To systematically review randomized controlled trials evaluating the efficacy and safety of prebiotic supplementation in full-term neonates.
Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and CINAHL databases and proceedings of relevant conferences.
Eleven of 24 identified trials (n = 1459) were eligible for inclusion.
Trials comparing formula milk supplemented with or without prebiotics, commenced at or before age 28 days and continued for 2 weeks or longer.
Main Outcome Measures
Stool colony counts (bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and pathogens), pH, consistency, frequency, anthropometry, and symptoms of intolerance.
Six trials reported significant increases and 2 reported a trend toward increases in bifidobacteria counts after supplementation. Meta-analysis estimated significant reduction in stool pH in infants who received prebiotic supplementation (weighted mean difference, −0.65; 95% confidence interval, −0.76 to −0.54; 6 trials). Infants who receive a supplement had slightly better weight gain than did controls (weighted mean difference, 1.07 g; 95% confidence interval, 0.14-1.99; 4 trials) with softer and frequent stools similar to breastfed infants. All but 1 trial reported that prebiotic supplementation was well tolerated. In that trial, diarrhea (18% vs 4%; P = .008), irritability (16% vs 4%; P = .03), and eczema (18% vs 7%; P = .046) were reported more frequently by parents of infants who received prebiotic supplements.
Prebiotic-supplemented formula is well tolerated by full-term infants. It increases stool colony counts of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli and results in stools similar to those of breastfed neonates without affecting weight gain. Larger trials with long-term follow-up are needed to determine whether these short-term benefits are sustained.