The Importance of Probiotics During Pregnancy
Today we will discuss gut health and the importance of probiotics during pregnancy. Let’s jump in!
Importance of Gut Health
Have you ever heard the quote by Hippocrates – “All disease begins in the gut.”?
Hippocrates, a very important figure in the history of medicine, discovered something very important. He found that what we eat, and how our body processes food, links strongly to diseases and our health.
This still holds true today, especially for pregnant women.
By keeping the gut healthy, pregnant women can avoid lots of risky pregnancy complications, birth complications/interventions and give birth to healthier babies.
But first, let’s learn about probiotics.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are a live, friendly bacteria that help our digestive systems work properly. They occur naturally in many fermented foods but can also be taken in supplement form.
Take a look at the ingredient list of the yogurt in your refrigerator and you’ll see them listed with names like Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis. Those are probiotics!
Are probiotics safe for pregnancy?
There is no research supporting the idea that probiotics are unsafe for pregnancy.
In fact, probiotics have been found to be more than safe. Probiotics are extremely beneficial for pregnancy, a growing baby and postpartum.
Benefits of Probiotics During Pregnancy
Here are some of the many benefits of probiotics during pregnancy.
Probiotics Decrease the Risk of Preeclampsia
Preeclampsia is a scary condition and should be avoided if possible. But what is it?
According to the March of Dimes, the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia include:
- High blood pressure
- Protein in the urine
- Severe headaches
- Vision problems, like blurriness, flashing lights, or being sensitive to light
- Pain in the upper right belly area
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sudden weight gain (2 to 5 pounds in a week)
- Swelling in the legs, hands, and face
In fact, daily intake of these probiotics will decrease the likelihood of preeclampsia by 20%.
- Consume it weekly and the risk for severe preeclampsia (what you really, really need to avoid) goes down by 25%.
- Consume it daily and the risk for severe preeclampsia goes down by 39%.
By eating foods with naturally occurring probiotics or by taking a probiotic supplement you can help decrease your odds of developing preeclampsia.
Probiotics Decrease the Risk of Gestational Diabetes
Probiotics have also shown to help pregnant women lower their fasting blood sugar levels and therefore decrease the risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes may be common, but it is not fun and something to avoid if at all possible. Here’s why…
Risks of Gestational Diabetes
- Increased risk of birth injuries
- Increased risk of cesarean (in an effort to avoid birth injuries)
- Higher incidence of induction (to avoid birth injuries and/or cesarean)
- Low blood sugar in newborns (which will lead to lots of heel pricks and possible formula supplementation)
- Babies of mothers who have gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.
By eating foods with naturally occurring probiotics or by taking a probiotic supplement you can help decrease your odds of developing gestational diabetes. (source)
Probiotics Decrease the Risk of IUGR
Not only does probiotics protect mom from dangerous pregnancy complications like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, but it also protects babies from a scary complication called intra-uterine growth restriction (IUGR). (source)
IUGR happens when an unborn baby is not growing adequately inside the mother.
I have seen this personally! One of my first births as a doula was a full term baby born at only 5 pounds. Poor thing. Doctors had no idea he wasn’t growing well. He was so tiny when he was born (by cesarean).
Probiotics help to reduce something called C-reactive protein which is linked to low birth weight and small size for gestational age. (source)
By eating foods rich in probiotics you not only protect yourself against pregnancy complications, but help keep your growing baby, growing.
By eating foods with naturally occurring probiotics or by taking a probiotic supplement you can help decrease the risk of IUGR.
Probiotics Decrease the Risk of Baby Eczema
Another benefit of probiotics in pregnancy (and on into postpartum) is that it will decrease the likelihood of the baby developing eczema in the first two years of life.
But only if mom is breastfeeding!
You see, if the mother took probiotics or ate foods with naturally occurring probiotics during pregnancy, and continued while breastfeeding, probiotics will make her breastmilk better!
When baby receives this probiotic boost through breastmilk, the risk of eczema is greatly reduced. (source)
By eating foods with naturally occurring probiotics or by taking a probiotic supplement you can help decrease the likelihood of baby developing eczema.
Probiotics Increase Overall Immunity in Babies
Finally, supplementation with probiotics in pregnancy increases a baby’s overall immunity and will continue to do the same while breastfeeding. (source)
There’s nothing worse than a sick baby, especially little babies, so anything I can do to protect my little ones is well received.
Taking a probiotic during pregnancy is a simple, yet powerful way to protect both mom and baby.
By eating foods with naturally occurring probiotics or by taking a probiotic supplement you can help keep your baby healthier by increasing their overall immunity.
Natural Sources of Probiotics
So now that we know the importance of probiotics during pregnancy and postpartum, how do we incorporate probiotics into our diet? Here are two great starting points.
A super simple method of increasing probiotics in the diet is through probiotic supplementation.
I recommend Bio-Kult probiotics and here’s why. It’s easily accessed (you can buy it online), doesn’t need to be refrigerated, contains 14 strains of bacteria and because of the way it is preserved, it can make its way pretty far down in the digestive tract.
Delicious Fermented Foods
Did you know that Hippocrates also said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”?
What does that quote mean?
It means we can prevent illness and heal through our food.
By incorporating probiotic rich foods in the diet will be the most effective way to reap the health benefits of probiotics in pregnancy.
Here are some delicious fermented food ideas that are rich in probiotics. For best results, make your own at home – it’s cheaper and the healthy gut bacteria is better. If that’s not an option, many grocery stores carry these items. My local Walmart even carries kombucha. What??!!
- Miso (a fermented soup)
- Fermented Sour Cream
- Sour Kraut Juice
- Fermented Pickles
- Fermented Carrots
One of the best resources you can buy to learn to make probiotic rich foods is the Nourishing Traditions cookbook.
With this cookbook you will learn how to make sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and kombucha. AND SO MUCH MORE!
If you like experimenting in the kitchen you will have great fun with this book.
Traditional Cooking School
OR If watching videos (and having someone help you) is your preferred method of learning (hello, busy moms!) you’ll love the Traditional Cooking School.
Start off simple and learn to make your own kefir.
Once you master that? Move on to lacto-fermented carrots and other yummy fermented things (don’t be scared by that long sounding name… they’re incredibly simple to make).
Once you’ve dabbled and learned how simple some of these things are, you might be ready for something like this…
Or maybe you could start here with 6 Simple Steps to Getting Started with Traditional Foods.
- The Tradtional Cooking School is an amazing resource. But remember, start small. Try one thing and master it before moving on. One of the biggest barriers to healthier lifestyles is feeling overwhelmed. By starting small and working your way up you will be more likely to have long term success.
Kefir Pregnancy Smoothie Recipe
Here is a simple kefer pregnancy smoothie recipe that makes getting probiotics during pregnancy SIMPLE and DELICIOUS.
1 cup kefir
1/2 cup frozen, organic berries
1 Tbs honey (optional)
Instructions: Combine ingredients in blender and blend. That’s it! It’s so simple and delicious.
Where to Find Kefir
Kefir can be found in most grocery stores in the dairy section.
However, it is extremely inexpensive and simple to make at home. Trust me on this.
I used Cultures for Health’s kefir starter (this is the brand that the Traditional Cooking School recommends as well) and their how-to videos to get started (and troubleshoot).
Now that I’m making my own kefir, I have a probiotic rich smoothie every morning for breakfast. Yum!
Below is a photo of my kefir fermenting in action.
Importance of Probiotics During Pregnancy
All disease begins in the gut, but luckily for us, many diseases can also be prevented in the gut.
Food can be our preventative medicine.
By taking probiotics during pregnancy we can reduce the risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, IUGR, eczema and increase our overall immunity.
By eating probiotic rich foods we can fill our bellies and ward off pregnancy complications simultaneously.
It even makes breastmilk better. Amazing!
To encourage you on your natural pregnancy journey I’ve created a printable grocery list to make the above kefir pregnancy smoothie recipe every day for one week.