The Role of Probiotics For Healthy Pregnancy Development
15th February, 2021
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms which naturally live in or on our bodies and help to keep us healthy. They are important through every stage of life, helping our bodies to keep healthy as we constantly change and grow. This is especially true during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
There are no greater changes that occur in a woman’s body than when she is pregnant or breastfeeding. It’s truly amazing the way in which the human body grows and develops, both physically and emotionally in such a short amount of time.
The increased nutritional demands that these changes put on a woman’s body can upset the delicate balance of beneficial bacteria, also known as the gut microbiota. These friendly bacteria mostly reside in our gut and together, form what is called our microbiome. The balance of good bacteria can be easily disturbed by stress and change, along with fluctuating hormones, the food we eat and the additional nutritional requirements needed to breastfeed.
Why should we care about beneficial bacteria?
Beneficial bacteria, via food or probiotic supplements can help keep us healthy in many different ways including helping to support our immune systems and the health of our digestive systems. The more ‘good’ bacteria that we have, the less room there is for the ‘bad’ bacteria.
Let’s look deeper...
Natural good bacteria can make a big difference to the health of mum and bub during and after birth. We know that the way in which a baby is delivered, either by Caesarian section or natural birth, can influence the newborns own microbiome and will have a continual impact on the first few years of the infant’s life, and potentially beyond.
It was once thought that a baby was born into the world almost germ free and that the initial contact with bacteria was through the birth canal. This isn’t necessarily the case and first contact actually happens in the uterus during pregnancy. This highlights the importance of mum’s health before and during pregnancy.
Our microbiome is constantly changing. The levels of beneficial bacteria change dramatically during each trimester. In the early stages of pregnancy during the first trimester the gut microbiota levels are similar to that of a woman who isn’t pregnant. The second and third trimesters are substantially different as the microbiota adapts to the natural changes during pregnancy such as weight gain, increased insulin sensitivity and the increase in inflammatory activity. Hormonal changes can also contribute to how frequent, or infrequent, bowel movements may become during pregnancy. During this time the mother’s gut microbiota can increase by up to 70% to assist with these changes.
Food choices during pregnancy can help to support the microbiome environment such as dietary fibre from fresh fruit and vegetables and wholegrains or probiotic supplements. Beneficial bacteria, use dietary fibre as a food source which keeps them happy and multiplying.
Probiotics are important for infants and babies too!
As mentioned earlier, many aspects can affect the microbiome of pregnant mums, such as diet, environment and the use of medication, these can go on to affect the microbiota of the unborn baby and their future health.
A baby’s intestinal microbiome develops over a period of about two years and is different to that of an adult. Bifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus salivarius are two species which have been found in breastmilk and therefore the gut of a breastfed baby. These species have been shown to stimulate and support the healthy functioning of a baby’s immune system.
Our children today are exposed to more environmental contaminants via food, air pollution and stress than in the last twenty to thirty years. Often parents or carers are working which results in more children attending daycare or after school care. Children are spending more time indoors on electronic devices and often less time outdoors. The increased exposure to classmates, often in larger classes can see them picking up ills and chills, leading to more days off sick and depleted immune system resources.
And don’t forget your child’s diet! They will not simply “eat better when they are older”, by then it may just be too late. A child’s good eating habits, start when they start eating solid foods. Lead by example as a parent, what they see you eat and do, they will naturally want to copy.
Perhaps encourage your child, even from a very young age to plant some seeds in a garden or in a pot on a window sill. Let them help you fill your shopping trolley with fruits and vegetables from the supermarket and name them as you go. Let them explore new vegetables or fruit on a weekly basis. Just remember, if they do not like it, do not disregard it for good. Try again in a few weeks or a month’s time and prepare it in another way.
Exposure to variety will expand your child’s taste and encourage a diverse range of friendly bacteria that will develop in their system and create a happy tummy and immune system. Some probiotic species (such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus paracasei and Bifidobacterium lactis) can actually help to support the immune system and in some cases reduce the number of sick days a child takes from school or daycare, by helping to shorten the duration of an illness.
Don’t underestimate the benefits of a good diet for both mum and bub in regard to gut health and a healthy biome. Mums or mums to be, try and include healthy probiotic foods such as good quality yoghurt or fermented foods such as sauerkraut. Don’t forget to have plenty of prebiotic foods to keep the good bacteria happy such as whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables to give yourself and your baby the best chance for a healthy gut and immune system and ultimately, good health!