Probiotics are touted as near-magical health supplements designed to relieve a range of stomach, immunity, and vaginal issues.
But is it that simple?
So can probiotics help ease these dreaded pregnancy side effects?
We’ve got all you need to know on probiotics and pregnancy in our tell-all guide:
In this article: 📝
- What are probiotics?
- Are probiotics safe during pregnancy?
- When can you take probiotics during pregnancy?
- How do probiotics help pregnancy?
- Which probiotic is best during pregnancy?
- What supplements should be avoided during pregnancy?
- Probiotics and breastfeeding
- Probiotics when TTC
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms, including bacteria, often in foods like yogurt, cheese, and other fermented foods.
The word ‘probiotics’ comes from the Latin word ‘pro’, meaning ‘for’, and the Greek ‘βίος’ (‘bios’), meaning life—so literally ‘for life’.
Just as there are ‘bad’ bacteria, there are also ‘good’ bacteria, and, in a nutshell, that’s what probiotics are: good bacteria. 😇
Probiotics aren’t just supplements, either—a lot of us eat them as part of our regular diet without realizing (hello, sourdough!).
Are probiotics safe during pregnancy?
There haven’t been as many studies on the effects of probiotics on pregnant people as we’d like.
But probiotics are easily available, and it’s quite common to take them during pregnancy—the majority of people don’t have bad side effects from them.
But if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or illnesses, we always recommend speaking with your doctor or midwife before changing your diet or taking any supplements.
There haven’t been any links between probiotics and pregnancy complications, including pregnancy loss, unusual birth weight, or pre-term labor.
Probiotics aren’t likely to impact your baby, they’re mainly for your benefit as a mama-to-be!
Many doulas and midwives recommend taking probiotics during pregnancy but with a word of warning: some probiotics available haven’t been approved by the FDA, so be sure to speak with your doctor beforehand and choose an FDA-approved probiotic.
So, do your research and have a chat with your doctor or midwife to see if adding probiotics to your pregnancy wellness routine is a good idea for you
When can you take probiotics during pregnancy?
However, the sooner you start taking them (after speaking with your doctor), the sooner you can start reaping the benefits.
As we know, pregnancy can take its toll on your body, so supporting it from the beginning can help you to have a healthy pregnancy and lay a solid foundation for your little one’s health.
Probiotics aren’t known to induce labor, but if you’re past your due date and you’re looking to get a move on, check out our top ways to induce labor.
How many people use probiotics during pregnancy?
If you’re tempted to give probiotics a go, you’re not alone.
Women between 18-49 are one of the largest groups of probiotic supplement users, mainly to combat stomach discomfort.
Between 1.3 to 3.6% of pregnant women in the US and Canada also actively take probiotic supplements, but the country with the highest uptake is the Netherlands, with 13.7% of pregnant women taking probiotics.
How do probiotics help pregnancy?
As we mentioned before, there haven’t been enough specific studies into the effect of probiotics on pregnancies for us to definitively say that they are 100% beneficial.
Having said that, there have been a few studies that have shown that probiotics may have health benefits for pregnant people, including decreasing the risk of preterm delivery.
Probiotics have been proven to give your immune system a boost—which might need all the help it can get during pregnancy.
If you’re trying to conceive (TTC), try using a few different probiotics for a while to see which ones work for you—there are loads of different strains, and everybody is unique, so what works for someone else may not work for you.
If you’re keen to dip your toe into probiotics, whether you’re TTC, pregnant, or have a babe in arms, always check with your doctor first.
Here are a few of the potential benefits of taking probiotics during pregnancy:
1. Keeping bowel movements regular
Ahh, bloating. Often followed by cramps, gas, and constipation, this quadruple threat can really bring you down.
But fear not—probiotics can help reduce dreaded pregnancy bloat, stopping hormone-fuelled constipation by keeping you (ahem) regular.
Around 40% of pregnant people tend to get constipation close to their due date, so you’re in good company.
By rebalancing your gut bacteria, probiotics can help ease that pain.
2. Promoting a healthy gut
Most of us don’t have a healthy gut—whether we’re pregnant or not.
Stress, medications, and diet can all play their part in cutting down our ‘good’ bacteria, but probiotics can help to bring them back.
There are a couple of specific strains of probiotics that have been proven in studies to be good for boosting gut health in pregnant women: lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, and S. salivarius (try saying that five times fast)
During pregnancy, probiotics can help to make our bacteria more diverse—the sign of a healthy gut.
Probiotics = more diverse bacteria = healthy gut = fewer ‘tummy troubles’
As a bonus, probiotics can also help protect against ‘bad’ bacteria, which can cause some nasty illnesses for both you and baby.
Plus, having a healthy gut means you can better absorb all the delicious nutrients you take in from food, drink, and other supplements. Win-win!
3. Boosting your immune system
Did you know that 80% of your immune system lives in your gut?
Did you also know that your immune system changes when you’re pregnant?
Some parts of your immune system get a boost, while others get left to the wayside—it’s one of the reasons why your immune system doesn’t mistake your implantation embryo as a threat.
You having a healthy immune system can help your baby to develop a healthy immune system, too.
Which leads us to…
4. Reducing the risk of allergies and eczema in your baby
There are still studies being carried out to support this, but most seem to show that probiotics can lower the risk of eczema in babies—although they aren’t large studies, so it’s best to speak to your doctor if you’re concerned about eczema.
Interestingly, probiotics may also reduce the chances of your child having allergies, too.
Having a baby with an allergy can be tough, because often, it’s a reaction you can’t see, and poor baby can’t tell you about it—cue: lots of crying.
While the World Allergy Organization doesn’t make specific recommendations about taking probiotics during pregnancy to avoid allergies in children, the results from recent studies are pretty positive.
5. Reducing your chances of vaginal infection
Of course, keeping your vagina healthy during pregnancy is pretty important.
You might have heard about how probiotics can help with bacterial vaginosis (BV), which can increase your odds of getting HIV, genital herpes, chlamydia, pelvic inflammatory disease, and gonorrhea, and even premature labor.
Once again, there haven’t been enough studies for us to definitively say that probiotics can treat vaginal infections, but there has been some evidence to suggest that they can.
It’s best to have a chat with your doctor if you think probiotics could help treat a vaginal infection—they may suggest that antibiotics are the best solution.
But probiotics may be able to prevent or reduce your chances of getting a vaginal infection if taken early on in your pregnancy.
Which probiotic is best during pregnancy?
Probiotics don’t have to be taken as supplements.
If you’ve got a craving for yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, or even kombucha (definitely an acquired taste!) that might be your body’s way of telling you it’s hungry for probiotics.
However, if the thought of sauerkraut makes your stomach turn, supplements could be the way to go.
Most species of probiotics are generally considered safe to take, but there are two that are the most common:
Bifidobacteria: This bacteria is usually found in the colon, lower intestine, and breast milk and is the bacteria you’ll likely find in your supplements and foods. Bifidobacteria can help support your immune system, minimize the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut, and break down the foods you eat into tasty nutrients. Yum!
Lactobacillus: This is the bacteria that can help with your vaginal health—it’s naturally found there, and if you have an imbalance of lactobacillus, that could be the cause of any nasty itches or infections.
Both species of probiotics can be beneficial during pregnancy, but it’s best to speak with your midwife or doctor and mention your main concerns.
For example, if you’ve previously suffered from IBS, upping your bifidobacteria intake could help, but if yeast infections are a regular occurrence, lactobacillus could be your new best friend.
Where can you get probiotics while expecting?
You can get a lot of probiotics at your grocery store—either in food or supplements.
Here’s our list of foods, supplements, and products with probiotics:
- Some cheeses (Gouda, mozzarella, cheddar, and cottage cheese)
- Acidophilus Milk
- Green olives (in brine)
- Probiotic yogurt drinks
- Daily probiotic supplement tablets
There are some foods you should avoid during pregnancy, though—some unpasteurized dairy products, for example, can sometimes harbor harmful bacteria that can cause problems during pregnancy.
If you want to add more probiotic foods to your pregnancy diet, check with your doctor, first, then check out our foods to eat while pregnant for some tasty ideas.
But sometimes, probiotic supplements are the way to go—some bacteria in probiotic foods don’t survive the trip to your stomach, but supplements are designed to go the distance.
What supplements should be avoided during pregnancy?
There are a whole host of foods you should avoid during pregnancy, but what about supplements during pregnancy?
Supplements to avoid during pregnancy include:
- Vitamin A: Too much can be dangerous for your baby
- Vitamin E: Too much can cause abdominal pain and split your amniotic sack too early
- Black Cohosh: A type of buttercup that can be taken to ease period cramps and menopausal hot flashes (can induce preterm labor)
- Goldenseal: Can cause jaundice in babies
- Dong Quai: A root used in Chinese medicine (can cause early contractions)
- Yohimbe: The bark of an African tree (has been linked to high blood pressure, seizures, and heart attacks)
- Mugwort: Can cause pregnancy loss
Vitamin E and A can occur naturally in some foods and are needed for a healthy pregnancy, but when taken in excess, additional supplements can potentially cause pregnancy complications.
Still, we want to emphasize the word excess—too little Vitamin A and E is not ideal either.
Why can’t you take probiotics while pregnant?
Sometimes certain circumstances may mean avoiding probiotics altogether.
Namely, if you have an immune disorder, allergies to specific bacteria or yeast, have had pancreatitis, or if you’re recovering from major surgery.
Other medications can also be limited with probiotics, so speak with your doctor if you’re taking antibiotics or antifungal meds and you want to see if probiotics could work for you.
*It’s always best to speak with your doctor about supplements, particularly if you’re pregnant, trying to conceive, or breastfeeding.
Probiotics and breastfeeding
Should you carry on taking probiotics after giving birth? If you’re already taking them and they’re working for you, yep!
Taking probiotics while breastfeeding can help further reduce the chances of infant eczema and other allergies.
By promoting healthy bacteria in your baby’s gut, you could be setting up a foundation of a healthy gut for the rest of their life.
But, as before, further studies are still needed to confirm whether taking probiotics while breastfeeding is beneficial to both mama and baby.
Probiotics when TTC
Can probiotics help you get pregnant? Possibly.
Once again, further studies are needed to prove whether probiotics can boost your fertility, but generally speaking, a healthier body will improve your chances of getting pregnant.
The studies that have been done have shown that probiotics can reduce inflammation, which can impact fertility cycles.
Probiotics can even improve male fertility, too, with lactobacillus bacteria more commonly found in healthy, fertile sperm.
The jury’s out on whether you can take probiotics while pregnant, but the small studies that have been done so far suggest they can be beneficial.
So stock up on yogurt, snack on sourdough, and, if you’re feeling brave, taste some tempeh!
And as always, check in with your doctor if you have any concerns.
Your well-being is paramount mama. ❤️