Parenting is hard work. It is extremely hard work. You have so much to think about for your child’s well-being, and there is a lot of pressure from the media to get it right. Parents can feel like they are drowning in recommendations.
Are they sleeping enough? Are they eating enough? Or too much? Are they getting the right amount of activity? Do they spend too much time on screens? Should I be giving my child probiotics and vitamins? It can feel overwhelming.
Today’s parents have so many options thrown at them that seem to support their child’s health. But they are left wondering if all these things really are necessary and reasonable.
Probiotics are a perfect example. Recently there has been a considerable surge in research on gut health and probiotics. While new information is helpful as parents navigate their health and that of their kids, it can also be confusing. You might start to feel lost in all the data and research. If you want to know if probiotics can help your child, reach out to Portland Pediatric and Family Nutrition for clarity.
What Are Probiotics, Anyway?
Before getting too far into a discussion on whether or not your child needs probiotics, let’s take a look at what they are and how they work. When considering giving your child any medication or supplement, it is always essential to understand what it is and how it serves your child.
Probiotics are living microorganisms that occur naturally in the intestinal tract. They help keep the gut microbiome in a state of healthy balance for proper digestion and overall well-being. Sometimes people refer to these bacteria and yeasts as “good bugs.”
Our bodies need probiotics to maintain this balance. In previous generations, people were able to consume proper amounts through their diets, thanks to their reliance on canning and preserving. This fact of life ensured that they ate enough fermented foods to get a good dose of probiotics. Throughout the world, every culture had some sort of fermented food as a staple of their diet.
In addition, earlier generations did not have the proliferation of antibiotics in regular use that we have today. Antibiotics disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut, often leading to gastrointestinal distress.
Until very recently, our modern western diet has been significantly lacking in naturally occurring probiotics. The reliance on highly processed foods and the lack of fermented foods has led to widespread intestinal problems for many westerners. And research suggests that this imbalance in the gut leads to other health concerns as well.
Different Strains Do Different Things
Not all probiotics are created equal. Various bacteria and yeast strains offer different benefits. It is important to take a look at labels to be sure you are getting the most effective strain possible for what your child needs. The most common types of probiotics are:
- Lactobacillus: often found in milk and fermented foods
- Bifidobacterium: found in some dairy products
- Saccharomyces boulardii: a probiotic yeast
Each type has different strains that can address specific difficulties. The experts at Portland Pediatric and Family Nutrition can help you understand and choose the best one for your child.
Should I Give My Child Probiotics?
Fermented foods are enjoying a resurgence as more and more research comes to light. But let’s be honest. How many children love sauerkraut or Kefir? The typical American kiddo is not going to be excited to eat fermented foods. And if you have a picky eater, you definitely have your work cut out for you.
Fortunately, there are now many high-quality probiotic supplements available. In general, probiotics are safe for most children but talk with your child’s pediatrician or nutritionist first to make a healthy plan for your child.
Research has been rigorous on probiotic use in adults. But there has been less research when it comes to children, so proceed with care. Assuming your child is not immunocompromised, probiotics may be a perfect option for their health and wellness.
Four Possible Benefits of Probiotics for Children
1. Help Relieve Colic
Humans develop their gut microbiome in the womb. But after birth, that flora begins to change with the introduction of breast milk or formula. For babies who suffer from colic, probiotics may help.
Some research suggests that for breastfed babies under three months old, probiotics may relieve colic. For parents suffering through their infant’s excessive and inconsolable crying, this could be a game-changer.
Something as simple as probiotics may be able to relieve the crying and all the guilt and frustration that can come with it. Parents who feel overwhelmed by their child’s extreme fussiness may find that probiotics are a straightforward way to bring relief to their child. In particular, options with the Lactobacillus reuteri strain have proven beneficial in alleviating colic symptoms.
2. Help Control Acid Reflux
When children experience acid reflux, the advice from doctors often is to offer an acid-reducing medication such as ranitidine. Many parents would rather not go that route right away. They prefer to try other options first.
Reflux in babies is quite common due to the immaturity of their lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is responsible for keeping stomach contents in the stomach. When this muscle is not yet strong enough, sometimes the contents find their way back up and out of your baby. It’s messy, but it is rarely a concern. Supplementing with probiotics that include Lactobacillus reuteri may help reduce reflux and the frequency of spit-up for babies.
3. Help Soothe the Side Effects of Antibiotics
Children are pretty much Petri dishes when it comes to germs. They can catch, grow, and spread illnesses at an incredible rate. Ear infections, strep throat, and other bacterial infections often require the use of an antibiotic.
As the name suggests, an antibiotic is the opposite of a probiotic. In its work of eliminating the unhealthy bacteria, it also can disrupt much of the good bacteria in your child’s gut. This imbalance is why so many children experience stomach and intestinal distress when they are on an antibiotic. Constipation, stomach aches, and diarrhea are common side effects.
Giving your child a probiotic during treatment can help alleviate these issues. In particular, probiotics with the strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG appear to provide the most significant benefit in avoiding intestinal problems such as diarrhea.
4. Help Ease Eczema Outbreaks
Recent research has shown surprising links between gut health and skin conditions. Eczema is a common childhood complaint and can range from mild irritation to painful, open sores. Topical steroids are often the first option offered by pediatricians, but prolonged use can have side effects such as bruising and thinning of the skin.
Fortunately, the introduction of probiotics may be effective in limiting or stopping eczema outbreaks. Look for options that include the strains Lactobacillus paracasei and Lactobacillus fermentum.
Get Expert Help
Figuring out food issues can be one of the trickiest parts of parenting. Battles and concerns around eating are one of the things parents complain about the most during child-rearing. Portland Pediatric and Family Nutrition is on your side during these times.
Whether you have a picky eater, a child with food allergies, or a teen with disordered eating, we can help. And if you need support and expertise in navigating any other part of nutrition for your family, we are here to assist you. Reach out today to get your family on a healthy food journey that can last a lifetime.