Written by Aparna Hari
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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;
This sub-type of oligosaccharide has inulin and fructooligosaccharides. FOS can, directly and indirectly, promote the growth of various good gut bacteria.
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.
This type of oligosaccharide is available in starch and can stimulate the growth of butyrate. Polydextrose, another type of starch prebiotic, can stimulate bifidobacteria.
This type of oligosaccharide comes from pectin, a polysaccharide.
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.
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.
[Read : Colic – And All About It]
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lemon For Babies – When to Introduce, Benefits and Ways to Feed
Shape Sorting Toys For Babies – How it Helps in Baby’s Development
Puppet Play For Babies – How it Helps in Baby’s Development
Top 6 Best Bath Books For Babies in First Year
Mongolian Blue Spots in Babies – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
Postpartum Insomnia – Causes, Symptoms and Ways to Prevent