Probiotics and Pregnancy

August 24, 2010 – 5:25 pm

I take a variety of supplements to ensure the health of my baby, and my pregnant body.  One that I consider indispensible is my daily probiotic supplement.  In case you haven’t heard about probiotics yet, they are microorganisms that are naturally present in the human gut that promote intestinal and immune health.  They are the friendly bugs.  We need them. Often, our modern lifestyle doesn’t support the proliferation of healthy bacteria in our bodies; whenever we take antibiotics, we kill off not only the bad bacteria, but the good ones as well.  Also, if you eat a high-sugar, highly-processed diet, you’re at risk for an imbalance of flora in your body that may be contributing to troubles like digestive issues, urinary tract infections, yeast overgrowth, and skin rashes. I usually recommend that everyone, pregnant or not, take a high-quality probiotic, and if you can’t do that, then try to include lots of cultured and fermented foods in your diet.  Yogurts, kefirs, unpasteurized sauerkraut, and kim chee are examples of cultured foods – foods to which good bacteria have been added.  In general, probiotic supplements are more potent colonizers of the gut than cultured foods.

If you’re pregnant, then probiotics are doubly important – for you and for your Little.  During pregnancy, probiotics help regulate your digestive and immune systems, as well as those of your baby.  During breastfeeding, the friendly bugs pass through the breastmilk to your baby.  There’s loads of research proving the worth of probiotics for mamas and infants.   For one thing, the good bacteria fight the bad, reducing incidence of infections like yeast (thrush, candidiasis), vaginitis, and fungal infections.

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition demonstrates that probiotic supplementation during pregnancy reduces the risk of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM).  Consequently, it also reduces the risk of (excessively) large birth-weight babies; large size at birth is associated with later risk of obesity once the baby grows up. Probiotics also help cure vaginitis, which is a common underlying cause of pregnancy complications.

Norwegian researchers are also saying that probiotic supplementation during the last trimester of pregnancy through breastfeeding (until the infant is 6 months old) can reduce the incidence of eczema in babies by half. Another study demonstrated that a mix of probiotic strains given pre- and post-natally, “is an effective approach in preventing the development of eczema in infants at high risk of allergy during the first year of life.”  This is especially important to me, since I am one of those mamas with a history of allergic issues, having had chronic eczema my entire life.  It is more than worth it to me to do whatever I can to reduce my baby’s risk of having atopic/allergic issues*.

Additionally, probiotics are crucial for healthy immune development in babies, and can help reduce the incidence of colds, ear infections, and digestive upset.  In fact, in one study, a strain of probiotic bacteria reduced symptoms of colic in babies by half.

If you’re looking for a high-quality probiotic supplement, here are two that I like and use:
The Essentials Probiotic Support
When you’re purchasing a probiotic, look for the highest number of live bugs per capsule (or dose, if it’s a powder supplement) that you can find.  This is referred to on the label as CFU’s.  I look for ones that have 5 to 10 billion CFU’s per capsule.  You can also look for one that’s GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) certified.

*other things I’ll do to reduce my baby’s risk of eczema and other allergic diseases are:

  • breastfeed her as long as I can
  • avoid the introduction of solid foods to baby’s diet until she’s at least 6 months old
  • follow an alternative vaccination schedule to avoid overwhelming baby’s delicate immune system during the first year of her life
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