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Two Key Ways Probiotics Can Help Babies


By Dr. Jeff Habert, family physician

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

The probiotic trend has the health world a-buzz. But there is still confusion as to what they are – and what benefits they have for babies?

What are probiotics?

Put simply, probiotics are good bacteria (live, non-harmful microorganisms) that are naturally found in some foods (like yogurt, kefir and tempeh) and in breast milk, as well as in some baby formulas and natural health products. Some probiotics have been shown to provide certain health benefits, including the treatment of diarrhea (Lactobacillus rhamnosus) and improvement of lactose metabolism (S. thermophilus), when taken in adequate amounts.[i]

One of the better-known probiotics known as B. lactis, or Bifidobacterium lactis, is a common type of Bifidobacteria. Bifidobacteria are one type of good bacteria[ii] that accounts for up to 90% of the total naturally occurring bacteria found in the gut of healthy, breastfed babies.[iii],[iv] The gut flora is a delicately balanced community of over 500 different kinds of bacteria.[v] They live in our digestive tract and contribute to the health of our immune system.

Breast milk naturally contains antibodies and probiotics,[vi] and experts agree that exclusive breastfeeding is the best way to ensure your baby is receiving the optimal nutrition and immune benefits they need.[vii] For those mothers who are unable or choose not to breastfeed, you can still help your baby reap the benefits of probiotics. Choose a formula like Nestlé® Good Start® Probiotic Baby Formula that contains B. lactis, which helps support the development of a strong, healthy gut lining[viii] (the surface of the digestive tract which absorbs nutrients, water, and electrolytes from food, and acts as a protective barrier).

But why are probiotics so important for babies?

Well, among the health benefits that probiotics provide is their contribution to the development of a stronger immune system and a healthy digestive tract.[ix] Our digestive tracts and immune systems work together very closely, meaning baby’s nutrition – including probiotics – play a crucial role in baby’s overall health.

Building baby’s natural defenses

Many first-time parents may be surprised to learn that babies are not born with a fully developed immune system. When baby makes contact with microorganisms (bacteria) during and after birth, their natural defenses begin to form.[x],[xi],[xii]

B. lactis has been shown to support the development of baby’s immune system by increasing antibodies.[xiii] As well, good bacteria like Bifidobacteria can compete with unwelcome harmful bacteria in the gut and help keep them from causing illness in the baby.[xiv] Your baby can obtain other benefits from probiotics in their digestive tract that also help support their overall immunity.

Healthy gut, healthy baby                 

Healthy gut flora is part of an overall healthy gut. Probiotics like B. lactis can contribute to developing healthy, balanced gut flora, which can help to balance potentially harmful bacteria in the gut.[xv],[xvi],[xvii],[xviii]

Bifidobacteria can also help maintain a healthy gut lining in baby. Increasing the levels of Bifidobacteria in a baby’s digestive tract has been shown to help them develop a healthy, natural protective barrier.[xix]

But remember – you should always talk to your doctor about breastfeeding and safe and effective sources of probiotics for your baby.

This article has been sponsored by Nestlé Baby, but all comments and opinions are my own.

All trademarks are owned by Société des Produits Nestlé S.A., Vevey, Switzerland and used under licence.  ©2018

Dr. Jeff Habert, MD, CCFP, FCFP

Dr. Jeff Habert is a Toronto-based family physician with over 28 years of experience. He completed his medical education at the University of Toronto. Dr. Habert is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto and a Peer Assessor for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.


[i] Kechagia M, Basoulis D, Konstantopoulou S, et al. Health Benefits of Probiotics: A Review. ISRN Nutrition. 2013;2013:481651. Retrieved from: Accessed on April 19, 2018.

[ii] Saavedra JM. Nutr Clin Pract 2007;22:351–65.

[iii] Saavedra JM. Nutr Clin Pract 2007;22:351–65.

[iv] Yoshioka H, et al. Pediatrics 1983;72:317–21.

[v] Brandtzaeg P, et al. Gastroenterol 1989;97:1562–84.

[vi] Niers L, et al. Nutr Rev 2007;65:347–60.

[vii] Joint Statement of Health Canada, Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and Breastfeeding Committee for Canada. Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations from Birth to Six Months. 2012. Available at: Accessed on April 19, 2018.

[viii] Stratiki Z, et al. Early Hum Dev 2007;83:575–579.

[ix] Marchand V, Canadian Paediatric Society, Nutrition and Gastroenterology Committee. Using probiotics in the paediatric population. Paediatrics & Child Health 2012;17(10):575; reaffirmed February 26, 2015.

[x] Gueimonde M, et al. Neonatology 2007;92:64–66.

[xi] Cabrera-Rubio R, et al. AJCN 2012;96:544–551.

[xii] Khodayar-Pardo P, et al. Journal of Perinatology 2014;27 Mar: 1–7.

[xiii] Mohan R, et al. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2006;45:E36–7. (abstr)

[xiv] Marchand V, Canadian Paediatric Society, Nutrition and Gastroenterology Committee. Using probiotics in the paediatric population. Paediatrics & Child Health 2012;17(10):575; reaffirmed February 26, 2015.

[xv] Mohan R, et al. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2006;45:E36–7. (abstr)

[xvi] Mohan R, et al. J Clin Microbiol 2006; 44:4025–31.

[xvii] Fukushima Y, et al. Bioscience Microflora 1997;16:65–72.

[xviii] Kirjavainen P, et al. Gut 2002;51:51–5.

[xix] Stratiki Z, et al. Early Hum Dev 2007;83:575–579.



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