Probiotics and Toddler Health

Probiotics and Toddler Health

A developing immune system can benefit from probiotic supplementation as infants transition into toddlerhood.

Probiotics are defined by the World Health Organization as live, non-pathogenic microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, modify the intestinal microbial population in a way that confers a health benefit to the host. The benefits of probiotics as a supplement to safely and effectively promote good health are increasingly well documented. In recent years, the use of probiotics in both infants and toddlers has shown positive results in supporting the development of a healthy, balanced gut microflora and overall immune system development.

The transition from infant to toddler: The influence of diet on gut microflora
The immune system begins to develop from birth as the gut microflora becomes populated with a variety of microorganisms. The types and proportions of microorganisms early in life are influenced by the infant’s method of delivery (vaginal vs. C-section) and diet (breastmilk and/or formula). Diet is a major factor in the composition of the gut microflora. In the breastfed infant, bifidobacteria make up 80–90% of the intestinal flora; the predominance of bifidobacteria is credited by many as one of the reasons for the general good health of breastfed infants.1,2 This knowledge inspired the development of the Gerber infant formula GOOD START® Gentle for Supplementing, which provides the beneficial culture bifidobacteria to infants who receive formula a supplement to breastmilk.

As children grow, their immune systems continue to develop. The period from birth to 18 months is considered critical for the proper development of the microflora and the mucosal protective immune system.3 As the older infant makes the transition from a diet dominated by breastmilk and/or formula to include solid foods, the gut microflora also makes a transition, with the composition shifting to include an increasingly diverse cross-section of microorganisms. The development of a healthy gut microflora in infancy must be maintained and enhanced as the child grows. The toddler’s GI tract is increasingly challenged by new influences including foods, microbial antigens and allergens. For example, infants with food allergies have been reported to have an imbalance of harmful and beneficial bacteria in the intestine.4 These challenges are important because they help build the immune system – with defensive responses toward pathogens, and with appropriate tolerance of non-pathogenic antigens that can cause abnormal immune responses like allergic disease.3,5

A role for probiotics in toddler health
Maintenance of a healthy, balanced gut microflora developed in infancy can be supported in the toddler in the same way – with probiotic supplementation. Probiotics introduce beneficial microorganisms such as bifidobacteria to the toddler’s GI tract. These microorganisms contribute to maintenance of a balanced gut microflora to enhance the mucosal gut barrier function and to modulate the immune response.3,5

This immune-system support has been clinically studied for specific probiotic products in the context of specific health conditions, including the prevention and treatment of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, rotavirus diarrhea and allergy prevention. Bifidobacteriumand Lactobacillus strains are among the most studied probiotic strains with demonstrated impact on human health.

Emerging science reflects that the use of probiotics in childhood has been evaluated with positive results in a number of potential prevention and treatment applications with some specific probiotic strains:

  • prevention and treatment of GI diseases such as rotavirus-related diarrhea6,7
  • alleviating antibiotic-related diarrhea7
  • improvement of the extent and severity of atopic dermatitis8,9
  • prevention of atopic dermatitis10,11
  • reduced risk of food allergy and lessening of allergic inflammation12-14


Sources of probiotics for toddler nutrition
In addition to the more common sources of probiotics including some yogurts and other fermented milk products, there is now an increasing range of foods and supplements containing live, active probiotic cultures. For infants, GERBER® GOOD START® Gentle for Supplementing is the first and only routine infant formula in the U.S. containing bifidobacteria like those naturally found in and promoted by breastmilk to help support an infant’s healthy immune system.1


  1. Langhendries JP et al. Effect of a fermented infant formula containing viable Bifidobacteria on the fecal flora composition and pH of healthy full-term infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 1995;21:177–81.
  2. Yoshioka H et al. Development and differences of intestinal flora in the neonatal period in breast-fed and bottle-fed infants. Pediatrics 1983;72:317–21. 
  3. Walker WA, Isolauri E. Understanding the use of probiotics in pediatric populations.Contempo Ped 2007;Suppl:1–6. 
  4. Kirjavainen PV et al. Aberrant composition of gut microbiota of allergic infants: a target of bifidobacterial therapy at weaning? Gut 2002;51:51–5. 
  5. Salminen SJ et al. Probiotics that modify disease risk. J Nutr 2005;135(5):1294-8
  6. Saavedra JM, Bauman NA, Oung I, Perman JA, Yolken RH. Feeding of Bifidobacterium bifidum and Streptococcus thermophilus to infants in hospital for prevention of diarrhoea and shedding of rotavirus. Lancet 1994;344:1046-9. 
  7. Correa NB, Peret Filho LA, Penna FJ, Lima FM, Nicoli JR. A randomized formula controlled trial of Bifidobacterium lactis and Streptococcus thermophilus for prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea in infants. J Clin.Gastroenterol. 2005;39:385-9. 
  8. Isolauri E, Arvola T, Sutas Y, Moilanen E, Salminen S. Probiotics in the management of atopic eczema. Clin.Exp.Allergy 2000;30:1604-10. 
  9. Sistek D et al. Is the effect of probiotics on atopic dermatitis confined to food sensitized children? Clin Exp Allergy 2006;36(5):629–33. 
  10. Lee J et al. Meta-analysis of clinical trials of probiotics for prevention and treatment of pediatric atopic dermatitis. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2008;121(1):116–21. 
  11. Kalliomäki M et al. Probiotics and prevention of atopic disease: 4-year follow-up of a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Lancet 2003;361(9372):1869–71. 
  12. Saavedra JM. Use of probiotics in pediatrics: rationale, mechanisms of action, and practical aspects. Nutr Clin Pract 2007;22(3):351–65. 
  13. Szajewska H, Setty M, Mrukowicz J, Guandalini S. Probiotics in Gastrointestinal Diseases in Children: Hard and Not-So-Hard Evidence of Efficacy. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2006;42(5):454–75. 
  14. Ouwehand AC. Antiallergic effects of probiotics. J Nutr 2007;137:794S-7S.
Nestle -- Good Food, Good Life

The content on this site is for educational purposes only and is intended solely for medical professionals in the United States only. If you are not a medical professional, please visit

All trademarks are owned by Société des Produits Nestlé S.A., Vevey, Switzerland or used with permission.

© 2016 Nestlé. All rights reserved.