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  • Writer's pictureAmy Slater

Gut Health During Pregnancy Part 1


There has been a lot of press about the importance of improving the health of your gut. There is an expanding body of research being published about the links between ill health and a imbalanced or damaged gut.  Chris Kresser writes:

Research over the past two decades has revealed that gut health is critical to overall health, and that an unhealthy gut contributes to a wide range of diseases including diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, autism spectrum disorder, depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.

It is important to remember that the brain and your gut are interconnected.  According to Emily Deans, MD, “the gut and brain have the ability to communicate via the nervous system, hormones, and the immune system. Some of the microbiome can release neurotransmitters, just like our own neurons do, speaking to the brain in its own language via the vagus nerve.”  In the same article, Deans goes on to describe how an imbalance in gut flora can cause a heightened sense of pain and elevated stress response. She also draws a clear parallel between a deficiency of certain beneficial bacteria and mental illness including anxiety disorders, chronic depression, bipolar and other mood disorders.

What happens to the gut microbiota during pregnancy?

During pregnancy a mother’s gut microbes change with each trimester of pregnancy. In research funded in part by NIH, a team of scientists led by Dr. Ruth E. Ley of Cornell University explored how pregnancy alters the gut microbiota and how microbes might affect metabolic changes during pregnancy. (Published August 3, 2012, in Cell.)  The scientists obtained stool samples, diet information and clinical data from 91 pregnant women during the first and third trimesters. They analyzed microbial DNA from the stool samples to identify microbes during early and late pregnancy.

The researchers found that the microbiota changed considerably from the first to the third trimesters. The first trimester microbiota was similar among subjects and comparable to that of healthy men and nonpregnant women. By the third trimester, however, microbiota varied substantially more between the women. Microbial richness decreased while levels of certain types of microbes (similar to what’s been seen in a mouse model of metabolic syndrome) increased. The changes occurred regardless of the women’s initial body weight or whether they developed gestational diabetes.  In pregnant women these changes help transform the mother’s metabolism to support the growth of the fetus.

Stool samples collected from infants, at 1 month to 4 years of age, showed that the mothers’ altered third trimester microbiota wasn’t passed on to their children. Regardless of age, the children’s microbiota was more similar to their mothers’ microbiota during the first trimester. The groundwork for each person’s gut flora is laid from birth. The mode of delivery affects an infant’s microbial profile. This is one main reason why it is so important for pregnant women to appreciate their gut health and how it affects both their own health and the health of their child.

Delivery matters.

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition researchers found a distinct difference in the composition of the gut in infants delivered via c-section versus vaginally.

The intestinal microbiota of neonates delivered by cesarean delivery appears to be less diverse, in terms of bacteria species, than the microbiota of vaginally delivered infants. The intestinal microbiota after cesarean delivery is characterized by an absence of Bifidobacteria species (helpful bacteria). Vaginally delivered neonates, even if they showed individual microbial profiles, were characterized by predominant groups such as B. longum and B. catenulatum. Our data demonstrate that the mode of delivery has a deep impact on the composition of the intestinal microbiota at the very beginning of human life.

The guts of infants born via c-section are inoculated by bacteria found on the skin of hospital workers. Where infants born vaginally are inoculated as they pass through the birth canal of the mother.

Probiotics during pregnancy.

According to an article posted by Dr. Mercola probiotics are especially important during pregnancy.

Nearly everyone can benefit from optimizing the balance of good vs. bad bacteria in their gut using probiotics, but if you are pregnant or planning to be, this is of utmost importance to you and your new baby.Research shows giving pregnant women and newborns doses of good bacteria can:
  1. Protect babies from developing eczema in childhood

  2. Help prevent childhood allergies by training infants’ immune systems to resist allergic reactions

  3. Help optimize your baby’s weight later in life

  4. Improve the symptoms of colic, decreasing average crying times by about 75 percent

  5. Reduce your risk of premature labor

  6. Babies that are given the best start nutritionally by being breastfed (the source of your first immune-building good bacteria) also tend to have intestinal microflora in which beneficial bifidobacteria predominate over potentially harmful bacteria.So aside from taking probiotics during pregnancy, the first way you can encourage your newborn’s gut health to flourish is by breastfeeding.

What can Moms do to improve gut health?

The most powerful way to influence the health of your gut is through your diet:

  1. Avoid food toxins found in processed foods

  2. Avoid refined sugars

  1. Avoid refined grains

  2. Avoid artificial sweeteners

  3. Eat more fermentable fiber

  4. Hydrate well with clean filtered water

  5. Eat plenty of probiotic rich foods

  6. Consume more bone broth

Other important strategies include:

  1. Improve stress management

  2. Get plenty of daily movement

  3. Minimize the use of antibiotics

  4. Eliminate the use of NSAIDS, steroids, antacids and other medications

  5. Minimize exposure to chlorinated water

Pregnant women need to consider their health during the pregnancy as well as their health after the pregnancy.  Taking simple steps to incorporate the above lifestyle and diet changes during pregnancy will have powerful and long lasting results after the baby arrives

Personal Perspective

I am 21 weeks pregnant with my second set of twins. During the first pregnancy, I did not take supplemental probiotics and the only probiotic rich food I at was pasteurized low fat or fat free plain yogurt.  I ate a mostly real food diet but I allowed myself to indulge in the occasional store bought cookie or homemade piece of cake. I also chewed sugar free gum on a regular basis. This pregnancy I am consuming home fermented sauerkraut, beet kavas, kombucha, raw yogurt and raw cheese. I do not eat any processed foods or sweets and I do not chew gum.  Although each pregnancy is different and many factors play a roll, I believe that my gut is much healthier during this pregnancy. My mind is clearer, I have more energy and I do not gravitate to any sweet or unhealthy foods.  I feel confident that my dedication to optimizing my gut health will give my girls a good start with their gut.

In my next post, I will delve further into gut health including a closer look and strategies to improve your own gut health.


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