Monday Medical: Probiotics and your child |

Monday Medical: Probiotics and your child

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Want to help your child get over the dreaded stomach bug faster? Or ease your baby’s colic?

Supplements of probiotics, or the goo” bacteria that are found naturally in our bodies, might help.

“We are not alone: our bodies are covered and filled with billions of microorganisms,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, a family medicine physician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “And we’ve come to understand that some of them are probably beneficial to us, either by their direct effects on our physiology or on their ability to block the overgrowth of bad organisms.”

Below, Harrington outlines how probiotics have been shown to help children with gastrointestinal issues and how to choose a supplement.


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Researchers aren’t sure what causes colic, or frequent and intense periods of crying in infants, though it’s thought that abdominal cramps or gas play a role.

But there’s good news, as recent studies have shown that the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) strain of probiotics has been twice as effective as a placebo in calming colicky babies that are breast-fed.

“There aren’t hard and fast national recommendations,” Harrington said. “But, there’s some evidence these probiotics can reduce symptoms of colic.”

Important to note is these benefits were not seen in formula-fed babies.


About 1.5 million infants and children in the U.S. will be seen at a doctor’s office for diarrhea every year. Of those, 200,000 will be hospitalized and about 300 will die.

Diarrhea is defined as having twice the usual number of bowel movements during a day. The frequent, loose and watery bowel movements can result in dehydration. Rotavirus and norovirus are both common causes of diarrhea.

The rotavirus vaccine can help prevent diarrheal illness in infants and young children caused by rotavirus.

And, probiotics might help in treatment. While it’s unclear whether probiotics may help prevent diarrhea, they can lessen its effects.

“Some of these randomized, controlled trials have shown that the LGG and Saccharomyces boulardii strains are somewhat effective in limiting the duration and severity of diarrheal symptoms,” Harrington said, “especially when the probiotics are started earlier in the course of the illness.”

With antibiotics

There is good data, especially for adults, that taking probiotics while on an antibiotic might reduce the risk of getting antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

“Antibiotics are taken to wipe out a bad bug, but they’re non-discriminate — so they can wipe out the good bugs, too,” Harrington said.

Talk with your doctor about the best probiotics to take based on the antibiotics you’ve been prescribed. And take the probiotics and antibiotics at different times.

“Some of the probiotics can be killed by the antibiotics, so you shouldn’t take them at same time,” he said.

Choosing a probiotic

Not all probiotic supplements are the same. Various strains of bacteria are used, and each strain may have a different impact on the body.

If you want to use a probiotic supplement for your child, Harrington recommends the LGG and Saccharomyces boulardii strains, which are most extensively studied.

A healthy diet filled with vegetables, fruits and beans is also important as it provides prebiotics, or non-digestible food bits that enter the digestive tract and support a healthy microbiome.

“If we’re eating healthfully, we’re promoting the good bacteria’s health,” Harrington said.


While regular use of probiotics might be helpful, studies do not yet show those benefits.

“There are a few cons: we don’t have a lot of great evidence of their benefits, the supplements are over the counter, so aren’t well regulated, and they aren’t cheap,” Harrington said. “So, I support limited periods of use for certain indications.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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