Prebiotics For Babies – Types, Benefits and Food Sources

6 min read

Written by Aparna Hari

Aparna Hari

Prebiotics For Babies

Babies do suffer a lot from gas, constipation, diarrhea, and gastroesophageal refluxes. This is because their digestive system is young and under development. But prebiotics can improve not only the digestive capacity but also the overall immunity of your baby. Prebiotics for babies are non-digestive foods that indirectly enhance digestion by increasing good bacterial growth in the intestine.

But are prebiotics safe for small babies? What are the benefits of prebiotics for babies? What are the dietary sources of prebiotics? When and how can you introduce prebiotics to your baby? You will get all your answers here.

In This Article

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are fibre-rich foods that are hard to digest. Thus they remain for a longer time in the intestine and let good gut bacteria grow and break them. The increase in the population of healthy bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Faecalibacterium, etc. in turn vouch for better digestion and absorption of food later on.

A journal from Applied Microbiology International suggests that the fermentation of prebiotic food by gut bacteria produces SCFAs. Butyrate, lactate, and propionate are some SCFAs or short-chain fatty acids. These small SCFAs then circulate through the blood and benefit our overall immunity and digestive health. Thus, prebiotics are extremely beneficial not only for adults but also for babies.

Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics For Babies

Prebiotics vs probiotics

You may confuse prebiotics with probiotics because of their similarities in name and purpose. Though doctors suggest both of them for healthy gut health, there is a fine difference between them. Probiotics are basically food supplements with live good bacteria. We take them intentionally to increase the number of good bacteria in our intestines. These bacteria keep our gut healthy by speeding up the digestion process.

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are food ingredients non-digestive in nature. These food ingredients themselves do not digest but help in the digestion process by stimulating the growth of good bacteria. So, to be clearer, probiotics capsules contain good bacteria whereas prebiotics are favorable food for good bacteria.

The non-digestive prebiotic food remains in the intestine to let good gut bacteria develop and feed on it. Thus, probiotics directly increase the population of gut bacteria and prebiotics do the same job indirectly.

Are Prebiotics Safe For Babies?

Prebiotics are not only safe but excellent for the digestive health of babies. Studies have not found any side effects of natural prebiotics for babies. But you must know how to safely provide prebiotics to your baby. Supplements are the easiest way to get both prebiotics and probiotics but they are of course not recommended for babies. For babies below 6 months, breast milk is the one and only source of prebiotics. For this, the mother will have to eat prebiotic food so her breastmilk contains them. After 6 months you can gradually introduce fiber-rich prebiotic food to your baby’s diet.

Do Babies Need Prebiotics?

We can safely say that prebiotics are important even for babies because breast milk contains them. So, if you are breastfeeding your baby then there is no need for additional prebiotics. But if your baby takes formula milk then you can look for prebiotic infant formulas after consulting the paediatric.

A scientific research study shows that babies having infant formulas contain less good gut bacteria than babies having breast milk. Because of this, formula-feeding babies often suffer from gas and poor stool consistency. Infant formulas with prebiotics can effectively reduce these problems. You can start providing natural probiotic food to babies once they start taking solids.

What Are the Different Types of Prebiotics?

Prebiotics Types

There are different types of prebiotics available in different sorts of food.

Oligosaccharide is the most available type of prebiotic. There are different variations of oligosaccharide present in food such as;

1. Fructans

This sub-type of oligosaccharide has inulin and fructooligosaccharides. FOS can, directly and indirectly, promote the growth of various good gut bacteria.

2. Galacto-Oligosaccharides

GOS can stimulate the growth of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. According to the report of the National Institute of Health, deficiency of Bifidobacteria during infancy can cause diabetes, obesity, and metabolic disorder in the future.

3. Glucose and Starch-Driven Oligosaccharides

This type of oligosaccharide is available in starch and can stimulate the growth of butyrate. Polydextrose, another type of starch prebiotic, can stimulate bifidobacteria.

4. Pectic Oligosaccharides

This type of oligosaccharide comes from pectin, a polysaccharide.

5. Non-carbohydrate Oligosaccharides

Though carbohydrates are likely to fulfil the criteria of prebiotics, there are some non-carbohydrate compounds of oligosaccharides such as flavanols which also act as prebiotics.

Benefits of Prebiotics For Babies

Prebiotics Benefits

Prebiotics are not just food. They have more health benefits for us. Thus, babies too need to get the benefits of prebiotics. Here are a few ways in which probiotics benefit babies. 

  1. Strengthen the immune system
  2. Make bones stronger by increasing calcium absorption
  3. Prevent diarrhea
  4. Lessen the chances of constipation
  5. Softer and regular stool
  6. Make stomachs gas free
  7. Reduce colic
  8. Reduce inflammation and eczema
  9. Decrease allergic reactions
  10. Prevent serious diseases in preterm babies such as necrotizing enterocolitis
  11. Reduce the chances of colorectal cancer and cardiovascular diseases

[Read : Colic – And All About It]

Food Sources That Contain Prebiotics For Babies

 Prebiotics Food Sources

There are plenty of food containing prebiotics that you can offer to your baby. If your baby is below 6 months then your breastmilk or a prebiotic infant formula will be sufficient. But after 6 months you need to try different natural sources of prebiotics for your baby.

Here are some sources of prebiotics;

  • Fructans are available in vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, and root vegetables such as garlic, onions, chicory root, etc. Fruits such as watermelon, mulberries, blueberries, figs, bananas, pears, etc also contain this oligosaccharide.
  • GOS or galactooligosaccharides is available in food containing galactose such as breast milk or cow milk, and any milk products like yoghurt, buttermilk, and paneer.
  • Glucose and starch-driven oligosaccharide is easily available in food grains, fruits and vegetables. Grains like wheat, barley, cereals, rice, etc are good sources of starch. Glucose on the other side is available in plenty of fruits and vegetables such as jackfruit, palm fruit, young coconut, beans and soybeans.
  • Mangoes, sugar beets, and citrus fruits are rich sources of pectic oligosaccharides or POS.
  • Non-carbohydrate oligosaccharides are present in some flavanols that are available in cocoa, grapes, apples, tomatoes, and lettuce.

Prebiotics for babies are undoubtedly excellent for gut health. And the plus point is that they are available in abundance in nature. You can try different recipes with root vegetables containing prebiotics for your baby. Citrus fruits, tender coconut, watermelon, etc can be given both as finger food or as fruit juice. Buttermilk and yoghurt will not only provide prebiotics but also calcium to make your baby stronger. Thus, a balanced diet with probiotic food along with breastmilk will be great for your baby’s gut.

[Read : Health Benefits of Watermelon for Babies]


1. Is Gripe Water a Probiotic?

Gripe water is not a probiotic in itself but is being fortified. Moms use gripe water for years to soothe babies suffering from gassiness. It is a mixture of various herbs such as fennel, ginger and water. Sodium bicarbonate is mostly used in gripe water. Recently brands are including probiotics in gripe water to improve the overall immune and digestive health of babies.

2. Is Honey a Natural Prebiotic?

Studies point out that honey acts as a prebiotic by promoting the population of gut microbes such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. Honey contains some non-digestive carbohydrates that include oligosaccharides. Thus, honey a natural prebiotics. But you should not give your baby honey until they are a year old.

Read Also: 6 Month Baby Food – What to Give, What Not to Give and Sample Schedule

Aparna Hari,MBA in Marketing,P.G. Diploma in Human Resource Management from IGNOU Bachelor of Sciences (Home Science) from Nagarjuna University

Her experience in impactful writing combined with her background in Home Sciences makes Aparna the perfect candidate for content writing in the pregnancy and parenting niche.Read more.

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