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Are Probiotics Safe for Pregnancy?

Starting or growing a family is, without a doubt, life’s most enduring treasures. Having a baby is a profoundly life-changing experience and it brings the sense of creating or extending a legacy. Prepping for pregnancy and especially during, will help create a healthy baby and a richly rewarding experience for mom.

As you may likely be aware, probiotics (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species) are the predominant ones available in supplements, foods, beverages and Microshots (a beverage-supplement hybrid). Mostly, probiotics replenish the trillions of beneficial bacteria in your gut that all work to keep you in balance, and in good health through ensuring that illness-causing bacteria cannot muscle their way in. However, the great news continues – seemingly every day conclusions of new studies are announced touting how specific strains can benefit health in myriad ways, including support during pregnancy and of the fetus.


Probiotics are Good for Moms-to-Be

One meta-analysis (study of studies) intended to look at tolerability and safety of probiotics taken by pregnant women and lactating moms – the team concluded that probiotics “don’t appear to pose any safety concerns” in these cases and that the studies they reviewed did not suggest an increase in adverse pregnancy outcomes by taking probiotics.

The evidence is getting stronger that adding probiotics when planning your family is so good for moms, that a brand new a consortium of research organizations in Ireland recently launched “Microbe Mom,” to invest in studying three key areas, according to the group: the most likely methods of transfer of bifidobacteria strains from mother to baby; the impact of the mother’s diet and health on her gut bacteria and what bacteria she transfers to her baby at birth; and the impact of specific probiotic supplements on the mother’s health.

According to the research consortium, healthy development and maturation of a newborn baby is dependent on more than its parents’ genes; its gut microbiota also plays a critical role. The microbes
Are initially acquired by mother-to-baby transfer at birth – so it makes sense to ensure the microbiota portion of your microbiome is robust. Bifidobacteria have been shown to be significant in programming metabolism and the immune system in the baby. The researchers emphasized that the baby’s exposure to the beneficial microbes in this critical development window plays an important role in allergy and asthma risk as well as metabolic health as the baby matures into adulthood.


Probiotics can Help Reduce Infant Eczema

Atopic dermatitis and other forms of eczema are characterized by red, itchy and inflamed skin, and it often manifests in the first six months of your baby’s life, usually on the cheeks, chin, scalp and forehead. In the second six months it may spread to elbows and knees. And 50% of children with severe atopic dermatitis develop asthma, and 75% develop allergic rhinitis, and they are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

An important reason to take probiotics daily during pregnancy is to lower the risk of the baby developing atopic dermatitis (eczema), common in infants. One randomized, double-blind trial gave pregnant women either probiotic-containing milk or placebo from 36 weeks of gestation to three months postnatally during breastfeeding. The milk contains a combination of L. rhamnosus GG, L. acidophilus La-5 and Bifidobacterium animalis (lactis Bb-12). At two years old the children were assessed for atopic sensitization, asthma and allergic rhinoconjunctivitis. The researchers found that the women who took probiotics had children with reduced incidence of eczema by 40% over those in the placebo group.

Another meta-analysis looked at the potential preventative effects on probiotic supplementation on atopic sensitization and wheezing in children. The study found that when women took probiotics prenatally, there was a significantly reduced risk of atopic sensitization. They also saw a reduction in total immunoglobulin E (an antibody produced when an allergen is present) in children whose mothers took probiotics.

A 2018 meta-analysis reviewed data from 28 studies that included approximately 600,000 women found that moms who took probiotics during pregnancy and lactation were less likely to have children who developed eczema than those mothers who didn’t consume probiotics.


Probiotics Support Healthy Pregnancies

One of the not to fun aspects of being pregnant is the bouts of constipation; unfortunately, it is a common occurrence. One intervention study looked at how a mixture of probiotics in yogurt affected bowel movement regularity in 60 women who reported they were frequently constipated. Half received yogurt enriched with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus while the other received conventional yogurt. Regular consumption of conventional yogurt and the enriched yogurt significantly improved bowel movement frequency.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) frequently during pregnancy and affects approximately 25% of pregnant women in the USA; if unchecked, BV can elevate risk for pre-term labor/premature birth, premature rupture of membranes, and miscarriage. Another bacterium that may colonize out of control during pregnancy is group B streptococcus (GBS); and both BV and GBS are due to insufficient populations of Lactobacillus in the vagina. One study found that Lactobacillus HN001 taken orally helped improve vaginal flora balance. Another clinical study showed that pregnant women who consumed L. rhamnosus GR-1/L. fermentum RC-14 once and twice daily was associated with healthy vaginal flora in up to 90% of participants, and 7 out of 11 women with bacterial vaginosis converted to normal or intermediate scores within one month.

Undeniably, maintaining a healthy vaginal microbiota is essential to a smooth, full-term pregnancy.

Another issue many women contend with is depression after giving birth. The Probiotics in Pregnancy study of 423 pregnant women who began taking either L. rhamnosus HN001 or placebo from weeks 14 and 16 of gestation to six months post-birth found that mothers in the probiotic group had significantly lower rates of depression and anxiety scores post-partum.

Pre-eclampsia is a disorder that affects up to 8% of all pregnancies, characterized by a dangerously sudden rise in blood pressure and swelling; and if left untreated can be life threatening. One research team investigated at what point during gestation taking a probiotic drink (containing Lactobacillus species) can help lower the risk of pre-eclampsia development. The researchers analyzed more than 70,000 births and found that drinking the probiotic milk during late pregnancy was associated with a 20% reduced risk of pre-eclampsia. Data analysis showed that the probiotic milk lowered risk of pre-term birth by 27% when consumed in the later time period of pregnancy compared to an 11% reduction when consumed in early pregnancy.


What Other Supplements are Good for Pregnancy?

During pregnancy, you are supplementing for yourself and the little new person you are growing. Your macronutrient needs increase dramatically (proteins, good fats, good carbs). Micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals are important to obtain, and you need a bit more of some, below:

Folic acid/folate: one analysis of five studies that included 6,105 women showed that supplementing with folic acid daily reduced the risk of neural tube defects.

Vitamin D: lack of sufficient vitamin D is implicated in preeclampsia, per-term birth and gestational diabetes.

Iron: Iron deficiency can cause anemia, and in pregnant women, this is associated with pre-term delivery and depression. Pregnant women need more iron as their blood volume increases by nearly 50%.

DHA/EPA: These two omega-3 essential fatty acids have been widely studied and shown to support healthy fetal development, especially the brain and eyes. Further, one meta-analysis of 19 clinical trials of omega 3 EFAs and pregnancy showed that consuming DHA and EPA was associated with a 31% lower risk of children developing allergies to eggs.

There are numerous pre-natal vitamins to take that contain the studied amounts of what women need to have a healthy pregnancy. Adding omega 3 EFAs and of course, probiotics, along with healthy diet and exercise will further enable normal gestation – and of course, a robustly healthy baby.

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