Babies need friendly bugs – John Scott explains why

A baby starts life with a sterile gut but, during birth, it becomes inoculated with bacteria from the birth canal. These bacteria are then encouraged to flourish throughout the gut by colostrum, the mother’s first milk.

Unfortunately, modern medicine effectively deprives many babies of a significant part of their bacterial birthright by carrying out caesarian births, a loss which may then be compounded by subsequent bottle feeding and have health implications such as an increased risk of allergies and asthma.

Eighty per cent of the immune system is gut-associated, and maternally-derived probiotics are essential for healthy immune programming. There is also no easy way to belatedly reclaim the benefits lost as a result of Western birthing practices, because no other bacterial source can quite match the donation of a complete microflora from one’s mother.

Only bacteria that have been pre-programmed within one body are fully accepted into the intestines of another, and able to survive there long-term. Probiotics that have been artificially cultured tend not to successfully colonise the gut, and must be taken on a regular basis, often indefinitely.

Nevertheless, there is clear evidence that at least some probiotics can and do offer significant benefits to babies, as is evident from the following recent research.

Probiotics help preemies gain weight

In a recent study extremely premature infants whose food was supplemented with Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium infantis had better weight gain than infants who were not given the supplements.

Based on their findings, the researchers hypothesize that infants who receive probiotic-supplemented feedings should be able to tolerate a larger volume of food each day, gain weight faster and require fewer days of antimicrobial treatment.

Probiotics reduce crying time in infants with colic

After only one week of supplementation with the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri Protectis, the daily crying time of infants with colic was reduced 74%, compared with only 38% in the placebo group.

At the end of the study, 84% of the supplemented infants had resolved their colic (dropped to less than three hours of crying), a significantly greater number than the 43% of the placebo group who experienced a similar improvement.

Probiotics may prevent allergy in infants

When a probiotic E. coli strain was administered to infants of allergic mothers within 48 hours of birth, and then 3 times each week for 4 weeks, allergy symptoms developed in only 2 of the treated babies, compared with 14 in the untreated group.

The probiotic employed in this study may therefore be an effective means of allergy prevention in infants of allergic mothers.

Infancy is not the only stage of development in which beneficial bacteria have a valuable role to play in promoting child health. Giving microbes to pregnant women may benefit their offspring, and probiotics continue to be of value to children as they grow past infancy.

Probiotic drink reduces infections in children in daycare

Studies in other countries have already established that probiotics can produce positive health benefits in children, including a reduction in the number of school days missed due to infections.

In a recent US study which was funded by The Dannon Company, Inc., makers of the functional food tested in the trial, a 19% decrease of common infections was found among the children who took the drink.

Consumption of the strawberry yogurt-like drink DanActive (containing the probiotic strain L. casei DN-114 001) produced a 24% reduction in gastrointestinal infections, resulting in less diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, and 18% fewer upper respiratory tract infections (such as ear infections, sinusitis and strep), although, in this trial, the reduction in infections did not result in fewer missed school days or activities.


First published in August 2010


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