Probiotics are a safe addition to your child’s diet, but not all probiotics for children have health benefits. Let’s dive into the benefits, safety, and a review of the best probiotics for children.
A healthy gut is increasingly tied to better health, but it’s not only for adults.
Infants are born with trillions of microorganisms in their gut that help break down nutrients and strengthen the immune system.
This microbiome is made up of both “good” and “bad” bacteria.
It’s normal to have both types, so don’t let the “bad” bacteria concern you.
The key is the ratio of good and bad bacteria.
A healthy gut may have benefits beyond the stomach.
In this article, you’ll learn about the latest research on probiotics for children and a review of the top five brands of probiotics, according to a pediatric dietitian.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms such as bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial for your health when taken in the right amounts.
Yogurt with live active cultures and kid-friendly fermented foods like kefir, pickles, buttermilk, cheese, and sauerkraut are all examples of foods that contain probiotics.
Your child can take dietary supplements of probiotics to increase the probiotic load they get each day.
Kids’ probiotics come in a variety of forms: chewable, liquid, probiotic gummies, or powders.
Some brands have both probiotics and fiber.
Fiber and probiotics work together to create a healthy gut microbiome by providing healthy live bacteria in the digestive tract.
Pairing probiotics and fiber in a supplement may help boost the overall health benefits.
What Are the Benefits of Probiotics for Kids?
While there’s no shortage of health claims when it comes to the benefits of probiotics, some studies suggest probiotics ease gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, and possibly even colic.
Taking antibiotics can disrupt the balance of good healthy bacteria and increase the presence of bad microbiota, causing diarrhea.
Probiotics may help.
They rebalance the microbiota by adding beneficial bacteria to the gut microbiome and keep the bad bacteria in check.
In one study, children used probiotic supplementation to treat diarrhea associated with antibiotics.
The probiotics slightly decreased the duration of diarrhea.
However, some studies found probiotics didn’t make that much of a difference.
What About Probiotics for Constipation or Colic?
Gas and bloating may be one cause of your newborn’s colic.
Some studies show probiotics may reduce digestive issues such as colic symptoms and crying in infants who are breastfed.
But you should discuss with your baby’s pediatrician before offering probiotics to infants younger than six months old.
There are many reasons kids get constipated.
One reason is children don’t eat enough fiber to keep their GI tract moving.
Little ones prefer bland diets, which are very low in fiber-containing leafy green vegetables and whole grains.
Doctors generally don’t recommend probiotics to treat constipation because there isn’t enough evidence that it’s beneficial.
So, stick to natural stool softener foods to keep your little one’s bowels regular.
Are Probiotics for Children Safe?
The Food and Drug Administration classifies probiotic supplements as “food” not a drug, so they don’t have to approve them like they do nutritional supplements.
While probiotic foods like yogurt are part of a healthy diet, there aren’t many long-term studies on the risks of taking probiotic supplements.
But using probiotic supplements for a short time to help your child with tummy troubles should be safe for healthy children.
Children using probiotics may experience some minor side effects, such as rash, nausea, gas, gas, bloating, and constipation.
What are the Best Probiotics for Kids?
Many supplement brands make health claims, but not all probiotic products have health benefits.
Before I review a few brands, let’s go over some basics.
The health benefits depend more on the specific microorganism in the product than the amount. Look for this information on the package:
- Check the nutrition label for “live active cultures.”
- Look for the strains of bacteria, specifically Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, two strains of bacteria that have the most health benefits.
Supplement manufacturers only need to list the weight of the microorganisms, according to current labeling laws.
So you’ll see something like this on a supplement package:
1 x 109 for 1 billion CFU, or 1 x 1010 for 10 billion CFU
This is the total amount of both live and dead microorganisms.
While only the live cultures have health benefits, there’s no way to know for sure how much of the live organisms you’re getting.
You’ll notice that some brands guarantee you will get the amount and type of microorganisms that are listed on the label.
The best advice I can give as a children’s nutrition expert is to look for a reputable and well-reviewed brand or get a recommendation from your child’s pediatrician.
Let’s dive into 5 of the top-rated probiotics for children.
This once-a-day chewable comes in cherry and orange flavors and tops the list of kids’ probiotics.
It provides three strains of probiotics: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum and Bifidobacterium bifidum/lactis.
The manufacturer guarantees the product contains the amount and only the strains listed on the label.
And, the unique bottle extends the shelf life.
One thing to note is that this brand requires refrigeration.
Hyperbiotics has a time-release formula to bypass stomach acids, which keeps the probiotics alive until they reach deep into the intestines where they’re needed.
Each pill provides four strains of probiotics, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, and fiber.
Fiber helps feed the probiotics and increases the strength of the probiotic.
It’s also sugar-free and doesn’t require refrigeration.
Your child can take this berry-flavored chewable once or twice a day depending on the dose.
Each chewable provides 5 billion CFUs of Lactobacillus rhamnosus.
Unlike other brands, Culturelle guarantees you get the full amount of CFUs listed on the package.
It’s free from dairy, wheat, eggs, tree nuts, and peanuts.
Probonix is non-GMO and organic.
It comes in liquid form, so this brand may be a good option if your child doesn’t like the texture of a chewable.
The liquid form of probiotics is an exclusive formula that provides eight strains of probiotics.
It’s free from gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, eggs, fish/shellfish, and peanuts/tree nuts.
A physician, who is also an expert in the human microbiome, formulated this kid-friendly berry cherry chewable children’s probiotic.
Each chewable provides 5 billion CFUs of 14 strains of probiotics.
This probiotic also provides vitamins C & D and prebiotic fiber for a healthy immune system.
And, this brand is Certified USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified and has no added sugar.
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Final Thoughts on the Best Kids Probiotics
Your child’s gut health is unique and will change throughout his life.
The food he eats, his environment, and even medications can change the ratio of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the gut.
While probiotic foods are an excellent addition to a balanced diet, they may not live up to all the health claims.
I recommend discussing probiotic supplements with your child’s pediatrician first.
You may also want to read:
Probiotics for Constipation
Certain strains of probiotics work better for constipation.
In a 2022 study of mice, some probiotic strains and combinations of them were shown to increase stool transit time, bulk up stools, increase the frequency of bowel movements, and improve the regulation of gut hormones that encourage bowel movements.
Probiotic Strains for Constipation (Rat Studies)
- L. acidophilus
- L. rhamnosus
- L. reuteri
- L. plantarum
- Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis
In human studies, improvement of the gut microbiome, stool volume, and bowel movement frequency improved with use of the following probiotic strains, alone or in combination: Streptococcus salivarius subsp. thermophilus, Enterococcus faecium, L. rhamnosus GG, L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, Lacticaseibacillus paracasei, L. bulgaricus, and Bifidobacterium (breve and animalis subsp. lactis).
Probiotics and Diarrhea
Some of the earliest studies looking at the effectiveness of probiotics for diarrhea were done in infants with rotavirus, a condition that causes infectious diarrhea.
Probiotics were shown to shorten the duration of diarrhea by about a half to 2 days.
Some of the probiotic strains that are helpful for diarrhea are:
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Saccharomyces boulardii
This post was updated in October, 2023.