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Are probiotics for preterm babies beneficial?

A recent study carried out in the U.K. has examined the effects of probiotics on the gut health of pre-term babies.

Necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) is a gut condition that commonly affects preterm babies and can be life-threatening. It is a condition that involves severe inflammation in the intestines.

A recent study carried out by researchers at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, U.K., published in the British Medical Journal, compared the frequency of NEC, late-onset sepsis, and mortality prior to and following administration of routine daily multi-strain probiotics to high-risk pre-term babies. Included in the study were 469 preterm babies who were not given probiotics, and  513 preterm babies who were given probiotics.

The researchers found that the frequency of NEC in the group of preterm babies not given probiotics was 7.5%, compared to 3.1% in the group of babies that were given probiotics. These effects were irrespective of other variables, such as breast milk consumption.  In addition to the fall in NEC rates, the researchers found that cases of late-onset sepsis decreased from 22.6% to 11.5%, and there were no cases of sepsis due to the lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These results indicate that these probiotics not only have the potential to decrease the risk of NEC; they have not been shown to cause sepsis and do not themselves cause any additional safety issues.

The results of this study do show that the administration of these multispecies probiotics was followed by a decrease in NEC rates. It is important to note that these results are observational and thus the results can only suggest that there is an association between these probiotics and a decrease in the risk of NEC. The researchers of this study cannot conclude with absolute certainty that it was the probiotics that caused this reduction in NEC rates. However, the results of this study are promising and demonstrate the potential for probiotic use to decrease the risk of NEC. Further research is warranted in order to gain further evidence in order to evaluate the use of probiotics and their potential to decrease NEC rates in preterm babies.


Written by Jade Evans



Robertson, C.  et al 2019. Incidence of necrotising enterocolitis before and after introducing routine prophylactic Lactobacillusand Bifidobacterium probiotics BMJ Journals. [Online]. [16 December 2019].

Eurekalert . 2019. Giving billions of live bacteria to boost the gut health of premature babies. [Online]. [16 December 2019]. Available from:

Image by Christian Abella from Pixabay

Jade Evans MPharm
Jade Evans MPharm
Jade obtained her Master of Pharmacy degree from Cardiff University, UK in 2015 and then went on to work as a Pharmacist within the NHS, across both the hospital and community sectors. In 2017, she began her work for the medical news bulletin and moved to Perth, Australia. She is now working at Perth Children’s Hospital working in the Anaesthetic and Pain Management Research Group.


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