the research isn’t 100% clear, supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG has been promising in showing a reduction in the severity of presence of eczema.

Functional abdominal pain (which may or may not be associated with diarrhea, constipation, bloating) has been shown to have improvements in severity of pain experienced with L. reuteri DSM 17938 (and some studies show Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG can have benefits too).

Research shows that a specific bacterial strain called Lactobacillus reuteri 17938 has been associated with decreased crying spells in exclusively breastfed infants.

While a general probiotic isn’t necessary in most cases (especially when eating a diet rich in probiotic foods as is explained in the next section), you can help protect your child against commonly infectious diseases such as upper respiratory infections, pneumonia, and stomach flu. It’s not guaranteed, but use of certain general probiotics may be beneficial in the prevention and management of upper respiratory, bacterial, and viral infections.

We’ve put some of my most recommended probiotic products in
the table on the left for you to compare and decide which probiotic you many need. This is not a prescription. Check with your doctor or dietitian on recommended dosages.

Many foods contain naturally occurring probiotics that give us an extra boost of good bacteria for general digestive health and immune function. Day to day, it’s great to eat a variety of these foods and give them to your little one. It’s much harder to get good bacteria into our systems, especially as we are no longer accustomed to eating fermented and cultured foods (as we did before refrigerators existed). Also the use of antibacterial hand soaps and sanitizers, being outside less, and even consuming antibiotic-containing meats, decreases our exposure to healthy bacteria. Getting back to regularly consuming more of these probiotic rich foods is always a good idea.

One of the most familiar probiotic-containing foods is yogurt. Look for ones with “live active cultures” in the ingredient list. Keep in mind that usually the concentration of probiotics found in yogurt isn’t enough to effectively treat a specific issue, but regular consumption of this and other probiotic foods will be good for general health and immunity.

Other fermented dairy products such as kefir (a fermented milk drink) also contain a myriad of probiotics. Try them in place of milk over cereal, or in a smoothie!. Non-dairy alternatives such as soy milk contain probiotics too. Beyond this, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, tempeh, and kombucha are all delicious and excellent sources of probiotics. Some of the probiotic-containing foods listed above can be easily made at home, adjusting them to your family’s preferences.

Kid-Chi—Kimchi for Kids

This recipe, found at, adopts a kimchi recipe and makes it a little less spicy, something many kids will be sure to appreciate! It includes many ingredients, most of which you will probably already have on hand. It is a quick recipe to make, however needs 7 hands-off days to ferment. Give it a try!

• 2 lbs napa cabbage, cut in ¼ inch slices
• 2 tsp. sea salt
• 2 medium carrots, peeled and coined
• 1 tsp. ginger, minced
• 1 tsp. garlic, minced

What to do
1. Core and cut cabbage
2. Massage cabbage with sea salt,
about 2 minutes
3. Peel and coin carrots
4. Mince fresh ginger and garlic
5. Add remaining ingredients to
massaged cabbage and massage
again, about 2-5 minutes or until
juice can be easily squeezed out of
the vegetables
6. Pack mixture into a jar while pressing
down lightly until the brine rises and
covers the vegetables completely
7. Secure lid on jar and store out of the
sun in room temperature for 7 days
to allow for fermentation.
8. Store kimchi in the fridge once
opened for two months!

What Probiotic is right for your baby/toddler?

My Child Has






Abdominal Pain

General Protection
Against Commonly
Infectious Diseases

My Child Has

BioGaia ProTectis Baby Drops
BioGaia ProTectis Chew tabs

Culturelle Kids Daily
Digestive Care Kids Daily Probiotic

Culturelle Kids Daily
Digestive Care Kids Daily Probiotic

BioGaia ProTectis Baby Drops
BioGaia ProTectis Chew tabs
Culturelle Kids Daily
Digestive Care Kids Daily Probiotic

BioGaia ProTectis Baby Drops
BioGaia ProTectis Chew tabs

BioGaia ProTectis Baby Drops
BioGaia ProTectis Chew tabs
Culturelle Kids Daily
Digestive Care Kids Daily Probiotic

Genestra Brands HMF
Fit for School
Dan Active
BioGaia ProTectis Baby Drops
BioGaia ProTectis Chew tabs

Read more from our Summer 2020 edition of Our Children.

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