We have an estimated 100 trillion microbes that live in our gut, which provide many benefits to our body. A healthy gut is critical to our overall health and metabolism. These microbes include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other living organisms, and collectively they are called the microbiome.
During pregnancy and beyond, your microbiome is influenced by your diet, how your baby is delivered (vaginal or C-section), environment, breastfeeding, hygiene, genetics, antibiotic usage, and infections.
You might already consider yourself to be healthy, and eat a well-balanced diet, drink plenty of water, and exercise regularly, but the hormonal changes during pregnancy can drastically alter gut function and bacterial composition.
But, poor gut health doesn’t just impact your own long-term health. Even while you’re trying to get pregnant, your health and diet play a critical role in the foundation of your child’s gut health with long-lasting implications.
So, let’s look at the many benefits of good gut health for both you during pregnancy and for your baby, and then how to go about improving and supporting it.
Reduces the risk of pregnancy complications
We know that an imbalanced microbiome during pregnancy has links with complications such as preeclampsia (see this research), early membrane rupture, gestational diabetes (see this research), and preterm birth.
Reduces constipation during pregnancy
Up to 1 in 4 women experience constipation during pregnancy. This can be the result of low levels of dietary fibre, an increase in progesterone causing your gut to work less efficiently, medicines prescribed for nausea, and some supplements like iron.
Improves maternal mental health
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders have significant negative impacts on mum and baby. There is evidence that a diversity in gut microbes and a nutritious diet is the key to improving the prevention and treatment of anxiety and depression during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Reduces the occurrence of infant eczema and allergy
Taking a good quality probiotic (on advice of your healthcare professional) can improve your overall gut health, and one of the probiotic strains Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG, has been well-researched and found to treat and prevent atopic allergy and eczema.
Stronger immune function
A baby receives 100% of their initial microbiome from their mother. Their exposure to good bacteria is impacted by the type of birth and when they’re born. Infants who are born vaginally at full-term, and experience skin-to-skin contact after birth tend to have a greater diversity of gut bacteria, which strengthens the immune system.
Helps to control inflammation
An imbalanced gut microbiome is associated with gut inflammation. Researchers have found that colic is linked with inflammation, regardless of whether they’re breastfed or formula-fed. A study showed that the probiotic lactobacillus reuteri reduced the crying time of breastfed babies with colic.
You can restore the balance and improve your microbiome and overall gut health during pregnancy with the following strategies:
Meditation, practicing deep breathing, mindfulness, yoga and other exercise all help to reduce stress levels. However, if you’re often feeling overwhelmed, consider seeing a health professional. Here are our Tips for managing stress in pregnancy.
Of course, trying to sleep during pregnancy can be challenging and uncomfortable, but there are things you can do to optimise the quality of your sleep. Cut out caffeine late in the day, have a calming night-time routine, and restrict device-usage in bed. Read Overcoming the difficulties of sleep during pregnancy.
Prebiotics are special plant fibres that help healthy gut bacteria grow in your gut. Foods such as bananas, oats, legumes, asparagus, garlic, and onions are all great prebiotic foods, so try to ensure you eat a variety of these regularly. If you have difficulty including them in your diet, you might prefer to try a prebiotic supplement.
Prebiotics feed probiotics, which are made up of good bacteria. Fermented foods that have live bacteria in them, such as yoghurt, kimchi, kefir, and miso are great foods to include in your diet. Again, if you can’t stomach some of these foods during pregnancy, or don’t enjoy them, you can take it in supplement form (you might prefer one that includes both prebiotics and probiotics).
Fibre is crucial for a healthy gut, and you need a daily dose of soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre helps to maintain good intestinal bacteria (the probiotics). It also aids in binding with excess cholesterol, and can be found in oats, lentils, barley, and flax seeds. Insoluble fibre is found in vegetables, whole grains, and wheat bran. It’s useful in managing constipation, hemorrhoids, managing diabetes, and preventing some cancers. Chia seeds are one of the best sources of fibre in the world, so you might like to give our chia pudding recipe a try.
Processed foods, saturated fatty acids, and refined sugars promote excess weight gain and unbalanced gut microbiome. Ensure your diet consists of plenty of lean meats, olive oil, whole grains, omega 3 foods such as salmon and nuts, and organic protein and produce if possible (this reduces your exposure to dietary antibiotics and pesticides). Here are some ideas of what to include and what to avoid in your pregnancy diet.
The content in this blog post is for general informational purposes. Always consult your trusted healthcare professional before modifying your diet or taking supplements.