A baby sits at a feeding chair and smiles.
Food manufacturers are enhancing yogurts, baby foods and formula with prebiotics and probiotics. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Strolling through the baby aisle at a local store recently, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the new products out there.

Even the new baby foods are quite something.

If you had told me 15 years ago babies could have ready-made food pouches, I probably would have thought you were silly. But the reality is, at some grocery stores there are now whole sections devoted to food pouches.

I also noticed a number of products containing probiotics.

You’ve probably heard about gut health and probiotics and you’ve probably seen those yogurt commercials where they tout the benefits of probiotics in various yogurts.

Probiotics are actually bacteria.

We typically think of bacteria as bad, but they’re not all bad. We have a significant amount of good bacteria in our bodies.

Probiotics can help with different gut health issues. You’ll often hear doctors or nurses tell you to focus on eating probiotics-rich foods, such as yogurt, when you’ve been prescribed an antibiotic.

While the antibiotic kills the bad bacteria, it can also kill the good bacteria. Taking a probiotic can help re-balance your system with good bacteria.

Did you know you can buy probiotic products for babies?

Several formula companies have probiotics in their formula. Enfamil, Gerber and Similac all have prebiotics and probiotics in products.

In my walk down the baby aisle, I noticed vitamin D drops that contain probiotics, as well as colic drops containing the bacterium L. reuteri and probiotic drops with the bacterium B. lactis. (The National Institutes of Health has an interesting primer on probiotics.)

Interestingly, the probiotic drops had a note on the package about using them if baby is born via C-section. We had explored that topic in a previous column.

There is plenty of compelling research to support the use of probiotics and prebiotics in establishing good gut health and in promoting other beneficial outcomes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study last year that analyzed research on a bacterium called L. reuteri DSM17938 and its effect on colic in babies.

The research involved comparing two groups of babies who had colic: those that received the L. reuteri bacterium and those that received a placebo. About 345 babies received the probiotic or the placebo for 21 days.

The result: “The probiotic group was almost twice as likely as the placebo group to experience treatment success at all time points.”

It found the probiotic helped most for breastfeeding babies, which means that specific probiotic—L. reuteri DSM17938—could be recommended for breastfeeding babies.

We’ve always known breast milk itself has prebiotics and probiotics, not to mention many other wondrous benefits, but research in recent years shows the real value of prebiotics and probiotics in babies’ diets.