Gut health for an infant is vital for digestive function and overall growth and development.
A healthy microbiome for the infant starts before and during pregnancy. Researchers have shown that the mothers’ nutrition and lifestyle before and during pregnancy and breastfeeding influence the long-term effects on the child’s later health, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The same is true for the offspring during infancy and early childhood. Researchers from 36 institutions across the European Union, the United States, and Australia were unanimous in recommending that healthcare providers be trained to support and provide advice on preconception nutrition and optimize adolescent nutrition and health. Unfortunately, most pediatricians, obstetricians, and family doctors have poor training in clinical nutrition.
Children delivered with a vaginal birth are exposed to more beneficial flora (especially bifidobacteria) than those delivered by cesarean. Also, women who take probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding create a positive environment for the baby’s microbiome. Research has shown that women who supplement probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding can benefit the baby’s immune system and reduce their risk of allergies. Probiotic supplementation is crucial for infants who are bottle-fed as formulas cannot reproduce breast milk’s nutritional and beneficial flora levels.
Critical Period For Infant Microbiome Development
The first 1000 days are critical for developing the healthy microbiome of an infant, which is dominated by bifidobacteria. The other main friendly bacteria is lactobacillus. Several studies have demonstrated that certain probiotics given to infants can help with colic and digestive symptoms.
During infancy, the microbiome is developed and influences gut bacteria diversity for the future. One of the ramifications for an imbalanced infant microbiome is excessive crying and fussing, otherwise known as colic. Approximately 10 percent of infants experience colic.
Study Demonstrates Colic Relief
A recent high-quality study evaluated the effectiveness of a probiotic containing BB-12, a type of bifidobacterium, with 192 full-term infants less than 3 months of age. The infants received the probiotic or placebo for 3 weeks. Crying and fussing times were recorded with a 24 hours diary. The percentage of infants achieving a reduction in crying/fussing time equal to or greater than 50% after 3 weeks was significantly higher for the infants receiving the probiotic. In addition, sleep duration for the infants was also greatly increased for the infants receiving the probiotic compared to those receiving placebo. And as you might expect, the parents/caregiver physical, emotional and social functioning scores were significantly higher for the group receiving the probiotic.
Infant Probiotic Supplements Available
I recommend that well-studied probiotics be used to prevent and treat infant colic. In addition, addressing the food sensitivities of the breastfeeding mother and the infant should be a priority. For infants that are being fed formula, I highly recommend speaking to your pediatrician or integrative doctor about supplementing infant probiotics as well. Infant probiotics are available in health food stores and from integrative doctors.
Mark Stengler NMD and Angela Stengler NMD are naturopathic medical doctors in private practice in Encinitas, California. For more information on integrative medicine, see www.americasnaturaldoctor.com
Chen K, Zhang G, Xie H, et al. Efficacy of Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis, BB-12® on infant colic – a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study. Benef Microbes. 2021;12(6):531-540. doi:10.3920/BM2020.0233
Koletzko B, Godfrey KM, Poston L, et al. Nutrition During Pregnancy, Lactation and Early Childhood and its Implications for Maternal and Long-Term Child Health: The Early Nutrition Project Recommendations. Ann Nutr Metab. 2019;74(2):93-106. doi:10.1159/000496471