It’s no secret that gut health is important overall, but when you are expecting a baby, it’s essential. In fact, when you have a baby on board, the baby is not the only living organism inside of you. There are billions of bacteria that reside in and on your body that are collectively referred to as the microbiome. These organisms have a huge say in your immune health, gut health, mental health, and even impact your baby.
In January, I had my second baby (see here if you missed it!) and one of the questions that I often received was about how I was supporting my gut health during my pregnancy. You might think that your gut has nothing to do with your baby but it actually has EVERYTHING to do with your baby. Your microbiome actually informs your baby’s microbiome so doing everything you can to support your gut health during pregnancy (and even before) is one of the best ways you can set your kids up for success for immunity, gut health and overall health.
How do I support my gut health during pregnancy?
It is inevitable that the gut microbiota changes during pregnancy, and not all of the changes are bad. These changes actually help promote a perfect environment for the period of growth for your baby, especially in the third trimester. To maintain and support your gut health during pregnancy you can implement the following practices:
- Taking a probiotic that contains the B.infantis and Lactobacillus acidophilus, fermentum, planatarum, reuteri and rhamnosus strains
- Maintaining your dental health and also potentially taking a dental probiotic containing L.paracasei, L.reuteri, L.Sakei and L.Salivarius strains
- Eating lots of fresh produce and a variety of fiber from foods (aim for 30 sources of plants per week from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, herbs and spices)
- Consume probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and kefir daily
- Support your gut bacteria with prebiotic fiber like onions, garlic, asparagus, bananas and oats daily
- Engage in gentle daily movement like yoga, walking, swimming or pilates
- Get plenty of sleep (7-8 hours if possible)
- Avoid antimicrobial cleansers if possible
- Manage your stress to help maintain your gut health
- Balance your blood sugar by eating proteins, carbs and fats at each meal
A baby’s microbiome during delivery
When a baby is born they do not have a mature microbiome like you do. They do get some exposure to your gut and oral microbiome in utero, but their gut is fairly sterile until they make their grand entrance. If a baby is born vaginally, this is the babies first exposure to a significant amount of bacteria (specifically the popular lactobacillus strain). In recent years, vaginal seeding has become a popular practice for C-section babies. Vaginal seeding is the practice of wiping a baby’s mouth, face and skin with it’s mothers vaginal fluids to help establish the baby’s own microbiome. Regardless of vaginal seeding, a baby can also get exposure to the mothers microbiome via skin to skin contact and breastfeeding.
Supporting the gut during delivery
When your baby is ready to join you earth-side there are many things you can do to help them foster a healthy microbiome. Birth can be unpredictable sometimes, so think about what you can do, versus putting pressure on yourself for the things you can’t
- Aim for a vaginal delivery to expose your baby to vaginal microbes
- Breastfeed if possible or if using formula supplement with a comprehensive infant probiotic
- Share lots of skin to skin with your baby during the first few weeks of life
- Wash your baby with just water and a cloth for the first few weeks of life if possible
- When the baby is ready to be washed with soap, avoid anything that is antimicrobial
Lindsay, K. L., Walsh, C. A., Brennan, L., & McAuliffe, F. M. (2013). Probiotics in pregnancy and maternal outcomes: a systematic review. The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 26(8), 772-778. doi:10.3109/14767058.2012.755166
Nuriel-Ohayon, M., Neuman, H., & Koren, O. (2016). Microbial Changes during Pregnancy, Birth, and Infancy. Frontiers in Microbiology, 7. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2016.01031
Prince, A. L., Chu, D. M., Seferovic, M. D., Antony, K. M., Ma, J., & Aagaard, K. M. (2015). The Perinatal Microbiome and Pregnancy: Moving Beyond the Vaginal Microbiome. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 5(6), a023051-a023051. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a023051