The gut microbiome is the hottest of hot research fields today. With a thriving mix of beneficial bacteria, our gut microbiome can keep us healthy. Probiotics are one way to help ‘top up’ the mix of healthy bacteria in our gut. So, in today’s blog, I’ll outline the top three benefits that probiotics may give to the mother and baby during pregnancy.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that may offer a health benefit when taken in adequate amounts. You can get probiotics from fermented foods such as yoghurt or from a commercial supplement.
Research on the health benefits of probiotic use is evolving at a breakneck speed. Probiotics can help with regulating bowel movements, digesting food and stimulating the immune system.
Manipulating the gut microbiome with probiotics during and after pregnancy is a rapidly evolving research area to help promote maternal and infant health and enhance good health later in life. So let’s turn to how taking probiotics may help both mum and the developing baby during pregnancy as I outline three benefits to having probiotics when you’re pregnant.
1. Food allergies and eczema
The first health benefit of probiotics is for the baby and it is to do with eczema and allergy risk. Because eczema is a precursor to a variety of conditions such as food allergies and asthma, reducing or preventing it is important.
We already know that differences in a baby’s microbiome are linked to increased allergy risk, so could a mother who takes probiotics when pregnant or breastfeeding influence her baby’s gut bugs? A recent review published only this year of 19 clinical trials that gave probiotics to late pregnant and lactating women answered exactly that question.
They found a 22% lower risk of children developing eczema. This was in an age range of 6 months to 3 years old. The same review also found children had a lower risk of cow’s milk sensitivity. So the results so far look favourable that supplementation of probiotics during pregnancy can help with infant eczema and allergy.
Just for your information, if you’re shopping around for a probiotic supplement, it is the Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG species that is the most studied probiotic in this field. So make sure a supplement has that on the label.
2. Gestational diabetes
The second benefit of probiotics during pregnancy is a big one, and that’s a potential benefit in reducing the risk of gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes affects 1 in 10 pregnancies and can cause a whole range of health issues for the mother and infant, so anything that helps cut a woman’s risk is important.
There have been several clinical trials using probiotics in women with gestational diabetes and the results so far look promising. Probiotic supplementation in women with gestational diabetes can significantly reduce insulin resistance. Because gestational diabetes is where the body becomes more resistant to insulin, making it harder to clear excess glucose out of the blood, then an improvement in this means less medication may be needed to keep blood sugars in check.
3. Pregnancy complications
The third health benefit of probiotics during pregnancy is a big one and it stems from reducing the risk of pregnancy complications. In particular two major ones: pre-eclampsia and pre-term delivery.
A Norwegian study found that taking probiotics during pregnancy could lower a woman’s risk of both pre-term birth and pre-eclampsia. This was the conclusion after looking at outcomes from over 70,000 births. When a probiotic was taken in late pregnancy, the risk of pre-eclampsia was cut by 20 percent. While the risk of pre-term birth was cut by a dramatic 27 percent.
What to look for
Looking at all of these health benefits I’ve outlined today together, the good news is that probiotics do not appear to pose any safety concerns for pregnant and lactating women. So if you’re looking at giving your diet a probiotic boost then you’ve got two options. You either take probiotics through commercial supplements or by eating foods in which they naturally occur.
Popular fermented foods include dairy products like yoghurt, as well as pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha. Homemade fermented foods are growing in popularity so you could even try your hand at making your own!
If you are shopping for a commercial supplement, aim to choose a probiotic that contains a minimum of 1 billion colony forming units per serve.
Even though I’ve been talking about probiotics today, I shouldn’t neglect the importance of prebiotics. Think of prebiotics as ‘gut fertiliser’ as they make a great fuel for your gut bugs. Feed your microbes well and your digestive system will work at its peak capability. Fibre is nourishment for good gut bacteria and you will find it an array of everyday plant foods. Oats, legumes, onions, asparagus, bananas are just a few examples of foods high in prebiotics. But the simplest advice is to eat a wide variety of nutritious fruits, vegetables and wholegrains which would naturally contain different types of fibre.
I’ve given you a lot of information today. So, let’s summarise:
- The gut microbiome is so hot right now, so there’s no wonder there’s a lot of interest in probiotics
- Probiotics appear to have many health benefits and some of these may even relate to pregnant women and newborns
- Lower rates of childhood eczema, fewer birth complications and even a benefit in gestational diabetes seem to me to be emerging areas where the research is looking favourable
- You’ll find probiotics in a range of popular fermented foods or you could try a commercial supplement.
Now, I’m sure that you’ll have loads of questions, so feel free to post them in the comments below.
And, to make all this easier for you, I’d love you to download my free meal plan. Just go to www.melaniemcgrice.com/pregnancy.