Many of my patients ask me what they can do to prepare for pregnancy. Surely there’s more to prepping your body than a simple prenatal vitamin? One area that can almost always use improvement (not just in aspiring mothers, but in most of the U.S. population), is a healthy gut. Age, antibiotics, stress, and diet can do a number on our gut microbiome over time. But what exactly does this have to do with your pregnancy?
Mom’s Microbiome is Baby’s Microbiome
The health of your gut directly influences the health of baby’s gut. In fact, there has been research showing that the incidence of Celiac disease, diabetes, asthma, and other chronic conditions is higher in infants born via C-section. In other words, when baby is not “inoculated” with healthy flora while passing through the mother’s vagina there gut is left susceptible to whatever microbes are present in the hospital.
Let’s be really clear here about my take on C-sections. I do NOT judge moms for having a C-section. You may have laid out the best birth plan and taken every step for a natural birth, but it just didn’t work out. It happens. And rather than shaming moms about C-sections, let’s instead celebrate a woman who would stop at nothing to bring her child healthfully into this world. Yeah, that’s pretty awesome.
But the reality is that if baby doesn’t get seeded with your awesome gut flora or if they do and your gut flora is not awesome, they can be at higher risk for developing chronic disease later in life. But all is not lost, baby also receives some of your flora just through contact with your skin.
Sounds a bit scary, I know. But my mantra, and I invite you to join in is, do the best you can in this moment with the knowledge you have.
By setting a quality terrain we can help ensure the healthiest gut microbes for you and baby. Here are more resaons why a healthy gut in pregnancy is beneficial.
We’ve come to understand that there is a great deal of communication between our gut and our brain. The gut and microbes it houses are capable of sending signals directly to the brain, which influence both anxiety and depression.
Childbirth alone can trigger systemic inflammation in mom, leading to a myriad of symptoms, including postpartum depression and autoimmunity. Studies have demonstrated the ability of certain probiotic strains to regulate inflammation, depression and anxiety.
Inflammatory cytokines (messengers of the immune system) have been shown to be elevated in postpartum women coping with depression, as well as non-pregnant populations. Specifically, IL6 and TNF-alpha have been found in higher concentrations within the cerebrospinal fluid during childbirth in women who were later diagnosed with postpartum depression.
Since the majority of your immune system is found in your gut, a key to immune system regulation and decreased inflammation is through maintaining a healthy gut.
Maximize Nutrient Absorption
Pregnancy and breastfeeding are incredibly demanding in so many ways and nutrient utilization is no exception. Where are you going to get all those nutrients? Maybe you’re thinking from your prenatal, but taking a prenatal is of no benefit if you can’t break it down and absorb it. The same is true of your food.
Optimizing gut health ensures your ability to eat, digest, absorb, and eliminate all the yummy foods you consume.
Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a normal inhabitant of the gut. It’s neither beneficial, nor harmful when kept in check. However, in pregnant women, this bacteria can migrate to the vagina and put baby at risk for an infection, which in about 1-2% of babies can become life threatening, according to the CDC.
Although 1-2% seems low, this is a serious infection, which is why the recommended course of treatment is antibiotics administered during labor. In addition, if the infection is not serious, an estimated 50% of infants will be colonized by GBS.
Lactobacillus species have been shown to be beneficial to pregnant women and can inhibit GBS from populating the vaginal tissues. A stool culture will reveal your Lactobacillus growth and the growth of other good bacteria.
I generally recommend a 50 billion probiotic with multiple species prior to conception and throughout pregnancy.
How to Assess Your Gut Health. Where to start?
Stool Culture: A robust stool culture can tell you about what’s growing and equally important, what is not growing in your gut. It can also provide necessary insight about your overall digestion.
Lactulose Breath Test: While not necessary for everyone, if you are experiencing symptoms of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) it is important to be tested and work with an experienced practitioner. In my experience, SIBO only gets worse with pregnancy, so you definitely want to treat first.
Eat Fermented Foods: Sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, and other fermented food can provide you with good gut bugs, plus the food they need to thrive.
Eat Organic: As often as possible, choose organic, local food. Pesticide and antibiotic laden foods cause disruption to the microbiome.
Practice Stress Management: Stress can alter your microbiome and baby's. Stress is a normal part of life— we all experience it. Practicing stress reduction techniques and setting (and knowing) your limits is as important as eating your veggies.
Get Examined: Work with a qualified Naturopathic or Functional Medicine doctor to investigate any possible nutrient deficiencies, gut dysfunction, and ensure you’re at your best before conception.
My approach to preconception includes working with mom-to-be to optimize her overall health to create the healthiest and happiest pregnancy possible. It is my philosophy that mother is both the seed and the soil to a child. Therefore, preconception care is about creating the most amazing egg and the healthiest body to to carry that chid into this world.