Probiotics are everywhere. They are even prominent in the prenatal supplement section of the grocery store. But do probiotics have benefits during pregnancy? And are they safe?
Probiotics are bacteria that convey a health benefit when consumed. And, indeed they are generally considered safe, even for pregnant mothers .
Probiotic Benefits to Mothers
Probiotics have some known benefits for all adults, but might aid pregnant women in particular. Constipation is a complaint of pregnancy that can be eased by probiotics, particularly in the first trimester when high hormone levels often make constipation the worst .
Additionally, probiotics have been found in clinical studies to aid in the prevention and treatment of infectious diarrhea, to help symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and for eczema . But probiotics have also recently been found to potentially prevent gestational diabetes in some mothers, conveying a specific benefit during pregnancy [3, 4].
Probiotic Benefits to Infants
Our microbiome develops from infancy, beginning with our mother. It is approximately 1-3% of our body weight and includes all the microbial life on us and within us. Keeping it healthy from motherhood and into infancy may render benefits that influence the child’s health in the long term.
We know that C-section and vaginal birth babies have large differences in their microbiome . Vaginal birth exposes the infant to a plethora of Lactobacillus bacteria that are specifically designed to help baby digest it’s first food, breastmilk . In fact, breastfeeding feeds the bacteria in the gut that will protect baby from infections and build a foundation for the child’s immune system for the remainder of their life .
Prenatal probiotics, if they decrease a mother’s risk of gestational diabetes, also decreases the baby’s risk of developing insulin resistance later in life . Prenatal probiotics also may decrease a child’s risk of developing atopic dermatitis [3,5]. The World Allergy Organization recommends that pregnant mothers with infants that will be at high risk for allergies take probiotics during pregnancy and lactation . Infants at high risk for allergy have a primary relative with asthma, eczema or food allergy.
Mom’s Microbiota Can Affect Baby
The exposure of mom to a high bacterial load in pregnancy is thought to influence the child’s immune system even prior to birth [3,6]. This explains, in part, why mothers that live on farms have fewer children with asthma. Alternately, exposure to antibiotics, or multiple rounds of antibiotics during pregnancy is associated with increased risk of allergy in the child due to alteration of the mother’s gut microbiota .
We used to think that the in utero environment was completely sterile of bacterial influence, but as higher resolution lab techniques are developed we may find that bacteria cross the placenta prior to birth. Bacterial DNA has been found in the placenta and in cord blood of infants suggesting bacterial colonization but as yet, no bacteria have been cultured from the placenta or amniotic fluid in humans .
It may be possible for bacterial DNA alone to modulate the infant’s immune system from its earliest development through the placenta . Indeed it is even likely that bacterial metabolites in the mother’s bloodstream help build and modify the growing infants immune system .
Growing a Human is Complicated!
The biological relationship between mother and child is complicated and we are far from understanding all the implications of the microbiome on pregnancy and the developing infant. However, some things are clear, a diverse microbiome is generally good and can benefit mothers and babies.
The way to cultivate a healthy and diverse microbiome in pregnancy is to focus on a healthy, plant based diet that includes lots of fiber . Supplementation with a daily multi-strain probiotic like H2PRO™ also aids in creating a healthy gut. Adequate Vitamin D, Vitamin E and a high dose fish oil during pregnancy are all associated with a reduced risk of asthma in children .
Proper diet has been shown to increase fecal diversity, which is beneficial to gut health, whole body health and baby’s health. So, take probiotics, eat well and trust nature to do the rest of the work.
2- American Pregnancy Association, Probiotics in Pregnancy, accessed May 8, 2017 http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/probiotics-during-pregnancy/
3- Sinn, John (2014) Maternal Influences on Infant’s Future Health Conference, DOHaD evening seminar, Sydney, accessed May 8, 2017 http://www.healthed.com.au/video/probiotics-in-pregancy/
4- Craven, Jeff (2017) Gestational Diabetes Risk May Be Reduced With Probiotics. Endocrinology Advisor. Accessed May 8, 2017 http://www.endocrinologyadvisor.com/diabetes/gestational-diabetes-and-probiotics/article/652635/
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