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Probiotics are the “good” bacteria or microorganisms that live in and on our bodies. We actually have more bacteria living in us than we do cells! Probiotics live in our digestive tract and perform a number of functions like helping us digest food and communicating with our immune system to fend off bad bacteria.
Probiotics are one of the supplements that I routinely recommend to pregnant women that I see in my practice because they offer so many benefits to Mom and baby. Probiotics are naturally found in fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut (my favorite!), kimchi, kombucha, and kefir. I encourage eating these fermented foods, but I find that a probiotic supplement is more therapeutic.
Here are my top 5 reasons for probiotic use in pregnancy:
1. Immune system support: for Mom and baby!
Microorganisms in the digestive tract communicate with the immune system. Any microorganism can send signals to the immune system, but probiotics or the “good” bacteria will send a signal that decrease inflammatory actions of the immune system. Generally speaking, inflammation promotes swelling, histamine release (think itchy eyes or itchy rash), and increased mucus production. At times, inflammation is necessary (like with an acute wound), but it is not something that we want to be exposed to 24/7.
Probiotics taking during pregnancy promote the anti-inflammatory actions of the immune system and can help support the immune system during pregnancy. Research has also shown that a probiotic supplement during pregnancy increases the good immune cells in breast milk, so then these good immune cells are passed on to baby. This also helps to establish a good range of healthy bacteria in baby’s developing digestive tract.
2. Prevent atopic dermatitis (eczema) and food sensitivity in infants
Atopic dermatitis is a common type of rash in infants and children. This rash can be itchy and cause discomfort in some children. Probiotics taken during and after pregnancy have been shown to prevent both eczema and food sensitivities in infants. There are a few ways that these good bacteria can be transferred to babies – Mom’s body will have good amounts of the helpful bacteria and this will be passed to baby during a vaginal delivery and the changes to Mom’s breast milk will be passed on to baby.
Establishing a balance of good bacteria in an infant’s digestive tract is the very first way that their immune system will be stimulated and stimulating it away from inflammation will help to prevent atopic dermatitis and food sensitivities.
3. Decrease risk of asthma in children
Probiotics can also decrease the risk of asthma later on in life similar to how probiotics decrease the risk of eczema and food sensitivities. The health of our digestive tract can influence breathing issues like asthma because of how the bacteria communicated with the immune system. Not only do we have microorganisms that line our digestive tract, but there are also microorganisms that line all of our mucus membranes, including nasal passages and our respiratory tract. The microorganisms in our respiratory tract can impact asthma risk, so another good reason to take probiotics in pregnancy.
4. Decrease fussiness in infants
What new parent doesn’t want to decrease fussiness in their newborn!? Establishing good bacteria in a newborn’s digestive tract has been shown to decrease crying. Newborns generally go through a period of gassiness (don’t we all from time to time!) that eventually improves with age. Probiotics are one of the comfort measures that I recommend for baby, but if Mom takes a probiotic during pregnancy, then it is more likely that baby will have less fussiness in the first couple of months of life.
5. Healthy weight gain for Mom
It is a given that a pregnant woman will gain weight during her pregnancy and with this comes risks of blood sugar issues and elevated blood pressure. Probiotics taken during pregnancy can help with the metabolism of insulin – insulin’s job is to take sugar out of the blood stream, so it helps with decreasing blood sugar. Taking a probiotic during pregnancy has also shown to decrease “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and decrease total cholesterol. Probiotics can do some amazing things!
Probiotics are great to take during pregnancy as well as regularly eating foods that naturally contain those good bacteria. Consult with a naturopathic doctor to discuss what type and how much to take during your pregnancy and beyond!
By the way…
Did you know that there is bacteria in the placenta?
Editors note: Probiotics may not be appropriate for patients who are immune compromised. Always discuss with your provider before starting probiotics or any supplement.
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Barthow, C, et al. The probiotics in pregnancy study (PiP Study): rationale and design of a double-blind randomized controlled trial to improve maternal health during pregnancy and prevent infant eczema and allergy. Pregnancy and Childbrith. 2016 16:133-147.
Jamilian, M, F Bahmani, Z Vahedpoor, A Salmani, M Tajabadi-Ebrahimi, P Jafari, S Hashemi, Z Asemi. Effects of probiotic supplementation on metabolic status in pregnant women: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Archives of Iranian Medicine. 2016 19(10)687-692.
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