Keeping your child healthy at day care can prove tricky at times. With a group of children playing and eating together for several hours, your child is bound to come into contact with some bad bacteria that can make him or her sick.

According to the hygiene hypothesis, children who are exposed to a variety of bacterial and viral infections, or have older siblings, are more likely to have stronger immune systems as they build tolerance for certain types of bad bacteria.

Adding Probiotics to the Diet

To make sure your little one has optimal protection, try incorporating probiotics into his or her diet. Through various studies, we’ve learned certain strains of good bacteria are best for children’s immunity, such as:

• Bifidobacterium bifidum
• Bifidobacterium lactis
• Lactobacillus acidophilus
• Lactobacillus reuteri
• Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG
• Saccharomyces boulardii (probiotic yeast)

If you’re looking to give your child probiotics, be sure to read the labels on any kids’ chewables or drink mixes to see if any of these good bacteria are listed in the ingredients.

Another great way to introduce probiotics into your child’s diet is through natural foods found primarily in certain fermented or dairy products. While supplements give you larger doses of probiotics in one dose, natural foods are still a great way to boost your child’s immune system. As you’ve probably heard, yogurt with live cultures is a good source of probiotics, and, even if your kid is a picky eater, you’ll probably have a good chance of getting him or her to eat it.

Several studies show that probiotics benefit children in day care centers in the following ways:

1. Infants fed a formula supplemented with L. reuteri or B. lactis had fewer and shorter episodes of diarrhea.
2. Lactobacillus GG may reduce respiratory infections and their severity in children in day care.
3. Children who consumed the drink DanActive experienced a reduction in the incidence of common ailments that included sinusitis, flu, diarrhea and ear infections.

Don’t Forget the Prebiotics

Prebiotics are also available in certain supplements and a variety of foods. Prebiotics, as opposed to probiotics, are fibers that help your body break down other foods and eliminate the waste. These include bananas, onions, asparagus, garlic, legumes, whole grains and seeds.

For a total listing of what to pack in your kid’s lunch box, check out “Probiotics For Dummies” (available now). Chapter 12 provides 20-plus probiotic and prebiotic recipes to use in your own kitchen.

Bacteria to Avoid

While bad bacteria still abounds no matter what the environment, there are at least a couple of them to truly avoid if you have a child in a day care center.

Escherichia Coli – Usually referred to as E. coli, this bacteria can be found in contaminated food or water. Young children, as well as older adults, are at a higher risk of complications due to E. coli, even life-threatening issues such as kidney failure.

Common sources of food contaminated with E. coli include: fresh produce (water used to irrigate crops can be contaminated), ground beef or raw milk.

Shigella – Most common in children ages two to four, this bacteria causes bloody stools and diarrhea and can be contracted through contaminated food or beverages, swimming in contaminated water or coming into direct contact with feces.

When changing diapers or helping toddlers with toilet training, it is crucial to practice good hand-washing techniques

Please Note: Always consult your physician before adding a supplement — including probiotics — to your or your child’s diet.

The final way to protect your child from bad bacteria is to protect yourself as well. Taking probiotics will help you reach optimal health and boost your immune system, decreasing your chances of spreading diseases to your little one. Dr. Challa recommends the gourmet probiotic Probulin. Use promo code “Challa” on your order to receive 25 percent off at

About the Author

Dr. Shekhar Challa is a board certified Gastroenterologist, Co-producer of probiotic video game Microwarriors: The Battle Within, and author of the new book Probiotics for Dummies.

*Image: Stuart Miles /*