As the science of nutrition advances, there have been many changes to infant formulas aimed at improving them and bringing them closer to the standard set by breast milk for nutrition and immune support. One of the most recent additions to infant formulas are probiotics, which you have probably heard quite a bit of buzz about in the media. The addition of probiotics to formulas improves their ability to support your baby’s immune system, which is one of the areas in which formula is lacking compared the breast milk.
What are Probiotics?
When your baby is born, the digestive system is sterile. This means that there are no bacteria, either good or bad. After your baby passes through the birth canal, however, this changes rapidly. The presence of bacteria in the digestive system is completely normal; however, some bacteria are harmful while others actually help your body to digest food and fight off infections.
Probiotics are the good bacteria that are normally found in your digestive system. They aid in digestion and generally support your baby’s immune system. Because breast milk contains starches that promote the growth of good bacteria, breast fed babies will have an advantage in healthy digestion and general well being. Formula does not provide the same friendly environment for good bacteria to reproduce. Probiotics are bacteria that are added as a supplement to help colonize the digestive system with good bacteria, which will give formula more power to support your baby’s digestive health.
Probiotics in Formula
Although infant formulas containing probiotics have been available in other countries for many years, it is only recently that formulas containing probiotics have become available in the US. These formulas contain a type of probiotic organism that encourages digestive health in babies. Not all formulas contain these bacteria – the label should clearly say that the formula contains probiotics, otherwise it probably doesn’t.
The research on the use of this new type of formula shows good results. Babies fed a formula containing probiotics have a reduction in diarrhea caused by antibiotics and also acute gastroenteritis, which is caused by a stomach virus. Probiotic formula also improves colic and reduces the risk of allergies in the future. Because probiotics help your baby’s digestion, you will likely find that baby experiences less gas and constipation as well.
Should You Choose a Probiotic Formula?
When deciding on a formula for your baby, you should discuss the options with your baby’s doctor. Remember that while the new probiotic formulas are an improvement that brings formula a little closer to providing the same benefits to your baby as breast milk, it is still the official recommendation of the AAP that you breast feed your baby for optimal nutrition.
If you have already decided to use formula, choosing one with probiotics will give your baby a definite advantage. You want your baby to have the best nutrition possible, and if breastfeeding is not an option for you, choose the formula that offers the closest possible imitation of the benefits of breast milk. Your doctor can tell you a lot more about what probiotics can do for you and your family. With these amazing little bacteria currently the focus of a lot of new research, it’s likely that even more benefits to supplementing with probiotics will come to light.