Prebiotics 101

RachelMS, RD, LDN, CSSD, CBS

Read time: 3 minutes

What to know about prebiotics in your and your child’s diet

  • Learn the difference between probiotics and prebiotics

  • Know how to include them in your and your baby’s diet

  • Understand the role prebiotics play in baby’s gut health

What are probiotics?

Before we dive into prebiotics, it’s important to understand what probiotics are.

Probiotics are live, “good for you” bacteria.1,2 When consumed regularly and in the right amounts, these friendly bacteria populate your gut and can be beneficial to your overall health.1,2 Different probiotics can have different health benefits, ranging from immune properties to supporting your digestive health.2

Probiotics are not naturally found in foods, but some foods are made using live bacteria as part of their processing.1,2 Examples of these include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sour pickles, kombucha, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, miso, and tempeh.1 Probiotics are sometimes added to yogurt or infant formula, and they are also available in the form of supplements.3,4

Learn more: Probiotics 101

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics, on the other hand, promote the growth and health of our friendly gut bacteria by acting as their food source.5,6 Generally, prebiotics are hard-to-digest fibers that are broken down by gut bacteria.5

Food sources include: onions, garlic, under-ripe bananas, oats, artichokes, asparagus, leeks, psyllium fiber, whole grain wheat, whole grain corn, and chicory.6,15

Prebiotics are in breastmilk

Breast milk provides more than just nutrition; digestive enzymes, immune factors and hormones are additional components of breastmilk.7,8 Research has also found that breastmilk contains both probiotics and prebiotics.7 Both of these components in human milk vary in amount between women, possibly due to dietary intake, as well as over the course of lactation due to changes in infant needs.8

Studies show that some prebiotics can be beneficial for infants by promoting the growth of healthy gut bacteria, supporting the immune system, and stimulating bowel movements and softer stools.9,10

Interestingly, babies’ gastrointestinal tracts in the womb are ‘sterile’ and do not have any bacteria.11 Once born, the infant is exposed to bacteria from the mother and environment. Diet then plays a crucial role in the development of beneficial gut bacteria. Babies who are formula fed tend to have different bacteria in their gut than those who are breastfed.11

Though it is not yet possible to exactly replicate the prebiotics found in human milk, research continues to illuminate the benefits of these compounds in early infancy.10,11 For this reason, some infant formulas are beginning to include prebiotics in their formulations.11

At around six months, solid foods are introduced.12 During this time, additional changes occur to our baby’s gut bacteria.13 Including foods containing prebiotics, in a texture that your child can handle, can help support your baby’s gut health.14

Read more:

Introducing Solids: Signs of Readiness

What are the Benefits of Breastmilk?

Tips to help get more prebiotics in your diet

Include prebiotics in your own diet

Prebiotics are good for adults too.15 When we are used to including these foods in our own diet, it becomes easier to introduce them to our infants once they begin eating solid foods.

Prebiotic foods: Onions, garlic, under-ripe bananas, oats, artichokes, asparagus, leeks, psyllium, whole grain wheat, whole grain corn, and chicory.6,15

Read more:

What to Eat while Breastfeeding

Healthy and Easy Postpartum Snacks

Include prebiotics in your infant’s diet

Once your baby reaches the appropriate milestones for eating, and you’ve begun introducing solids at the correct texture for their development, including these foods can help them grow healthy gut bacteria.14 Below are some foods to consider introducing when your baby is ready. Also note that some infant feeding products, such as cereals, may also have added prebiotics.

Prebiotic foods: Oats, bananas, small pieces of whole wheat toast, soft-cooked asparagus.6,15

Read more:

Introducing Solids: First Foods and Textures

Meal Plan for 6 to 9 Month Old Baby

Recipes to try for your child:

Blackberry, Banana, Peach & Quinoa Puree

Surprise! Instant Oatmeal (for this recipe, make sure any add-ins are chopped or blended to the appropriate texture and size for your infant)

Not breastfeeding? Choosing a formula with prebiotics may be beneficial

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How can I Help Relieve Constipation for my Baby or Toddler?

How can I Include more Whole Grains in my Diet?

Meal Plan: How to Eat more Fruits and Vegetables