Probiotics During Pregnancy: The Benefits to Mother and Child
Probiotics During Pregnancy: The Benefits to Mother and Child
Nothing is more magical than a child being born.
But something equally spectacular and significant happens in the time before a newborn baby completes its journey out of the birthing canal.
This spectacular event – one that cannot be seen – is where human microbial organisms are introduced to humans: in other words, when a newborn's microbiome (the collection of resident microorganisms living on and inside the human body) is formed.
It is the microbiome which provides the blueprint of future health for each brand-new human life.
Probiotics for Children: Building a Microbiome from Scratch
Much attention has been paid to the microbiome in recent years; its vital role in immune health, mental health, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), skin health, bone strength, fertility and many other named conditions has been firmly demonstrated by scientific data.
One common thread is invariably discussed – make the gut microbiome a happy and balanced place and the health issue at hand can improve and, in some instances, reverse itself completely.
But one question which isn’t considered is: where did the garden of good and bad bacteria that is the microbiome first originate?
For many years it was believed that babies were born with a sterile gut, with the very first transferring of bacteria occurring when the baby was born via the birth canal.
But new research has challenged this. Studies carried out on mice pups found that they had bacterial strains in their meconium (the first faeces a newborn passes) which are usually passed within the first few hours of life outside the womb.
Either way, what is increasingly evident is that the state of a mother’s health – especially her microbiome health status – holds significant importance when it comes to laying the foundations for health of all of her children.
After all, this is where the bacterial strains in the first stool would have come from in the aforementioned study.
Probiotics While Pregnant: Changing Microbiome Status to Positive
After decades of modern medicine showing it is nothing more than a plaster or crutch at best – as it rarely offers a true cure – the only way forward if we want to live our longest and best life is to carry out preventative medicine.
And for many integrative doctors, paying close attention to balancing the microbiome is exactly what is giving patients positive results.
Every human has their own unique microbiome which is influenced by multiple factors. Not limited to but including (as we have seen) a mother’s microbiome health from conception to birth; the type of birth; whether we were breastfed or bottle-fed; the type of diet we ate as a child and onwards; our mental and physical stress; and where and how we live, including any addictive habits we have i.e. smoking, drinking alcohol.
So although truly balancing the microbiome comes in many forms depending on the individual, the same close attention functional doctors pay to balancing the microbiome should be paid to a mother’s before she conceives, as part of her preconception plan.
A preconception plan is something every woman should take part in to help iron out as many health issues as possible, preventing them being passed on to her children.
Also, a preconception plan is used to help build up a mother’s health and ensure she is in the strongest state possible during her pregnancy and beyond.
Interestingly, research suggests that changes in the good and bad bacteria balance happen daily, and therefore choosing a sugary chocolate bar over a hearty chicken, spinach and quinoa salad will have a direct effect on your overall health, not just your waistline.
Probiotic Use Lowers Pre-Eclampsia and Premature Birth Risk
According to observational research published in the journal BMJ Open in 2018, consuming probiotics during pregnancy reduced the risk of both pre-eclampsia (a condition in which the mother’s body experiences an aggressive inflammatory response) and premature birth.
The study encompassed over 70,000 pregnant mothers in Norway over a nine-year period (1999-2008).
What the researchers discovered was that timing was crucially important: probiotic intake correlated with a 20% lower risk of pre-eclampsia, but only when consumed during late pregnancy.
Furthermore, a notable association came to light between probiotic intake during early pregnancy and an 11% lower risk of premature birth. The figure rose to 27% for preterm birth late in the pregnancy.
Although no definite conclusions could be drawn due to the study’s observational nature, and indeed researchers did not track strain viability or shelf life, it mightn’t be long before probiotics are suggested as a public health measure to help reduce instances of these adverse pregnancy outcomes.
After all, there are no known risks from taking probiotics during pregnancy.
On the topic of pre-eclampsia, incidentally, another new study from Holland suggests women with severe pre-eclampsia should have their blood pressure closely monitored for a year after giving birth, since high blood pressure can remain undetected.
The study of 200 women found 17.5% had masked hypertension. What is interesting to note is that probiotics can also help to reduce blood pressure, providing the dose is sufficiently strong.
The long and short of it: probiotics were shown to lower diastolic blood pressure by an average of 2.38mm Hg, with the greatest benefit coming from a daily dose exceeding 100 billion.
Only a handful of probiotic supplements offer such a mega-dose, and you often have to take 5 or 10 capsules per day to achieve it. However, Progurt probiotics contain 1 trillion CFU in every sachet. Just disperse in water and drink to enjoy the benefits.
Probiotics for Post-Partum Depression?
Some probiotic strains have even been linked with improved post-partum depression symptoms.
This is not such a great surprise, when you come to think of it: the network of 100 million neurons lining is our guts is so complex that scientists refer to it as the Second Brain.
It gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘gut feeling’. Your enteric nervous system – the name given to the neural network – is certainly involved in perception, and just as our brain informs the gut, our emotions are undoubtedly influenced by signalling in the digestive tract.
Around 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin is actually located in the bowels, and its effect on mood, appetite, sleep and sexual desire is well documented.
Probiotics for Eczema
In a systematic review and meta-analysis of 433 studies involving over 1.5 million subjects, it was found that children who had been exposed to probiotic supplements – either directly via a supplemental formula or via the mother’s diet while pregnant or breastfeeding – were 22% less likely to get eczema.
In other words, there were 44 fewer cases of eczema per 1,000 children. However, it was unclear which strains of probiotic bacteria were used; the dosages were also unrecorded.
Nevertheless, researchers concluded by stating that, in their view, “current infant-feeding guidance needs revision.”
Your Gut is Alive and Ready for Balancing with Probiotics
The reason you are so easily able to disrupt your microbiome is because it is alive. Alive with real living organisms, as this is ultimately what microorganisms are.
Our microbiome is constantly growing and changing the order of the living strains to reflect whatever we feed it.
The more we feed it the food it prefers (usually clean, healthy, sugar-free food), and supplement with probiotics where necessary, the more good bacteria will grow vs. pathogenic bacteria that flourishes when we eat unhealthy food, expose ourselves to toxins and so on.
This is good news and can be used to our advantage. You have the power in your hands to create a healthy microbiome sooner than you realise, that you will then pass on to your future offspring.
By making some simple diet and lifestyle changes, and adhering to them long-term, you give the microbiome a chance to re-populate with more good bacteria. This will in turn set the scene for increased positive health for the next generations, which is the biggest gift we can give to our children.
It is absolutely vital that every mother has a healthy gut before, during and after pregnancy: put simply, it is the best way to set your baby up for lifelong health.
As research shows, it will also help the mother recover from illness quicker and help to keep her strong. As well as help positively influence a child’s behaviour as they grow.