Each day, we learn more about the miraculous microbiome and the role that probiotics can play in human health. And, while you may already know about the benefits of probiotics for infants and for children, why wait until then? Baby can start benefiting from probiotics even before conception — and mama can too.
Are Probiotics During Pregnancy Safe?
So, are probiotics safe during pregnancy?
Both the National Institutes of Health and National Library of Medicine have concluded probiotics don’t appear to have any risks during pregnancy (source).
Probiotics have a track record for being very safe, even for vulnerable populations like pregnant moms, infants and the elderly. While there is a minuscule concern that probiotics can cause infections, the chances are less than one in a million from lactobacillus strains, and one in 5.6 million from S. bouladrii. The risk is even less if you don’t have serious health complications. Other strains have no reports of these infections (source).
Can Probiotics Harm a Developing Baby In Utero?
Far from causing harm, prenatal probiotics have a lot of benefits for both mama and baby. A meta-analysis showed no increase in pregnancy complications or harm for mama or baby with probiotic use (source, source). Probiotics safe for pregnancy include strains like lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
One study found both lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains didn’t negatively affect C-sections rates, birth weight or preterm birth (source).
Can You Take Probiotics in First Trimester?
Unlike some supplements, probiotics are safe to take even in the first trimester. A 2010 study in the British Journal of Nutrition looked at the benefits of probiotics starting in the first trimester. The probiotic and healthy eating group had less gestational diabetes than the group that just ate healthy (source).
You don’t have to wait until you’re pregnant though to start taking probiotics! Building healthy gut and vaginal flora even before pregnancy has long term benefits.
Can You Take Probiotics with Prenatal Vitamins?
Both probiotics and prenatal vitamins can be an important part of a healthy pregnancy. You can find some prenatal vitamins that include probiotics with them. Whatever supplements you take, be sure you’re getting high-quality products!
Baby’s Gut Microbiome
Experts used to think that babies lived in a sterile environment and weren’t inoculated with bacteria until emerging into the world. Now we know baby ingests bacteria from amniotic fluid, there’s healthy bacteria in cord blood and in meconium (baby’s first poo). Scientists are even talking about the “placental microbiome.”
The first few days of life babies have mostly Bifidobacterium, lactobacillus, Clostridium, and Bacteroides strains in their gut. By 5 months that changes slightly to bifidobacteriales, Lactobacillales, and Clostridiales strains.
A baby’s gut microbiome is substantially different if he or she is born via C-section. According to studies, their gut microbiome consists of opportunistic bacteria such as Enterococcus and Klebsiella, which are often found in hospitals. One researcher said “The difference was so stark, [that] I could take a sample from a child and tell you with a high-level certainty how they were born” (source).
Babies exposed to antibiotics through mom or after birth will obviously have compromised gut flora and babies who are born premature have higher rates of “bad” bacteria in their gut, even without a C-section birth (source).
There are a lot of factors when it comes to our little ones gut health, but getting an early start on nourishing it is key!
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Benefits of Probiotics During Pregnancy
Oh let me count the ways…
There are several big benefits to taking probiotics during pregnancy for both mom and baby. What happens now can have a lifetime impact on your little one.
“Pregnancy appears to be the most critical stage for interventions aiming to reduce the risk of non-communicable disease in future generations.” – source
Gestational Diabetes and Healthy Weight
Several studies show a link between probiotics and decreased gestational diabetes (GD) risk. In one study, women who had lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium lactis strains had less GD than the control group (source).
Excess body fat is a risk factor for developing GD, but probiotics can help with that too. In one study, probiotics and eating healthy helped reduce excess weight around the waist better than diet alone.
In another study, pregnant women who took vitamin D and probiotics together had lower fasting blood sugar and better insulin levels. They also had more glutathione, lower triglycerides, and other factors related to gestational diabetes (source).
Probiotics promote healthy blood sugar balance and insulin response while having a positive effect on other health markers. They even affect DNA methylation to help prevent obesity for baby and can have long lasting health effects. Researchers point to pregnancy as the optimal time to reduce baby’s obesity and metabolic disease risk with probiotics (source, source, source, source).
Gut health plays a role in the development and severity of allergies and it’s best to start building it early! The World Allergy Organization (WAO) recommends probiotics for women at risk of having a child with allergies and eczema.
.While prenatal probiotics didn’t have an effect on preventing allergies, it did help reduce eczema. Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is the most common inflammatory skin issue in children and often continues into adulthood.
According to the WAO, children at risk of developing allergies still benefit from the net benefits of probiotics while in utero and later in life (source).
Group B Strep and Premature Birth
If mom doesn’t have healthy vaginal flora during pregnancy, it can trigger premature birth. When pathogenic bacteria gets into the amniotic fluid it sets off a chain reaction leading to early uterine contractions (source).
In the third trimester, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Streptococcus probiotic strains helped reduce inflammation and contributed to a healthier vaginal microbiome. Healthy vaginal flora and lowered inflammation can help prevent pre-term birth (source).
Several studies found women who took probiotics during pregnancy had less pre-term delivery risk. Probiotics during pregnancy can decrease the group B strep infections that lead to premature birth (source, source, source, source, source).
While evidence is mixed taking probiotics orally has much of an effect on vaginal flora, research indicates applying them directly may work better (source, source).
Reduces Birth complications
Scientists believe complications in the last trimester may be linked with gut damage and inflammation in mom. In one study, the probiotic L. reuteri helped with inflammation and showed promise in helping prevent pregnancy complications (source).
Healthy vaginal flora is associated with a decreased risk of miscarriage as early as the start of the 2nd trimester. In the third trimester, probiotics help modulate the immune system for a successful labor (source, source).
Better Brain Health
Taking probiotics can quite literally help build your baby’s brain. Mama’s gut microbiome determines baby’s brain development. Our gut bacteria programs their brain development, motor control, and emotional behavior as adults (source, source).
Studies point to probiotics ability to reduce stress and mental disorders. Probiotics help mitigate the harmful of effects of stress during pregnancy for mama and baby both. They even help reduce depression, anxiety, and postpartum depression (source, source).
Happy Gut = Happy Baby
A well-functioning gut microbiome affects baby’s brain, immune system, and gastrointestinal systems. When it’s not working like it should immune disease, allergies, and autism are just some of the symptoms.
Probiotics during pregnancy not only reduce the risk of gastrointestinal disorders for baby, but can help prevent disease throughout their life (source, source).
When mama’s immune response is activated, it can increase baby’s disease risk. These activated immune cells pass through the placenta and form plaques on the baby’s brain. This can then impact their central nervous system and lead to diseases like autism (source).
In one animal study, researchers found mice had fewer autism-like behaviors when their mothers had probiotics during the pregnancy. Of course, take this with a grain of salt, as there are many unknown factors when it comes to autism, but probiotics may be one way to help. (source)
More Benefits of Probiotics During Pregnancy
- Improves pregnancy constipation (source).
- Increases nutrition in colostrum by reducing obesity and gestational diabetes risk factors (source).
- Improves placenta health so baby has better nutrition in the womb (source).
- Reduces mastitis (source).
- Improves baby’s immune system (source).
- Has a positive effect on breastmilk and its ability to build baby’s immune system (source, source).
- Modulates healthy bacteria in mama’s lymph nodes that improves breast health and ultimately newborn health. (source).
- Lowers high blood lipid levels in mama (source).
- May prevent heart problems for baby later in life (source).
- Reduces premature membrane rupture.
- Reduces C-section risk.
- Reduces pathological umbilical cord blood pH.
- Less chance of getting gut disorders (source).
How Do Probiotics During Pregnancy Work?
Scientists aren’t exactly sure how probiotics work during pregnancy. We do know that good gut and vaginal health is important for a healthy pregnancy. Lots of research points to the fact that probiotics are key to nourishing the microbiome for a healthy baby.
Unlike earlier theories, experts now believe baby’s microbiome is established before they’re born (source).
What Does the Research Say about Probiotics in Pregnancy?
As you can see, the research has a lot to say about probiotics and pregnancy. There are many benefits, with very low risk levels. This is a great way to improve both you and your baby’s health!
Best Way to Get Probiotics During Pregnancy
There are so many options when it comes to probiotic supplements that it can be confusing. Generally you want a wide range of well-studied probiotic strains. You can take probiotic supplements orally or use them topically. The best prenatal probiotic will have a high amount of quality strains without fillers or contaminants.
Research indicates that probiotics inserted into the vagina may have more of an impact on vaginal flora, while swallowing probiotics works well on the gut microbiome (source, source).
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt are also good options. However, the probiotics in these foods may not be as concentrated as a supplement or offer the same strains. Combining fermented foods with prenatal probiotics is a great combo.
Can You Eat Probiotic Yogurt While Pregnant?
Absolutely! Yogurt is a good way to get probiotics and shows promise in helping with pregnancy complications. Compared to antibiotics, yogurt improved vaginal pH which may lower the risk of preterm delivery (source).
In another study healthy women who ate more than 5 cups of yogurt a week saw the best results had less risk of premature delivery. Yogurt also improves metabolism, reduces inflammation, and improves infection outcomes during pregnancy (source).
Are There Special Probiotic Strains That Help During Pregnancy?
Different probiotic strains perform different functions in the body and the same is true during pregnancy. The best probiotics for pregnancy have the most research behind them. Here are many of the strains that studies have shown help during pregnancy.
- Lactobacillus spp
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus acidophilus (LA-5)
- Lactobacillus delbrueckii bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus bulgaris
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG
- Lactobacillus GG
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (ATCC 53103)
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG)
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus BMX 54
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus W71
- Lactobacillus salivarius PS2
- Lactobacillus fermentum CECT5716
- Lactobacillus casei W79
- Lactobacillus plantarum W62
- Lactobacillus plantarum WJL
- Lactobacillus gasseri K7 (LK7)
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12
- Bifidobacterium lactis W52
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium longum W108
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bifidobacterium bifidum W23
Other probiotic strains
- Lactococcus lactis
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Enterococcus faecium L3
Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacteria lactis, and Bifidobacterium bifidum strains are the most studied during pregnancy, though all of these have benefits for mama and baby.
Final Word on Probiotics During Pregnancy
Gut (and vaginal!) health are an important part of a healthy pregnancy. The right prenatal probiotic is an easy way to make a big impact on both your health and your baby’s.