Attending child care can be an enriching and stimulating experience for young children, but kids in day care have a higher risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, which can result in missed child-care attendance for children as well as missed work for parents. Researchers from Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, Israel, examined whether a formula supplemented with certain bacteria could help reduce respiratory and gastrointestinal infections in infants attending child care.
Two hundred one healthy 4- to 10-month-old infants who had been weaned from breast milk to formula and who attended child-care centers in Israel participated in the 21-month study. Each infant was randomly assigned to receive one of three infant formulas: 1) a standard cow's milk infant formula; 2) the same formula supplemented with the probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis (B. lactis); and 3) the same formula supplemented with the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri (L. reuteri). Probiotics are microorganisms that help to modify the bacterial balance in the intestine and reduce the risk of infectious diarrhea.
At the beginning, middle, and end of the study, the infants' heights, weights, and head circumferences were measured and researchers measured the infants' stool samples to check for the presence of diarrhea-causing bacteria. Parents completed daily questionnaires about the child's health and respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms (such as runny nose, cough, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal symptoms, and diarrhea). They also answered general questions about their child's daily eating, behavior, and stool habits.
Infants fed the unsupplemented formula had more fevers compared to the infants fed formula with either L. reuteri or B. lactis. In addition, the unsupplemented group had diarrhea more often and for longer periods compared to the infants consuming the formulas supplemented with probiotics. The infants taking L. reuteri seemed to derive the most benefit - compared with the B. lactis or unsupplemented group, the L. reuteri group had fewer days of fever, needed fewer doctor or clinic visits, had fewer absences from child care, and needed fewer antibiotic prescriptions. However, the rate and length of respiratory infections didn't differ between the infants taking probiotic supplements and those taking the unsupplemented formula.
What This Means to You: Compared to standard formulas, infant formulas supplemented with probiotics - especially L. reuteri - may curb gastrointestinal illnesses such as diarrhea and may reduce the number of absences from child care due to illness. Do you have questions about your child's formula? Your child's doctor can recommend the best infant formula for your child, based on your child's nutritional and health needs.
Source: Zvi Weizman, MD; Ghaleb Asli, MD; Ahmed Alsheikh, MD; Pediatrics, January 2005
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2005