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Newborn (0-12 months)

A Guide To Prebiotics And Probiotics For Babies

Written by: Biostime Nutrition

Did you know that for almost 9 months, all babies grow in a nearly sterile environment1? After birth, prebiotics and probiotics are introduced to their digestive system through breast milk and/or infant formula. These prebiotics and probiotics play a key role in your baby’s health. From aiding digestion and the absorption of nutrients to supporting immune system development, prebiotics and probiotics are essential for laying the foundation for your baby’s health and wellbeing. When babies are not breastfed, infant formulas enriched with prebiotics and probiotics may offer as an alternative.

Read on to learn more about the different types of probiotics and prebiotics and why they’re essential for your new baby’s health.

What is a prebiotic?

Prebiotics are a group of nutrients derived from plant-based fibres and sugars that feed the good bacteria in your gut2. While prebiotics can’t be absorbed directly by the human body, the good bacteria in your digestive tract digest these nutrients for you, resulting in a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate, which can then be absorbed by your body2.

What is a probiotic? 

Probiotics are the live microorganisms, including bacteria and yeasts, that live in your gastrointestinal tract3. Probiotics are known to provide a range of health benefits, from aiding healthy digestion to supporting immune health4.  

What is the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?

When it comes to prebiotics and probiotics, it’s important not to confuse the two terms. Probiotics are live microorganisms, while prebiotics are typically complex carbohydrates that these microorganisms use as fuel5.

While there are a number of different prebiotics, the three main types of prebiotics are:

  1. Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS),
  2. Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), and
  3. Trans-galacto-oligosaccharides (TGOS). 

FOS, GOS and TGOS all help to promote healthy gut microbiota6. They’re typically considered essential infant prebiotics, so they may be included in infant formula to help stimulate the development of important probiotics7

The different types of probiotics

Like prebiotics, there are a number of different probiotics. The most common probiotic bacteria are Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus8

Bifidobacterium is one of the first microorganisms to settle into the newborn gut. They also tend to be the most abundant form of probiotics in infants' gastrointestinal tracts. Lactobacillus aids in digestion and protects the body against pathogens9. It’s because of these actions that probiotics are thought to play a vital role in infantile development10

Babies are born with very few gut microbiota, so introducing a specific probiotic into an infant’s diet can help them establish a balanced, healthy gut microbiome. This helps strengthen their immune system, supports healthy growth and development and promotes healthy digestion. 

Should you include probiotics in formula or separately? 

Adding probiotics to infant formula is fairly common and can be a good way to help your baby obtain the probiotics they need to establish a healthy digestive system11. However, if your baby is breast-fed or bottle-fed, they should be able to get the probiotics they need without having to give them a separate probiotic supplement.

It’s always best to talk to your healthcare provider before giving your baby any supplements or additions to formula. 

Are probiotics and prebiotics good for babies? 

Prebiotics and probiotics are essential for helping to restore good intestinal flora in your baby’s gut, while also supporting their overall health and wellbeing. Here are some of the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics to consider.

Prebiotics and probiotics provide a number of important benefits to developing bubs, especially in those first few months.

  1. Supports immune health: Probiotics can help strengthen the immune system by promoting the growth of good bacteria in the gut and regulating immune responses.
  2. Aids in healthy digestion: Probiotics, including Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, can help establish and maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria in infants. This balance is essential for proper digestion, nutrient absorption and the development of a strong immune system.
  3. Supports growth and development: Healthy gut bacteria is essential for optimal nutrient absorption. This is especially important during infancy when rapid growth and development occurs.

Do breastfed babies need probiotics?

If your baby is exclusively breastfed, there’s no need to give them a probiotic supplement. Breast milk contains a high concentration of probiotics, along with other important nutrients that help to support your baby’s digestive system12. With that said, if your baby is also bottle-fed, choosing a formula containing prebiotics and probiotics will help ensure your baby is getting what they need to develop a healthy gut.

How do I know if my baby needs probiotics?

If your baby is experiencing digestive issues like gas, constipation, diarrhoea or vomiting, or they’ve recently completed a course of antibiotics, it may be beneficial to give them a probiotic to help replenish beneficial bacteria in their gut. However, it’s important to consult with your paediatrician or doctor before giving your baby a probiotic supplement or probiotic formula. 


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  3. National Institutes of Health. Probiotics [Internet]. 2017. Available from:
  4. Kechagia M, Basoulis D, Konstantopoulou S, Dimitriadi D, Gyftopoulou K, Skarmoutsou N, et al. Health Benefits of Probiotics: A Review. ISRN Nutrition [Internet]. 2013 Jan 2;2013(1):1–7. Available from:
  5. Gibson GR, Hutkins R, Sanders ME, Prescott SL, Reimer RA, Salminen SJ, et al. Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the definition and scope of prebiotics. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2017 Jun 14;14(8).
  6. Davani-Davari D, Negahdaripour M, Karimzadeh I, Seifan M, Mohkam M, Masoumi S, et al. Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications. Foods. 2019 Mar 9;8(3):92.
  7. Mei Z, Yuan J, Li D. Biological activity of galacto-oligosaccharides: A review. Frontiers in Microbiology. 2022 Sep 6;13.
  8. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Probiotics: What You Need To Know [Internet]. NCCIH. 2019. Available from:
  9. Dempsey E, Corr SC. Lactobacillus spp. for Gastrointestinal Health: Current and Future Perspectives. Frontiers in Immunology [Internet]. 2022 Apr 6;13:840245. Available from:
  10. ‌Stuivenberg GA, Burton JP, Bron PA, Reid G. Why Are Bifidobacteria Important for Infants? Microorganisms. 2022 Jan 25;10(2):278.
  11. ‌Indrio F, Gutierrez Castrellon P, Vandenplas Y, Cagri Dinleyici E, Francavilla R, Mantovani MP, et al. Health Effects of Infant Formula Supplemented with Probiotics or Synbiotics in Infants and Toddlers: Systematic Review with Network Meta-Analysis. Nutrients [Internet]. 2022 Dec 5;14(23):5175. Available from:
  12. Łubiech K, Twarużek M. Lactobacillus Bacteria in Breast Milk. Nutrients. 2020 Dec 10;12(12):3783.

Biostime Nutrition - Author

Newborn (0-12 months)