Best probiotics for colic and reflux in babies

Claire Foss Nutritional Therapist DiplON, mBANT, mCNHC

As any exhausted parent knows, having a colicky baby is both distressing and worrying. If your baby suffers with colic, you’ll be familiar with inconsolable crying, gas, fussiness and screams of pain. A growing area of interest is the role of the gut microbiome, and many parents and carers are considering the use of probiotics for colic. You can read more about probiotics in Dr Kate's article Baby Probiotics.

In this article we will discuss:

  • How probiotics help with colic?
  • Which are the best strains of probiotic to use?
  • Whether probiotics can make colic worse?
  • How to choose the best probiotic for colic?

The exact reason why some babies develop colic and reflux remains relatively unknown, however, growing evidence suggests that gut bacteria could play a role. Babies with colic may have lower levels of beneficial bacteria and higher levels of inflammation and these combined can cause digestive issues, including colic and reflux1.

Having lots of the right bacteria in your baby’s gut is very important on many levels. The prenatal environment, delivery method and genetics can all shape the baby’s gut, it is also suggested that probiotics play a key factor in physical, cognitive, social and emotional development2.

Research for baby probiotics suggests that certain strains of beneficial bacteria particularly Bifidobacterium, have been shown to reduce the symptoms often associated with colic3.

Please be reassured that as a parent you have done nothing wrong and you have not caused the colic; it is a very common complaint in infants.

How can probiotics help with colic and reflux?

The diversity of your baby’s gut health (child microbiome) is instrumental in having a happy and healthy baby.  Probiotics, also known as live cultures, are microorganisms which are beneficial to health and help support digestive issues which can cause crying and fussing4. If you would like to find out exactly how they can benefit your baby’s health please see How do probiotics work?.

Not all probiotics are the same. There are specifically designed probiotics for babies with evidence suggesting they can help relieve symptoms of colic and reflux by5,10:

  • Supporting the diversity of your baby's gut (the more diverse the less colicky)
  • Reducing susceptibility to pathogens (harmful microbes), such as E. coli and Klebsiella spp.
  • Having an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut, which may decrease symptoms associated with colic and reflux

When you give your baby the correct strain of probiotic, you are helping to create a diverse and healthy microbiome which will help to develop the digestive and immune system.

baby with colic
Bifidobacterium breve M-16V® was shown to discourage the growth of pathogens associated with colic.

Which are the best probiotic strains for colic and reflux?

We recommend finding probiotics which contain strains that have been researched in infants and babies, specifically for symptoms associated with colic and reflux.

Some of the best probiotics for babies include:

  • Bifidobacterium breve M-16V® was shown to discourage the growth of pathogens (bugs) associated with colic, help colonisation of the infant's gut with healthy bacteria, whilst reducing gastrointestinal symptoms such as colic and reflux6.  
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG® was shown to reduce crying associated with colic and reflux symptoms whilst also helping with gastrointestinal infections7

Health professionals seeking more information on clinical research and further resources regarding probiotics and strain specificity, please head over to the individual strain entries on the Probiotics Database.

Do probiotics make colic worse?

Probiotics do not have any expected side effects, however, it is important to choose the right probiotics for use in babies, to help relieve the symptoms of colic and reflux.

Some research suggests Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938showed mixed results when looking at an improvement of symptoms relating to colic. Although this strain did not help relieve the duration of crying and fussiness which are common symptoms associated with a colicky baby, it is beneficial for managing diarrhoeal disease in children9. Highlighting again the importance of looking for specific strains which have demonstrated a positive outcome for babies suffering from colic and reflux symptoms.

The microbiome of adults and babies are significantly different. When babies are born one of the first natural bacterial colonisers is Bifidobacterium, however, evidence and research suggest that babies suffering from colic and reflux often have lower levels of this bacteria in their gut.

The infant gut, like adults, is influenced greatly by their diet, environment and medication such as antibiotics.  It is these factors (and others) that can influence a baby's susceptibility in developing gut issues.

How to pick the best probiotics for babies with colic and reflux 

When you are feeling tired and overwhelmed it can be difficult to make informed health decisions. Any parent looking to find a natural solution to their baby’s discomfort wants to know that it’s safe for their baby and based on sound clinical research.

When choosing a supplement for your baby's colic, I suggest following these two simple steps:

  1. Pick strains that have been featured in gold-standard clinical trials and demonstrated to be safe and effective for use in babies and children. 
  2. Choose liquid probiotic drops they are much easier to administer to an unsettled baby (and easier for a stressed-out mum or dad). They are safe for short- or long-term use, suitable for formula-fed or breastfed babies and can also be used alongside medicines for colic.

Finally, remember that when you pick the right strain, not only can it help to relieve digestive symptoms associated with colic and reflux, but it also sets the foundation for a strong, happy, and healthy baby. 

If you would like to find out ways to support your child's health, you can learn more in the following articles:

Children's Immunity: Our Top Tips


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