- Probiotics are safe and beneficial for almost all infants and children.
- For critically ill infants and children, you need to consult with your doctor about whether supplementing probiotics is a good idea.
- There is no special kids probiotic. The main differences between “kids” and “adult” probiotics come down to packaging, flavoring, and dosages.
- Probiotics can support kids’ gut health, dental health, immune health, allergies, and more.
If you’re considering whether you should give probiotics to your child, we have good news: Research has shown that probiotics are safe and beneficial for children of all ages, including preterm babies.
Ultimately, kids probiotics aren’t really different from probiotics for adults, though they may have variations in packaging, added flavor, and dosage. For example, kids probiotics may be chewable tablets as opposed to capsules. But the probiotic species, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacteria, and Saccharomyces boulardii, are the same in probiotics marketed to both kids and adults. Of course, there are still many different combinations and brands of probiotics to choose from.
In this article, we’ll review the types of probiotics kids should take, safety questions, and the benefits of probiotics for kids, including immune, gut, and dental health.
Probiotics Are Safe for Kids
As a parent, the first question you ask before giving your child anything is, “Is it safe?” For probiotics, the answer is yes.
Probiotics have been proven safe for both infants and children, and they are unlikely to cause significant side effects. Even the most vulnerable of babies, preterm neonates, have been shown to benefit from probiotic supplementation.
A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis involving more than 12,000 preterm infants found that a combination of Lacto/Bifido blend probiotics plus prebiotics were associated with lower rates of mortality, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC, a life-threatening intestinal infection), and NEC-related mortality .
The only case where probiotics may pose a slightly higher risk of side effects is with critically ill infants and children [2, 3]. In these cases, ask your pediatrician whether probiotics are right for your child. Otherwise, high-quality studies have shown that probiotics are safe and effective in pediatric populations, from age zero to 18 [4, 5].
Probiotics are also safe for pregnant women, and pregnant women who take probiotics have been shown to have :
- Lower infant mortality
- Lower rates of necrotizing enterocolitis
- Longer pregnancies, so more time for babies to develop properly.
What Kinds of Probiotic Supplements Should Kids Take?
Products advertised as “kids probiotics” have the same species and bacteria strains as adult probiotics. Kids probiotics may come in the form of chewable tablets or gummies to entice kids to take them, but there is no special “kids” probiotic strain.
Most studies on probiotics in infants and children have been done on type 1 and 2 probiotics (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium blends and Saccharomyces boulardii, a beneficial yeast).
Here are the three types of probiotics:
- Lacto/Bifido blend probiotics
- Saccharomyces boulardii
- Soil-based probiotics
In general, the differences between probiotics for kids and adults come down to packaging, flavoring, and dose. So it’s usually fine to give kids one (or half of one) of your daily probiotics if that works for your child.
There is no set dose of probiotics for kids to take, but a recent literature review concluded that 10 billion CFUs per day seems to be a good starting dose for most kids .
Why Should Kids Take Probiotics?
Broadly speaking, starting kids or even infants on probiotics early on may give their bodies an advantage as they continue to grow and develop .
In today’s world, kids are more susceptible than ever to environmental stressors. This can especially affect their developing brains, nervous systems and digestive systems. This might sound overwhelming at first, but we have many tools available to help support our children’s health. Probiotics can be one of them.
Many things may predispose a child to have insufficient good bacteria in their microbiome, from birth method to nutritional imbalances and even reduced contact with the outside environment.
Children developing food allergies is also a concern for many parents, and probiotics may be able to prevent or lessen food allergies in children. A 2019 literature review explained that there are data, albeit mixed, suggesting that probiotic supplements given to children may prevent or reduce allergy formation .
Benefits of Probiotics for Kids
The benefits of probiotics for kids are the same as many of those for adults, including digestive and immune support. However, probiotics do not appear to be as beneficial for constipation in kids as they do with adults [10, 11, 12]. Other areas where probiotics provide benefits for kids include:
- Gut infections
- Autoimmune disease
- Upper respiratory and ear infections
- Dental health
- Skin health
- Lactose tolerance
Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the most significant studies on probiotics for kids.
Immune System and Allergies
Probiotics can help support a healthy immune system and potentially reduce allergies in kids.
A 2021 study including 250 children with allergic rhinitis and treated conventionally with steroids/antihistamines found that, after three months, the probiotic group (who took a combo of Bifidobacterium animalis lactis and Enterococcus faecium, a soil-based microbe) had a significant reduction in symptoms and less need for conventional medication compared to the placebo group .
An observational study of 7,473 children at risk for type 1 diabetes found that early probiotic supplementation reduced the risk of autoimmunity in children when compared to children who had not taken probiotics or had been given probiotics more than 27 days after birth .
A 2021 randomized clinical trial involving 161 children who had been hospitalized for chronic diarrhea found that both types of probiotics studied — a multi-strain Bifidobacterium/Lactobacillus blend or S. boulardii — led to improvements in diarrhea recovery in children .
Another randomized clinical trial included 120 children aged six months to five years old in India. It found that, compared to placebo, five days of taking a soil-based probiotic reduced the duration and frequency of diarrhea and improved stool consistency in kids with acute diarrhea .
Overall, the benefits of probiotics for the digestive tract are similar in kids and adults. Probiotics can help rebalance the microbiome, fight pathogens like yeast and harmful gut bacteria, and boost production of important metabolites made in the gut, like neurotransmitters and short-chain fatty acids.
A 2021 randomized controlled trial included 150 children with atopic dermatitis and cow’s milk allergies. The children followed a diet eliminating all cow’s milk protein and were given either probiotics or placebo. After three months, both groups had significantly improved atopic dermatitis symptoms, but more children in the probiotic group than the placebo group had symptom improvements .
In a direct study on probiotics and tooth decay, a probiotic milk containing was given to children for a period of six months. The study showed that children consuming the probiotic bacteria had significantly fewer cavities and lower counts of bad mouth bacteria than controls. The results were particularly effective for children between three and four years of age .
Another study including 30 children found that probiotic milk was found as effective as fluoride mouthwash in reducing dental plaque .
Why Don’t Kids Probiotics Help With Constipation?
More research is needed to fully answer this question, but one reason that probiotics don’t appear to be as effective for constipation in children is that constipation is often associated with SIBO in adults. Kids may have constipation for different reasons, like diet changes, anxiety, or holding stools while playing .
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth becomes more prevalent with age, so perhaps more adults have constipation resulting from SIBO. These cases may be more responsive to treatment with probiotics than cases of constipation without SIBO, which occurs more in children .
If your child has functional constipation, speak with your pediatrician about the potential causes and whether probiotics might be a worthwhile treatment option.
How to Choose the Best Probiotic for Your Child
Looking for the right probiotic for your child doesn’t have to be an arduous task. You’re looking for the same guarantees of quality that you would look for in any other dietary supplement or a probiotic for yourself.
- A variety of species: Find a multi-strain probiotic. Research tells us that, in general, probiotics with multiple strains confer greater health benefits than single strain formulas.
- A CFU count in the billions: There is no set dose, but the colony-forming units should be in the billions. For children, 10 billion CFUs was recommended in one literature review .
- No added fillers: Leave out the preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and dyes. If you do choose a flavored probiotic chewable or probiotic gummies, try to find one that has real fruit juice, like berry flavor from real berries.
Similar to multivitamins or other supplements, you can also find certifications for gluten-free and dairy-free products, if that is a concern.
Many probiotic brands also offer prebiotics, which provide fuel for the probiotics to flourish once they have been consumed.
Bottom Line: Almost All Little Ones Can Take Probiotics Safely
Along with encouraging healthy choices in your child’s diet, making sure they get enough sleep, and minimizing environmental stressors, taking probiotics can be a foundational part of your child’s wellness. Probiotics have been shown to be both safe and effective for nearly all children ages 0-18, even babies. There are also many texture and flavor options for kids probiotics that can make taking them fun for children to regularly take.
If you have further questions or concerns about giving your child probiotics, speak with your pediatrician or reach out to us at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine to speak with one of our healthcare professionals.