According to a recent study, yes they can! A paper published in the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (JPEN) lays out some promising findings about how probiotics can help with one of the most dangerous health risks for premature babies – necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).

What health risk is this study talking about?

Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the most common cause of gastro-intestinal related death among premature babies. Mortality rates for NEC are between 25 – 40% depending on the age of the baby. Babies with NEC can experience a wide range of negative symptoms, including abdominal swelling, bloody bowel movements, poor feeding tolerance, and signs of infection. Babies that manage to survive this disorder are at risk recurrent sepsis, short bowel syndrome, or long-term neurodevelopmental impairment. NEC occurs in about 5% of premature babies.

It’s a dangerous condition and anything that can be done to help prevent it would be most welcome for future parents and premature babies.

So how can probiotics help with NEC?

According to the findings presented in the JPEN article by clinical professor Sanjay Patole, a specific probiotic strain called Lactobacillus reuteri (L. reuteri) may be key to reducing the risk of NEC in premature babies. This study looked at the impact of L. reuteri on NEC and enteral nutrition as a whole, and the results were exciting. Preterm babies supplemented with L. reuteri had greatly reduced incidence of NEC compared to the groups that were not supplemented with L. reuteri.

And NEC benefits weren’t the only ones

As if those results weren’t exciting enough, the group of premature babies that was given L. reuteri displayed some other notable improvements. Time to full feeds was reduced, indicating that L. reuteri helped with feed intolerance. Late-onset sepsis was also reduced in this group, and the babies in this group needed to stay in the hospital for less time than the groups that were not supplemented with L. reuteri.

Perhaps most importantly, the L. reuteri group did not experience any adverse effects from the supplementation. It seems that parents choosing to supplement premature babies with the right probiotics have nothing to lose and everything to gain.


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