A flourishing microbiome is important regardless of life stage. But, if you are thinking about having a baby anytime soon, then arming yourself with information about how to help your microbiome thrive and what to avoid is key. A healthy prenatal microbiome is a good first step you can take as a mama to safeguard your health and the health of your baby.
But what is a healthy prenatal microbiome?
Scientists are now learning that your microbiome – the bacteria that resides in your gut and, actually, your entire body – is fundamental to your health. Your microbiome is similar to a rainforest. The more diverse the better. This microbial community in your gut thrives off of dietary fiber that you eat. Each species of microflora needs a different kind of food to survive, so it’s important that you provide a variety of dietary fiber sources to ensure that it flourishes.
Dietary fiber is metabolized by bacteria that send signals to the immune cells to regulate their function. That signal can impact your body through positive or negative action, based on the type of microflora that are flourishing in the gut – either revving up inflammation (from bad bacteria) or lowering it while calming the immune system (from good bacteria). The idea is to feed the good bacteria and starve off the bad. The great news is that now we know that we can feed our gut for health.
During pregnancy, a thriving prenatal microbiome is especially important. A diverse microbiome – think rainforest – helps mama absorb nutrients appropriately and reduces the likelihood that chronic inflammation will cause secondary issues. It’s also important for your baby because it sets the stage for the development of their own healthy, flourishing microbiome. In fact, research suggests that exposure to your microbiome through vaginal delivery and through your breastmilk gives them a leg up. A Danish study of two million children found that those born by cesarean were significantly more likely than those born vaginally to develop asthma, connective tissue disorders, immune deficiencies and other autoimmune disorders. For those delivered by cesarean, it’s important to have early exposure to the mother’s skin and breastmilk for adequate exposure.
Tips to boost your prenatal microbiome
1. Dietary Fiber intake is key
Consume dietary fiber from a variety of complex carbohydrates. If you only eat one or two types of carbohydrates, then you’ll only have a handful of bacteria that thrive. But, you’ll be deficient in others. Just like a rainforest needs a diverse set of species to thrive, your body needs a diverse ecosystem with a variety of thriving microflora to optimize your health.
Dr. Erica and Justin Sonnenburg, two of the world’s leading microbiome experts, eat a seasonal plant-based diet with legumes and fermented foods, including yogurt and kefir. Consuming a plant-based diet during pregnancy will lead to a diverse microbiome, but make sure to talk to your doctor about any conditions that you may need to address before diving in.
FYI: Eating meat is not taboo in a plant-based diet, but the spotlight should shine on plants, and the more varied the better.
2. Bad bacteria is well…bad for a prenatal microbiome
Stay away from foods that help the bad bacteria flourish – sugar or simple carbs. The ‘watch your sugar intake’ advice is echoed across every nutrition and physician office. It’s especially important during pregnancy. There are a variety of secondary reasons why this advice should be held up, but its starts with the prenatal microbiome.
Sugar is metabolized differently than dietary fiber by the bacteria in your gut. First, it causes a large rush of sugar absorption all at once that floods into your blood stream. Second, it happens further up in the gut which leads to an unwanted immune response and inflammation. And if this happens day after day, chronic inflammation will wreak havoc in your body leading to many prenatal conditions that can impact mama and baby.
Dr. Erica and Justin Sonnenburg suggest staying away from all foods in a wrapper or package until the food industry catches up to microbiome research. Pregnant or not, that’s pretty sage advice.
3. Probiotics can help kick-start your microbiome
It’s a pretty simple concept. If the bacteria aren’t there, they won’t grow. Probiotics can help start the process to make sure you have a thriving prenatal microbiome – ideally before you are pregnant. You can get probiotics from food, but if you are starting at the beginning, then probiotic supplements can help.
Unfortunately, not all brands are equal. This is true for all vitamins across the board. But, when it comes to supplementing with probiotics, this is especially important. There are many factors involved beyond strain: how they are stored and shipped are critical points to think through. And even when the brands check those boxes, you’ll need to switch it up every so often until you get your little rainforest going.
Bonus tip to help your prenatal microbiome flourish
Antibiotics wipe your gut bacteria, good or bad. Don’t take them unless you really need them. And if you do, make sure it’s under the strict guidance of your doctor. In fact, each time you take them, the good bacteria in your gut are less likely to repopulate with more and more antibiotic exposure, according to Dr. Sonnenburg. When you are with your doctor, be your own advocate and make sure they feel that antibiotics are truly necessary before you take them.
Vitamin & Me: Prenatal Microbiome
Before you get pregnant, you may want to think about onboarding a probiotic. You typically only need it for a short amount of time. Top your plant-based diet with fermented foods and you should be all set.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget the prenatal. It’s great to have this on board as early as you can. Our team can help you navigate which prenatal is right for you by taking our short personalized quiz or reach out to us at email@example.com. Regardless of which prenatal you choose, we want you to make sure to get those pregnancy nutrients on board.
We get it. Sometimes you just can’t tolerate anything but a gummy when it comes to prenatals. We’ve had our share of nausea at Vitamin & Me too. So, in case a gummy is your thing, here’s an option that has some added gut support.
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