Antibiotics, probiotics and your baby's gut health

It’s almost inevitable that when children commence day care, kindergarten, or school they’re going to end up being sick for a period of time, which ultimately leads to a trip to the doctor and a prescription for antibiotics. Being a community pharmacist I spend my days preparing and dispensing antibiotic suspensions for children of all ages. I’ve witnessed at first hand the problems associated with prolonged antibiotic use such as poor gut health, digestion issues, reflux and fatigue.

The purpose of this post is not to argue or deny the role that antibiotics play in treating childhood infections. It’s my opinion that antibiotics, at an appropriate dose and length of course, are necessary in some cases. However I also believe that we need to not only look at fighting the bad bacteria in our systems, but also promoting the good.

Our gut microbiome consists of a balanced collection of “good” and “bad” microorganisms in our intestinal tract and is necessary to help digest our food, produce essential nutrients and also plays an integral role in immunity, fighting disease, brain and heart health as well as general well being. The use of antibiotics can inadvertently disrupt this balanced microbiome by not only killing the “bad” bacteria but also the “good” bacteria, which in turn can lead to an overgrowth of the “bad” bacteria within the gut.

Over the last 15 years working in community pharmacy I’ve seen the benefits and amazing results achieved with using a suitable, age appropriate broad spectrum probiotic in children to help improve their gut health and general wellbeing. Of course nothing can replace a healthy diet full off vitamins and minerals, plenty of exercise and a good nights sleep, but hey I’m a parent too, so I fully understand the difficulty in ensuring this happens each and every day.

The use of a quality broad spectrum probiotic can help to maintain the balance in the gut microbiome residing in their little tummies and with a healthy gut they have the best chance possible in fighting off infections. I always recommend giving a probiotic when a child has been prescribed a course of antibiotics, not only for the benefits mentioned above but as it has also been shown to reduce the severity of common side effects of antibiotics such as thrush, bloating and diarrhoea.

One of the most common questions I get asked is “should I give my child a probiotic while they’re taking the antibiotics, won’t the antibiotics just kill the probiotic?” The answer is yes, you should give the probiotic throughout the whole course of the antibiotics. However you should separate the probiotic and antibiotic dose by a few hours to reduce the effects the antibiotic may have on the probiotic. You should also continue the probiotics for at least 2 weeks after finishing the course of antibiotics to allow the gut microbiome to recover and ideally continue to give the probiotic daily thereafter.

I also recommend giving your child a probiotic when travelling, especially overseas. Different countries and locations can lead to the exposure to different types of microorganisms found in food and water. Commencing a broad spectrum probiotic a couple of weeks prior to travelling and continuing throughout the length of your stay can help to prevent or reduce the severity of an upset tummy.

There are many different brands of probiotics available online and in store please consult your pharmacist or health professional if your child suffers from any allergies or medical conditions before commencing a probiotic supplement.

A brand I highly recommend is PONO Probiotics. I came across PONO (Hawaiian word for rightness, goodness and wellbeing) as I’m obviously obsessed with everything coconut. For the bigger kids (over 2yrs of age) they have an amazing broad spectrum Coconut Plus probiotic packed with billions of beneficial bacteria with the added immune boosting benefits of coconut water and coconut powder. For the little ones they have a specially formulated broad spectrum Baby Probiotic powder suitable for newborns up to 7yrs of age in a yummy natural vanilla flavour.

PONO probiotics were developed by an Australian mum and dad, who (on the recommendation of their paediatrician) were searching for a quality probiotic after their son was seriously ill. Their branding was inspired by their love of Hawaii and their packaging features fun and beautiful tropical prints. You can read more about the amazing range here:

Erin is a mother and community pharmacist based in Brisbane, Australia. 

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