When my son was born I was told by both my then pediatrician and mom friends to give him probiotics (in the form of supplement drops) since he would surely have digestive problems and they would help. I didn’t think there would be any harm, but I wasn’t convinced that they were necessary.
For one, probiotics – which are supplements of “good gut bacteria” to help regulate the digestive systems – are expensive. Plus, parents are busy we really don’t need extra “chores” on our list because they might be useful. To me, remembering to give my son probiotics was just one more chore I didn’t really want, especially since my 15-year career as a writer in which I’ve interviewed countless experts has taught me that most probiotics are filled with “dead bacteria” and are basically useless.
What does the research say on probiotics for kids?
First off, let’s underline that it’s always best to speak with your doctor before giving a child any kind of supplement – especially if you are turning to probiotics because you’re dealing with colic/digestion and/or gas issues or have a child with a health issue, like a compromised immune system. That said, there are no recognized downsides to probiotics for most babies, kids or adults.
Emily Oster dove into the research for her book Cribsheet and found that excessive crying a.k.a. colic – which many people think is due to digestive issues – is self-limiting, meaning it will stop eventually no matter what you do, or don’t do.
“A few of these additives, particularly probiotics, actually seem to benefit a lot of kids, including kids who are breastfed,” says Oster. “Some kids’ digestion is improved by probiotics no matter what they’re eating. So that’s sort of a long-winded way to say that I think it is unlikely we will learn that some formula additives are super important for anything.”
There are no dangers to giving probiotics to kids, but the research is still out as to how useful the actually are. In fact, many experts believe that because the microbiome (gut bacteria) of kids isn’t fully developed, probiotics may simply be passed as normal waste.
So, consider trying probiotics with your children if you’re dealing with digestion issues, but don’t count on a miracle. It’s also worth noting that many of the studies that find benefits, find so after a few months of use – children, especially babies, are changing so rapidly, those changes may well have happened with or without probiotics.