Probiotics for Kids: A Complete Evidence-Based Guide for Parents

Written by Angie Arriesgado
Reviewed by Lamia A Kader, MD
featured image for article on kids probiotics

In this article, we are going to discuss probiotics for kids – how they work and how to choose the best probiotic sources. We’re also going to talk about your child’s immune system and digestive health. Please consider your doctor’s advice before you decide to give your kids probiotics, or any dietary supplement, for that matter. Use our article as a guide, and talk to your pediatrician before you do any action.

The beginning stages of a child’s microbiome

The gut microbiome plays a huge role in your baby’s health. Babies are born with an existing microbiome, which starts developing in the womb and is further populated during birth, breastfeeding, infancy, childhood, and beyond (1).

What is the gut microbiome?

It’s a collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that live inside the body, particularly in the digestive tract. Since about 80% of our immune system resides in the gut, it’s important to keep the microbiome healthy (2). And by healthy, we mean ‘balanced.’

You see, both good and bad bacteria coexist in the microbiome. But when the bad bacteria gain the upper hand, it can cause a lot of health problems. This is called ‘dysbiosis.’ It’s therefore in your best interest to ensure your child’s intestinal flora is healthy to strengthen his or her natural defenses. 

The first 1,000 days of your baby’s life are crucial

During this time, your baby’s immune system is getting acquainted with new bacteria and viruses. Their immune system is hard at work, trying to generate antibodies to fight off various pathogens.

While moms pass on antibodies to their child in the womb and through breastmilk, this won’t protect the child for long. They will need to develop their own reliable immune system from a young age.

By giving your child probiotics and exposing them to different probiotic strains, you’re also giving them a head start on gut health. This leads to digestive advantages, robust immunity, and other health benefits (2).

Keeping your child’s microbiome healthy

In addition to immunity, the human microbiome plays a key role in nutrition, physiology, and metabolism. An imbalance in a child’s gut microbiome can increase their risk of allergies, infections, and other pediatric illnesses (3).

Additionally, it can cause gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) as well as obesity and type 2 diabetes (4). 

Happy child playing with toys

Factors that contribute to an unbalanced microbiome in kids

Probiotics are literally bacteria, but the good kind. These microbes restore balance to the gut microbiome by keeping bad bacteria populations under control. In turn, they offer a number of health benefits, which we will be discussing later on in this article.  

Here are some factors that contribute to an unbalanced microbiome: 

1) Cesarian delivery of birth

Babies born vaginally tend to have similar intestinal microbiomes with mom’s vaginal microbiota. This is because mom’s healthy bacteria are transferred to the baby during vaginal delivery (3).

On the other hand, babies born via C-section do not pass through the birth canal, which means they aren’t exposed to the natural method of transferring microbes from mom to baby (3). Moreover, babies born via C-section are more prone to dysbiosis since they don’t have as diverse a microbiota as those delivered vaginally (5).

2) Antibiotics

Antibiotics are effective at treating certain infections caused by bacteria (they don’t work against viruses though). However, the problem is that they don’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria. In the case of young kids, with their still-developing immune systems, antibiotics can cause problems. Specifically, it can increase the risk for inflammatory conditions later on (6).

3) Hygiene hypothesis

Good hygiene is important. However, being ‘too clean’ may actually create an imbalance in gut microbiota. Children, especially in developed countries, live in more sanitary environments and aren’t exposed to the right types of bacteria in their early years (7).

what's the best source of probiotics for kids

What’s the best source of probiotics for kids?   

There are two easy ways to get probiotics in your child – food and supplement. While both are good sources of beneficial bacteria, there are certain advantages and disadvantages for both.

Probiotic Food

Ideally, we should be getting our nutrients from natural, unprocessed foods. In this case, the best food sources of probiotics that kids would love would be fermented foods, such as:

Older kids may appreciate the taste of more exotic fermented foods like miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha.

Probiotic Supplements

The reality, however, is that most kids likely wouldn’t want to eat the same fermented food every single day, which is where probiotic supplements come in super handy. They come in all forms and sizes, but the best ones that kids are sure to love are gummy probiotics and chewable probiotics.

Probiotic supplements are very convenient to take. You can choose the strength (measured in CFU’s or colony-forming units) and there’s usually a variety of probiotic strains to choose from. Some brands even include prebiotics or fiber, like our 6 Billion CFU Kid’s Probiotics and Prebiotics. Supplements also last way longer than any fermented probiotic food!

Here’s a table summarizing the different pros and cons of these two probiotic sources:

Probiotic SourceProsCons
Food* delicious!
* more nutritious
* more filling
* with vitamins and minerals  
* unknown CFU per serving
* can go rancid pretty quickly
* picky eaters may not like the taste
Supplement* more CFU’s per capsule
* more probiotic strains
* added prebiotic fiber
* delayed-release capsules
* long shelf life
* affordable
* very convenient to take
* not as tasty

So, what’s the best source of probiotics for children?

Well, a mixture of food and supplement would be the best! Your child gets to eat nutritious probiotic-rich food. But on days he or she wants to eat something else, a probiotic supplement would be the next best thing.

are probiotics safe for infants

Are probiotics safe for infants?

Taking probiotics is generally considered safe for healthy infants. It can help prevent and treat diarrhea (both antibiotic-associated and not). Likewise, these beneficial bacteria can also help prevent colic and other gastrointestinal problems in infants (9).

Amongst low birth weight infants, probiotics were found to be beneficial in the prevention of severe necrotizing enterocolitis, late-onset sepsis, and even mortality (10)!

Babies delivered vaginally may have a more diverse microbiota courtesy of mom, but with probiotics, cesarean babies also get to enjoy a more robust immune response (11).

Another study found that probiotics were able to protect infants against eczema and rhinoconjunctivitis for at least 2 more years after they stopped taking probiotics, suggesting long-term protection against allergies and skin issues (12).

8 health benefits of giving probiotics to your kids 

Here’s what probiotic foods and supplements can do for your child:

1)   Digestive health benefits

Probiotics help promote overall gastrointestinal health and function. Imbalance in the gut microbiota has been linked to various health issues, such as irritable bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and atopy (4).

A clinical report published in Pediatrics shows that probiotics can help healthy children with acute viral gastroenteritis and antibiotic-associated diarrhea (13). Additionally, the strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG can help prevent nosocomial or hospital-acquired diarrhea (14).  

For constipated children, probiotics can also help increase stool frequency (15). The probiotic strain Bifidobacterium lactis (a strain present in our Kid’s Probiotics with Prebiotics supplement) was also found to have significantly reduced the frequency and duration of diarrhea, as well as the length of hospital stay (16).

2)   Respiratory health benefits

The health benefits of probiotics for kids go beyond their digestive system. A 2015 systematic review found that probiotics were able to reduce the number of new episodes of respiratory tract infections (RTI) in children up to 10 years old (17).

Another study confirms this finding, saying that probiotics, specifically Lactobacillus, helped reduce the duration of RTI’s in children attending daycare centers (18).

Moreover, probiotics were proven to be more effective than placebo at reducing the number of cold-related school absences as well as antibiotic use in children (19).

child being carried on back

3)   Skin health benefits

Skin conditions such as eczema and atopic dermatitis are common in young children. A double-blind study conducted on children aged 1 to 18 years old showed that probiotics (two different Lactobacillus strains) helped improved atopic dermatitis symptoms. The positive effects continued even after they stopped taking probiotics (20).

4)   Fights inflammation

Many common health problems are brought about by inflammation. This includes childhood obesity, colitis, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. A 2018 study reports that probiotics may help prevent metabolic syndrome and improve overall health (21).

5)   Weight management

According to research, a healthy gut microbiome may help with your child’s weight management throughout life. Probiotics may help promote weight and height gain in undernourished children (22). It’s therefore in your child’s best interest to eat as much probiotic-rich food or supplement with a high-quality probiotic for kids.

6)   Supports brain development

Our gut is linked to the brain and spine via the gut-brain axis, and gut bacteria play a key role in this axis. A healthy gut microbiome is important for a healthy brain. In fact, it’s often called the “second brain.” One study showed that a multi-strain probiotic administered to healthy volunteers had an influence on brain activity, especially emotional decision-making and emotional memory (23).

7)   Urinary tract health

Urinary tract infections are caused by bad bacteria. Good bacteria, aka probiotics, may help support vaginal and urinary tract health in female children by keeping good bacteria populations at optimal levels (24).

8)   Boosts overall immunity

As mentioned earlier, our gut and our immune system are closely linked due to the fact that the majority of our immune cells reside in the gut (2). By taking probiotics, your child is getting protection from various pathogens which, in turn, helps reduce the risk of various health problems, such as digestive issues, respiratory issues, and inflammation.  

There are many other health benefits associated with taking probiotics. Check out our ultimate guide to probiotic supplements here.

how to choose the best kids probiotics

How to choose the best kids probiotics?

Probiotic supplements can have a positive effect on your child’s health. But which probiotic supplement is right for your kid? How do you choose the right brand from all the products out there? Here are a few criteria for you to consider:

1) Patented probiotic strains

The best probiotics for kids use patented strains. These have been extensively researched and have a well-documented list of health benefits. A generic or unpatented strain may do more harm than good to your child’s health.

2) Supplement strength

Probiotic strength is measured in terms of CFU or colony-forming units. For kids, we recommend taking a supplement that have at least 5 Billion CFU in strength. Taking this strength every day will help restore balance to your child’s gut microbiome.

3) Prebiotics

Prebiotics are non-digestible fiber that probiotics eat when hungry. Supplements that combine both probiotics and prebiotics in one capsule help ensure the bacteria’s survival as they won’t go hungry and die off.

4) No need for refrigeration

Probiotic refrigeration is commonly required in products that use low-quality strains. While ALL probiotic products must be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct heat, high-quality strains DO NOT require refrigeration.  

It’s important to choose a probiotic brand that uses these heat-resistant strains. The product will most likely not be refrigerated during transport from warehouse to your home. If you choose a brand that uses generic, low-quality strains, they’d end up dead well before you give them to your child!  

5) Kid-friendly flavor

Older kids may not mind a neutral-flavored supplement, but younger kids are more likely to be choosy. It’s therefore important to choose a probiotic brand that your kids will actually love. Make sure you choose a brand that uses sugar-free natural flavors, not artificial ones. Moreover, choose chewable probiotics for kids to make the experience enjoyable for them!

6) Third-party lab tested

Reputable brands will hire third-party labs to test their products. It’s important to buy from such a brand so you know their product features are exactly as advertised. Feel free to ask for one if the manufacturer doesn’t display it on their website.

So, is there a kid’s probiotic brand that meets all of these criteria?

Absolutely! Meet our Intelligent Labs Kid’s Probiotics with Prebiotics:

–   We use well-researched strains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis  

Intelligent Labs Kids Probiotics and Prebiotics

–   Each tablet contains a guaranteed minimum of 6 billion CFU

–   We include 2 forms of prebiotics – Sunfiber® and FOS – to ensure the probiotics never go hungry

–   No refrigeration needed – in addition to heat-resistant probiotic strains, we also use Active Packaging technology to ensure probiotic survival!

–   We use a natural wildberry-licious flavor for our kids chewable probiotics. It’s sugar-free too so no need to worry about tooth decay

–   We have 3rd party, independent, lab testing reports publicly available, showing the strength and purity of our product

Who shouldn’t take probiotics?

Probiotics shouldn’t be given to infants and kids who are immunocompromised, seriously or chronically ill (4). Even with healthy individuals, always seek medical advice from a doctor before giving your kids any probiotics.

When is the best time to give probiotics to kids?

You can give probiotics at any time, however, we generally recommend taking them with a meal, such as breakfast. Food will lower the stomach’s acidity which is beneficial for the bacteria. Our probiotic strains are chosen for their heat, stomach acid, and bile-resistant properties, but every little bit helps.

Any side effects to watch out for?

During the first few days, expect a little gas, bloating, or even diarrhea. This is the body’s natural response to more bacteria being introduced in the gut and the microbiome is rebalancing itself. These are actually signs that the probiotics are working!  

References

(1) D’Argenio, Valeria. “The Prenatal Microbiome: A New Player for Human Health.” High-throughput vol. 7,4 38. 11 Dec. 2018, doi:10.3390/ht7040038

(2) Belkaid, Yasmine, and Timothy W Hand. “Role of the microbiota in immunity and inflammation.” Cell vol. 157,1 (2014): 121-41. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.03.011

(3) Arrieta, Marie-Claire et al. “The intestinal microbiome in early life: health and disease.” Frontiers in immunology vol. 5 427. 5 Sep. 2014, doi:10.3389/fimmu.2014.00427.

(4) Bull, Matthew J, and Nigel T Plummer. “Part 1: The Human Gut Microbiome in Health and Disease.” Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.) vol. 13,6 (2014): 17-22.

(5) Decreased gut microbiota diversity, delayed Bacteroidetes colonisation and reduced Th1 responses in infants delivered by Caesarean section. Gut 2014;63:559-566.

(6) Misra, Ravi S. “The Microbiome, Antibiotics, and Health of the Pediatric Population.” EC microbiology vol. 3,1 (2016): 388-390.

(7) Okada, H, C Kuhn, H Feillet, and J-F Bach. “The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ for autoimmune and allergic diseases: an update.” Clin Exp Immunol 160, no. 1 (2010): 1–9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2010.04139.x.

(8) Agostoni, Carlo, et al. “Probiotic Bacteria in Dietetic Products for Infants: A Commentary by the ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition.” Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, vol. 38, no. 4, 2004, pp. 365–74. Crossref, doi:10.1097/00005176-200404000-00001.

(9) Barnes, Danielle, and Ann Ming Yeh. “Bugs and Guts: Practical Applications of Probiotics for Gastrointestinal Disorders in Children.” Nutrition in clinical practice : official publication of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition vol. 30,6 (2015): 747-59. doi:10.1177/0884533615610081

(10) Dermyshi, Elda et al. “The “Golden Age” of Probiotics: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized and Observational Studies in Preterm Infants.” Neonatology vol. 112,1 (2017): 9-23. doi:10.1159/000454668

(11) Holscher, Hannah D et al. “Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12 enhances intestinal antibody response in formula-fed infants: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial.” JPEN. Journal of parenteral and enteral nutrition vol. 36,1 Suppl (2012): 106S-17S. doi:10.1177/0148607111430817

(12) Wickens, K et al. “A protective effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 against eczema in the first 2 years of life persists to age 4 years.” Clinical and experimental allergy : journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology vol. 42,7 (2012): 1071-9. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2222.2012.03975.x

(13) Thomas, D. W., and F. R. Greer. “Probiotics and Prebiotics in Pediatrics.” PEDIATRICS, vol. 126, no. 6, 2010, pp. 1217–31. Crossref, doi:10.1542/peds.2010-2548.

(14) Hojsak, Iva et al. “Probiotics for the Prevention of Nosocomial Diarrhea in Children.” Journal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition vol. 66,1 (2018): 3-9. doi:10.1097/MPG.0000000000001637

(15) Huang, Ruixue, and Jianan Hu. “Positive Effect of Probiotics on Constipation in Children: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Six Randomized Controlled Trials.” Frontiers in cellular and infection microbiology vol. 7 153. 28 Apr. 2017, doi:10.3389/fcimb.2017.00153

(16) Abou El-Soud, Neveen Helmy, et al. “Bifidobacterium Lactis in Treatment of Children with Acute Diarrhea. A Randomized Double Blind Controlled Trial.” Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, vol. 3, no. 3, 2015, pp. 403–07. Crossref, doi:10.3889/oamjms.2015.088.

(17) Araujo, Georgia Véras de et al. “Probiotics for the treatment of upper and lower respiratory-tract infections in children: systematic review based on randomized clinical trials.” Jornal de pediatria vol. 91,5 (2015): 413-27. doi:10.1016/j.jped.2015.03.002

(18) Laursen, Rikke Pilmann, and Iva Hojsak. “Probiotics for respiratory tract infections in children attending day care centers-a systematic review.” European journal of pediatrics vol. 177,7 (2018): 979-994. doi:10.1007/s00431-018-3167-1

(19) Hao, Qiukui et al. “Probiotics for preventing acute upper respiratory tract infections.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews ,2 CD006895. 3 Feb. 2015, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD006895.pub3

(20) Wang, I-J, and J-Y Wang. “Children with atopic dermatitis show clinical improvement after Lactobacillus exposure.” Clinical and experimental allergy : journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology vol. 45,4 (2015): 779-87. doi:10.1111/cea.12489

(21) Torres, Sebastian et al. “Adipose tissue inflammation and metabolic syndrome. The proactive role of probiotics.” European journal of nutrition vol. 58,1 (2019): 27-43. doi:10.1007/s00394-018-1790-2

(22) Onubi, Ojochenemi J., et al. “Effects of Probiotics on Child Growth: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition, vol. 34, no. 1, 2015. Crossref, doi:10.1186/s41043-015-0010-4.

(23) Bagga, Deepika et al. “Probiotics drive gut microbiome triggering emotional brain signatures.” Gut microbes vol. 9,6 (2018): 486-496. doi:10.1080/19490976.2018.1460015

(24) Schwenger, Erin M et al. “Probiotics for preventing urinary tract infections in adults and children.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews ,12 CD008772. 23 Dec. 2015, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008772.pub2