Microbiome and Breastfeeding : your guide to good gut health

Gut microbiome & breastfeeding? Really?

Believe it or not – your gut microbiome has a BIG influence over your breastfeeding outcomes. How so? Let me explain;

The Microbiome is a buzz topic for a reason. The trillions of microbes that live in and on us impact our health and function on many levels. The microbiome is usually discussed in context of the GUT (as that’s where the greatest concentration of microbes live), but MOST body sites have their own microbiome & there are a couple of others that also have an effect on breastfeeding. 

Third trimester microbiomes

In third trimester the microbiome changes in preparation for birth and breastfeeding. 

  • The vagina microbiome increases its levels of lactobacilli (the good bugs) for the ‘exposure’ during a vaginal birth  
  • The gut microbiome changes to increase fat and sugar uptake and storage (to increase energy stores for birth and breastfeeding) 
  • The oral microbiome changes (we’re still researching why!)
  • Breast tissue begins to build up microbes in preparation for breastfeeding

The body uses the lymphatic system to ‘transport’ microbes (from the other major reservoirs around the body) into breast tissue. This not only looks after the health and function of the breast tissue and breastmilk, but it is also one of the main ‘colonisation’ pathways of microbes from mum to baby. 

Breastmilk is one of the major contributors to baby’s microbiome 

Breast milk not only contains ‘live bacteria PRObiotics’ that help support and develop the babies immature digestive and immune system but also ‘PREbiotics – Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs)’ that feed a specific type of microbiome in a developing infant’s gut. 

HMOs are pretty amazing, they’re probably my FAVORITE part of human physiology! 

Not only do they govern the ‘type’ of bacteria that grows in bubs gut, they’re incredibly individual (to the needs of each baby), anti-inflammatory AND they can act as ‘decoys’ to pathogens (bad bugs) so they can protect a bubs little delicate tummy while it’s getting used to the world outside mum… 

How amazing is that!

Formula companies have tried to ‘mimic’ the functions of the HMOs, but they can’t make them do what human milk does – especially the way breastmilk changes in response to the baby’s needs via the ‘backwash reflex’

It’s not just the HMO profile that changes either, it’s also the other components of breastmilk that are crucial to optimal growth & development – immune cells, antibodies, growth factors, stem cells and hormones etc.

Again – how amazing is that!!

The Microbiome & Breastfeeding Outcomes

Dysbiosis is the term that describes the ‘imbalance’ in our microbiome, and this can happen in any body site. 

Typically it looks like a loss of ‘good bugs’ and/or overgrowth of the ‘bad bugs’. 

Unfortunately, it’s very common to have dysbiosis as many of our daily activities & components of our ‘modern lives’ impact our microbes; 

  • Diet – high sugar & processed foods, low nutrients & fibre content
  • Environmental toxins, Herbicides, Pesticides, Chlorine etc
  • Stress
  • Common Medications – acid reflux meds, steroids, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, – even paracetamol!
  • Antibiotics

If you have dysbiosis at any point from pre-conception to birth (in any body site), chances are you will take this into breastfeeding. 

And if you end up with a UTI, GBS positive, or having a C-section delivery, that means more antibiotics (and more dysbiosis!). 

Very commonly we come into this stage with a compromised microbiome and this can GREATLY IMPACT our breastfeeding outcomes. 

Research shows dybiosis can contribute to increased risk of breastfeeding complications such as; 

  • Breast pain
  • Nipple pain, nipple thrush, oral thrush (baby)
  • Inflammation and/or Infection – mastitis
  • Blocked ducts
  • Colic / ‘Refluxy’ / Unsettled babies

How do I ensure my microbiome will support better breastfeeding outcomes?

As mentioned, the breastmilk microbiome is contributed to by other body sites – so it’s best to begin looking after your microbiome as early as possible (even from pre-conception) and across all body sites – but this definitely begins in the GUT. 

Diet is the single most effective intervention we have over our microbiome so it’s crucial to get this right; 

  • Lots of plant-based, colourful, polyphenol rich (plant chemicals) whole foods – we should be aiming for a predominantly PLANT-BASED diet with good diversity & variety. Aim for 30-40 serves of DIFFERENT plants foods per week. 
  • Veg, fruit, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, legumes, pulses, wholegrains – lots of options!
  • Low / no sugar or processed foods (these feed the bad bugs)
  • PREbiotic foods – the undigestible fibres in plant food that FEED the live bugs
  • PRObiotic foods – foods that actually contain LIVE bugs – yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut etc

Lifestyle is also important – reduce stress, reduce environmental toxin exposure, sleep well, be active, minimal medications, practice mindfulness etc.

Pre & Probiotic Supplements

Even when you are eating well, living well & avoiding medications – it’s still REALLY hard to avoid things that cause dysbiosis.  

I take an ‘optimise & protect’ approach with my client’s gut health & microbiome care.

Along with diet & lifestyle interventions, I employ the help of good quality prebiotic & polyphenol supplements and specific probiotic strains that have direct positive impacts on the microbiome across the specific body sites important in pregnancy & breastfeeding – Gut, Vagina, and Breastmilk.

The most difficult bit here for mums is choosing the right supplements, so I ALWAYS recommend getting the advice of a qualified health professional. 

Another good way to navigate ‘which products’ is research – but again, this can be a bit of a mine field because of the overload of info from the well-meaning health bloggers (wait that’s me right now!?!) and Dr Google, and also new mums can be really time poor. 

There’s some great well-researched strains that are super relevant for improving your overall gut health and ‘all body sites’ microbiome in pregnancy & breastfeeding.  

Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG – for atopy (allergy/eczema) treatment & prevention

L.Reuteri RC14 & L.Rhamnosus GR1 (in combo) – for vaginal microbiome health & GBS prevention

Lactobacillus Fermentum CECT5716 – for breastmilk microbiome optimisation, mastitis prevention, reducing breastfeeding complication risk

Make sure you’re getting quality products with the exact strains in them, and best to avoid the multi-strain products. These days we know more about how probiotics work in the body & specific strains and doses have better results.

Pregnancy & breastfeeding are such crucial stages to get right as you’re ‘setting up’ the gut health, immune system & microbiome of the infant – and that impacts them FOR LIFE.

It’s worth taking time to work on your microbiome and gut health previous to and during pregnancy and breastfeeding – it makes for the best beginnings for your baby that can last a lifetime!

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