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Advocate Sherman Hospital nurses meet and discuss with Representative Allen Skillicorn in Springfield for Advocate Health Care's Nurse Advocacy Day. (Posted by jennifer.benson, Community Contributor)
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Paige Vickers for NPR

When Melisa Martinez's son, Juelz, was born very prematurely at 25 weeks back in January, doctors at University of California, Davis Children's Hospital gave him probiotics. "They told me the probiotics may help reduce the risk of infection," Martinez says. Now, Juelz is home and doing well.

Probiotics are just one element of the care Juelz received during the weeks he spent in the NICU, but research shows that probiotics which contain a mix of live, beneficial bacteria can help prevent a very serious intestinal inflammation called Necrotizing enterocolitis in preemies.

"If we give a probiotic, their [a premature baby's] chance of getting Necrotizing enterocolitis goes down," says Mark Underwood, who is chief of Pediatric Neonatology at UC Davis and a professor of pediatrics.

At UC Davis Children's Hospital, all preemies born under a certain birth weight are now given probiotics. It's become a common practice in other countries including Australia, Japan, Sweden and Finland, Underwood says, but in the U.S., giving probiotics to preemies is controversial, with some doctors calling for more research.