Published Aug 29, 2021
For women, getting pregnant entails lots of changes. There are many things you can no longer do and foods that you can no longer eat. And if you’ve been taking probiotics before your pregnancy, you’re probably wondering if you can take probiotics while pregnant.
So, are probiotics safe for expecting women?
In general, probiotics are safe and women can take them even while pregnant. Because they’re naturally found in our body, it poses virtually no adverse side effects – a fact confirmed by various studies. Many experts even agree that taking probiotics during pregnancy may even be beneficial for you. However, if you want to get the most out of your probiotic supplement, make sure to choose one with strains beneficial for pregnant women. But more on that later.
To understand how probiotics affect our body, let’s get to know probiotics better.
What Are Probiotics?
In a nutshell, probiotics can be described as the “good bacteria” that are living within our body, most of which, are in our gut. You might not know it but our body is a host to billions of microorganisms collectively known as our microbiota. Some of these microorganisms are harmful and some are beneficial. Probiotics, obviously, belong to the latter.
As the good ones, their primary function is to keep the “bad bacteria” in check, creating a healthy balance in your microbiota. Because when the bad bacteria are left unchecked, they can throw off your gut’s natural balance. This imbalance can lead to several complications such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and various forms of diarrhea.
Aside from probiotic supplements, we can also get probiotics from the foods we eat. They are especially abundant in dairy products and fermented food like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, and sauerkraut.
How Safe Are Probiotics for Pregnant Women?
As mentioned, probiotics are safe for pregnant women in general. To date, there has been no confirmed case of adverse probiotic side effects on pregnant women.
One study in the Philippines even concluded that probiotic supplementation is generally well-tolerated by pregnant and lactating mothers. While another study suggests that taking a probiotic supplement can help improve glucose metabolism in women with gestational diabetes.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM) also agree that probiotics are safe because they rarely get absorbed in the body. So the risk of getting bacterial infections from probiotics or passing on that bacterial infection to your baby is very low.
Besides, in most of the clinical trials that involved probiotics and pregnant women, there has been no association between probiotics and miscarriage or any fetal malformation. A review by Canadian researchers also suggests that probiotics have no direct effect on the incidence of cesarean section, birth weight, and gestational age of babies.
That said, these studies are only limited to certain probiotic strains and did not include common strains like saccharomyces boulardii. Thus, it’s hard to tell for certain how your body will react to probiotics. To be safe, always consult your doctor before taking any probiotic or pregnancy supplements.
How Do Probiotics Work During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, a woman’s goes through various hormonal, metabolic, microbial, and immunological changes. All of which are inter-related. Along with these, the microbiome is altered too. In some cases, the microbial changes can cause a dysbiosis (imbalance) on a woman’s microbiome. And as I’ve said above, an imbalanced microbiome can cause various types of diseases.
Probiotics, as mentioned, helps bring back a healthy balance to your microbiome. This is how probiotics work during pregnancy. It repopulates the good bacteria to restore the bacterial population in various parts of your body back to its natural state. Though more studies are needed, experts generally agree that this action benefits your oral, placental, gut, and vaginal microbiome. With a balanced microbiome, your body is more equipped to fight off pathogens thus boosting your immune system and preventing infections.
Many experts also agree that probiotics plays a huge role in a baby’s first 1,000 days of life. Like many parts of our body, the birthing canal also has its own bacterial population. When the baby passes through it during childbirth, the mother transfers some of those bacteria to the baby. Those bacteria will make up the baby’s microbiome. If majority of those bacteria are harmful ones, it can cause health problems for the baby. Thus, keeping a healthy population of friendly bacteria in your body will not only benefit your health but that of your baby too.
Benefits of Probiotics for Pregnant Women
The health of benefits of probiotics is wide and varied. But for pregnant women, their benefits extend beyond pregnancy and can even be beneficial for infants. Here are five ways probiotics benefit pregnant women:
1. It increases nutrient absorption.
One of the most important benefits of probiotics for pregnant women is helping them get the nutrients needed to support the growing fetus in their tummy.
As we all know, pregnant women have different nutritional requirements than the rest of the population. That’s why most of them have to take a prenatal vitamin all throughout pregnancy. Despite this, around 20-30% of pregnant women still suffer from vitamin deficiency which can lead to birth defects and complications during pregnancy.
This leads us to the probiotics’ role in the matter. Probiotics have been proven to increase our body’s ability to absorb nutrients, specifically protein and iron. These two nutrients are some of the most important ones during pregnancy. That’s why in addition to taking a prenatal vitamin, you should consider including probiotics in your diet.
2. It reduces the risks of diseases and conditions during and post-pregnancy.
Pregnancy poses a risk of contracting various diseases for both mother and child. Research supports probiotics having a positive impact in reducing the chances of gestational diabetes mellitus, infant eczema, atopic dermatitis, and postpartum depression. Probiotics have also been shown to promote vaginal health and reduces the risk of developing vaginal infections. This is especially important for pregnant women who plan to have natural births.
3. It reduces digestive issues during pregnancy.
Fluctuating hormonal levels, dietary changes, and added stress can often cause digestive problems in pregnant women. In fact, almost all pregnant women had to deal with frequent bouts of diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. This is where probiotics can help.
Among the most well-known benefits of probiotics are its positive effects on bowel movement and health. Since probiotics mainly inhabit the gut, their impact on gut health is evident. A research study showed a 21% increase in the recovery rate from diarrhea after taking probiotics.
4. It molds your child’s microbiome.
One of the major reasons why expecting mothers are hesitant to take probiotics is the fear that it can negatively affect their baby’s health. Probiotics, after all, are a type of bacteria. And newborn babies are especially susceptible to infection from a wide range of bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and viruses.
But as various studies have proven, probiotics are safe for pregnant women and full-term newborns. Plus, mothers tend to pass on beneficial microbes to their babies during breastfeeding. These beneficial microbes help populate the newborn’s microbiome which leads to a healthy gut and a strong immune system.
Another lesser known benefits of probiotics to newborns is better brain health. When a baby’s microbiome is balanced, it strengthens the gutbrain axis – the communication network that connects the brain with the guts. This, in turn, helps in your baby’s early brain development.
5. It reduces the risk of pre-term delivery.
A research paper was published in the “Journal of Clinical Gynecology & Obstetrics.” It studied the probiotics’ effects on preventing pre-term deliveries. It showed that taking Lactobacilli, a probiotic strain present in most dairy products, in the early stages of pregnancy greatly lowered the risks of pre-term birth. These bacteria also appeared to play a key role in vaginal health, fighting pathogens, and maintaining a woman’s pH level down there.
Another review published in 2020 found that those who took probiotics are more likely to carry their babies up to full term. In addition, they have a significantly lower risk of death and necrotizing fasciitis.
The Best Probiotics for Pregnant Women
As mentioned above, expecting mothers need to take probiotics that are specially formulated for pregnant women. If you didn’t know, there are hundreds of probiotic strains out there. Each of them benefit the body in different ways. For instance, if you’re pregnant and you’re taking a probiotic supplement geared for skin health, you can’t expect it to benefit your baby or ease your pregnancy woes.
So if you’re expecting, here are the best probiotic strains for pregnant women according to science:
Lactobacillus reuteri is one of the most studied probiotic strains. It’s found in a variety of foods and also naturally resides within our body specially in the gut and urinary tract. But what many people don’t know is that L. reuteri can also be found in the breast milk of pregnant and lactating women. When transmitted to the infant, it can help boost their gut health and gives them better immunity against inflammatory diseases.
A randomized controlled trial published on the European Journal of Pediatrics also concluded the effectivity of L. reuteri against infantile colic. The study was participated by 145 healthy pregnant women, more than half of which were given daily doses of L. reuteri for 5 months. They found that taking L. reuteri during the last four weeks of pregnancy can reduce the severity or totally prevent the occurrence of infantile colic.
Another well-studied strain, L. paracasei is known for its immune-boosting properties and for reducing the recovery time by an average of three days. This makes them incredibly important for expecting mothers. It helps boost immune cells and reduce the risk or severity of infections.
One controlled trial conducted in 2012 also suggests that administering a combination of various probiotic strains can help reduce the risk of eczema in infants. These strains include lactobacillus rhamnosus, bifidobacterium longum, and lactobacillus paracasei.
- acidophilus is commonly used to treat and prevent diarrhea. But since evidence suggests that it can also the American Pregnancy Association specifically recommends L. acidophilus to treat vaginal yeast infections.
A 2010 study also found that women who take L. acidophilus while pregnant or breastfeeding can help reduce the incidence of eczema (atopic dermatitis) in infants.
Like most strains in this list, L. casei is generally considered safe and are typically used to treat various types of diarrhea. But they can also be effective against allergies, dermatitis, and vaginal infections. Because of changing hormone levels, vaginal infections are quite common in pregnant women. While they may not be life-threatening, it can cause birth defects in your baby. This is why L. casei is often recommended for pregnant women suffering from bacterial vaginosis and similar types of infections. Studies also suggest that L. casei might be effective against vulvovaginal candidiasis.
Though there is limited research on bifidobacterium lactis, many experts agree that it may help against irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and constipation.
In pregnant women, B. lactis is especially beneficial for preventing eczema in infants. A randomized controlled trial participated by 112 pregnant women with a family history of allergic diseases seem to confirm this. The women in the study were given a daily dose of probiotic mix consisting of bifidobacterium lactis, lactobacillus acidophilus, and bifidobacterium bifidum. The results indicate that the probiotic mixture is effective in preventing the development of eczema in infants.
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About The Author
Judy Ponio is a firm believer in the health benefits of probiotics and she wants to share that with the world. She also loves to write about healthy foods and other healthy living tips.