How to Improve Gut Health During Pregnancy (and Why)

How to Improve Gut Health During Pregnancy (and Why)

Pregnancy is a beautiful yet delicate process that your body goes through, and it comes with a whirlwind of changes!

Your hormones, your metabolism, and your immune system are changing—even your gut changes.

And these changing pregnancy hormones (progesterone and estrogen) can affect how your gut moves and grooves.

Your gut microbiome is not something we usually think about when it comes to supporting your developing baby, but recent research is demonstrating how your microbiome health can affect your pregnancy and the health of your baby.

So, why is your gut microbiome important during pregnancy?

Let’s talk about it!

In this article: 📝

  • What is the gut microbiome?
  • Can pregnancy change your gut biome?
  • Does gut health affect pregnancy?
  • How does the gut microbiome affect pregnancy?
  • How does the maternal microbiome affect the fetus?
  • How can I restore my gut health during pregnancy?

What is the gut microbiome?

Your “microbiota” is the total amount of microorganisms in various areas of your body.

And your “microbiome” is the environment in which the microbiota live, including its conditions.

You have microbiomes in your mouth, gut, vagina, skin, and even placenta.

Your gastrointestinal tract contains 500 to 1500 different microbiomes made up of bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses.

Fun fact: Around 70% to 80% of immune systems are present in the gut.

Microbiomes are not only involved in our digestion and absorption of the food we eat, but they are also important in regulating our health.

Can pregnancy change your gut biome?

During pregnancy, your gut microbiomes change every three months (or each trimester).

The gut microbiome in pregnant women contains more Bifidobacterium, Proteobacteria, and Actinobacteria.

And this increase in bacteria can potentially cause an imbalance.

Does gut health affect pregnancy?

So, can changes in your microbes affect your pregnancy?

Let’s be clear: Your body always wants you to be thriving, especially during your pregnancy.

However, sometimes things can go wonky, especially in the gut and vagina, and become imbalanced.

An imbalance in our microbiomes, also known as dysbiosis, can impact your pregnancy and lead to complications.

Research shows that many pregnancy complications are related to intestinal permeability or leakiness of your gut lining, AKA leaky gut.

Complications from leaky gut and pregnancy can include gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), insulin resistance, inflammatory response, and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).

And one major cause of intestinal permeability is an imbalance of the gut microbiome—what’s known as gut dysbiosis.

How does the gut microbiome affect pregnancy?

Research links gut dysbiosis to a number of complications during pregnancy, including gestational diabetes, obesity, preeclampsia, pregnancy digestive issues, and autoimmune diseases.

Let’s talk through the potential pregnancy complications and findings one by one:

1. Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a blood pressure condition and the leading cause of maternal death worldwide, affecting 5% to 7% of pregnant women.

And research shows that the gut microbiome may play a role in preeclampsia.

A 2019 study revealed that women diagnosed with preeclampsia in the third trimester had an increase in pathogenic bacteria in the intestines and a decrease in the probiotic bacteria, Coprococcus cactus when compared to healthy pregnant women.

2. Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a common pregnancy medical disorder that causes high blood sugar that can affect you and baby’s health.

And it can lead to a host of long-term complications postpartum, like a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Now, the link between intestinal dysbiosis and GDM is a complicated issue for experts, but there’s no denying how gut flora imbalance can affect blood glucose.

In fact, using probiotics during pregnancy can help reduce insulin resistance and relieve inflammation in the intestines.

3. Preterm labor

According to this 2020 study, decreases and imbalances in the bacteria species, Lactobacillus, in the vaginal microbiome, can increase the risk of preterm births.

Another study also suggests that having too many different (high-diversity) vaginal microbiota may also increase the risk of preterm births due to inflammatory responses.

4. Increasing baby’s risk of colitis

Can your maternal microbiome affect your baby’s gut health in the future?

Research is indicating yes.

And in surprising ways.

One 2018 study tells us that disorders in the maternal gut microbiome can increase the chance of colitis in your child’s adulthood.

And your maternal gut microbiome can impact more than your child’s future gut health (more on this further below).

5. Gestational obesity

Could your gut microbiome affect gestational obesity and birth weight?

The research says yes.

But is there a specific bacteria to blame?

Well, one experimental study pointed to a high concentration of Bacteroides in the intestine, while another found an increase in Enterobacteriaceae and E. coli in overweight pregnant women with a decrease in Bacteroides and Bifidobacterium.

Regardless of which bacteria is the culprit, these studies tell us that your gut microbiome can be closely related to gestational obesity.

Why? The gut is an important organ for breaking down fats in your body.

The research is a lot, but really, what it’s saying is gut health during pregnancy is all about balance!

Ideally, we want your good and bad bacteria (and other microorganisms) to be in sync, thriving in the environment they live in.

Even your mouth has a microbiome! And the microbiome in your mouth can be found in the placental microbiome.

Research is still trying to understand how this happens, but they do know there’s an oral-placental axis or connection.

Your oral microbiome can contain similar bacteria in the vagina, so it’s important to focus on hygiene in both areas!

How does the maternal microbiome affect the fetus?

The balance within your maternal microbiome is important not only for the prevention of pregnancy complications but it’s super important for the health of your growing baby too.

The maternal microbiome and baby’s immune system and neurodevelopment are deeply connected.

You literally pass your microbes to your baby through your skin, vagina, breast milk, and even intestine (gut).

That means your baby’s developing gestational microbiomes are directly related to your maternal microbiome.

Here’s how your gut health can impact baby’s development and future well-being:

1. Baby’s immune system

Research shows that the majority of your immune system lies in your gut.

As a result, your newborn baby’s immune system is largely influenced by your maternal immune system.

Taking care of your gut health while pregnant can help drive your developing baby’s immune system planning.

How cool is that?

2. Baby’s brain and nervous system

Thanks to the gut-brain connection (or gut-brain axis (GBA)), your maternal microbiomes can influence the shape of your baby’s brain and nerve development.

The gut-brain axis is essentially a complex communication system between your brain and your gut, linking your emotional and cognitive centers with your intestinal functions.

It’s the very thing that links mood disorders like anxiety and depression with GI conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

And research shows that the bacteria in our intestinal tract can impact the brain and nerve development of not only you but also baby.

3. Baby’s behavior

Gut dysbiosis has been shown to also affect neurological disorders down the road, such as anxiety, autism, depression, and stress.

One 2016 study even found a link between a high-fat diet during pregnancy and the development of social behavioral deficits in offspring.

While maternal obesity is also associated with an increased risk of baby developing neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

There’s no question: Your pregnancy diet matters

How can I restore my gut health during pregnancy?

So, how can you improve your gut microbiome? There’s a few easy steps you can take for healing your gut while pregnant:

  1. Take a probiotic: Probiotics have been shown to be an effective tool for microbiome pregnancy imbalances and can be taken orally or vaginally. Probiotics have been used to help pregnant women suffering from headaches, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting, as well.
  2. Eat sauerkraut or other fermented foods: Fermented foods are rich in pre and probiotics naturally that can feed your good, beneficial bacteria. Just be sure that it is prepared properly.
  3. Breastfeed or look for breast milk donors: Bacterial species in breast milk are the most abundant bacterial species found in the gut microbiome of the newborn baby. Breastfeeding has an incredible influence on your baby’s during their early life, but it’s not an option for every mama. This is where a lactation consultant of donor milk can help.
  4. Test your gut microbiome: Talk to your health practitioner to see your stool testing options. This is especially valuable when you’re trying to conceive (TTC) to see if there is an imbalance that you can address before pregnancy.
  5. Cut down on added sugars: Eating a high-sugar diet has been shown to not only increase your risk for gestational diabetes, but it can also alter your gestational gut microbiome.
  6. Get more sleep: Lack of sleep has been shown to alter gut metabolism and increase your risk for bacterial overgrowth.
  7. Keep stress down: I know, easier said than done, but do your best to enlist stress-relieving practices like yoga, meditation, or even cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). As this article puts it, “Stress gets into the belly.” And then there’s that gut-brain connection

And what about antibiotics?

Proceed with caution. Research shows that antibiotics taken during pregnancy increase the risk for inflammatory bowel disease in baby.

During pregnancy, your gut microbiomes naturally change.

But, regulating your maternal microbiome benefits not only your health while pregnant but also the health of your developing baby.

Remember, gut health during pregnancy is all about balance.

Pregnancy may come with a whole lot of changes, but the Peanut community is ready to support you.

We’ll see you there.


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