The benefits of probiotics for mothers and babies

You’ll never see them but your guts are home to trillions of microbes, all working to keep your body healthy. Over time this delicate microbiome can become unbalanced; even robust guts are prone to the effects of stress, antibiotics or a less than healthy diet. Probiotics are designed to help the gut stay balanced, thus supporting a healthy immune system.

Microbes are especially important in helping women stay healthy during pregnancy. They are crucial in the birth process and they perform miracles in breast milk.

 

Before birth

Growing a new human being is no mean feat – and so it’s vital that a mother’s immune system is strong and healthy. The immune system is complex, often doing a fantastic job of fighting pathogens but occasionally a rogue cell squeezes past undetected. During pregnancy, there is more at stake and immune reaction could have damaging effects.

A probiotic can inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria by delivering friendly microbes and stimulating the immune system, enhancing the body’s natural protection.

As well as having a positive impact on the body, probiotics have been proven to help the mind. A new study released earlier this week from the Universities of Auckland and Otago surveyed 423 women who were between 14 and 16 weeks pregnant. The research found that taking a probiotic once a day during pregnancy and the first six-months after birth halved a mother’s risk of suffering with clinically significant anxiety.

The composition and diversity of a mother’s microbiome – the families of microbes that live in everyone and everything – is essential to both mother and child. Probiotics can help mothers reduce the risk of their children developing eczema, asthma, allergy and digestive distress and support digestive and mental health. Probiotics can be especially important for mothers if antibiotics are prescribed. This is common during pregnancy; over 150,000 women take antibiotics during pregnancy in the UK every year. Particularly during the last trimester, the baby is growing rapidly and counting on the mother’s positive bacterial flora, which a healthy fetus will start to pick up even in the womb.

 

During birth

One of the main benefits of taking a probiotic supplement during pregnancy is that it may reduce the incidence of allergies for the child. It is now well known that a baby acquires his or her intestinal flora from the mother’s birth canal during birth. If the mother’s micro bacteria are imbalanced, the baby’s will be too. This initial bacterial colonization can set the stage for the balance of intestinal flora throughout adult life.

New research from New York University has recently shown a causal link between caesarean deliveries and weight gain due to microbes – but only in mice. You are 1.3 times more likely to be obese if you’re delivered by caesarean. Vaginal swabbing – swabbing new born babies with vaginal fluids from their mothers – is a method that has been used to help caesarean babies get crucial microbes but scientists are still working to ensure it doesn’t lead to other infections.

 

During breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is beneficial for both mother and baby. Breast milk contains all the nutrients that are vital for a growing child. It is also rich in substances that help stave of disease and infection and boost your child’s immune system. By taking a probiotic when breastfeeding a mother can help to protect a new-born from illnesses because the beneficial bacteria are passed on to the baby, via her breast milk.

 

Building healthy immune systems

Probiotics that contain microbes from the Lactobacillus family can all be helpful in boosting the immune system. They are typically acid-resistant which means that they can effectively tolerate stomach acid. They populate the lining of a growing small intestine and work to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria that can weaken the digestive and immune system.

Around 25% of babies suffer from colic during the first six months of their lives. It can be a very distressing condition. Many clinical researchers believe that colic may be caused by an imbalance of healthy bacteria in the infant’s digestive system. Studies show that probiotics can help reduce the risk of colic in babies and help strengthen their resistance to illness.

We know now that babies are born with a gut bacteria count of zero. While there is much still to learn about how newborns build up a healthy microbiome, more studies are showing that a population of widely different positive microbes are crucial to infant development.

Microbes play a part in every function, from boosting digestion, metabolising food, preventing allergies, eczema and hay fever as well as producing neurotransmitters that affect brain development. Probiotics are one of many ways to build a diverse strong microbiome.