After more than 20 years in practice, I have seen a lot of changes in prenatal nutritional care. Once, pregnant women were only advised to take folate (folic acid) supplements. Now, we’re even smarter about their dietary needs. We know, for example, that DHA helps the developing brain, magnesium helps with leg cramps, and certain probiotics can offer digestive and immune support. I am also happy to report that these standard prenatal options are getting cleaner, in great part due to consumer demand. More women are insisting on using products that are free of dyes and chemicals.
I frequently talk with expectant moms about the advantages of taking probiotics, especially if they are dealing with pregnancy-related constipation or vaginal and urinary-tract infections. Having regular bowel movements is important because constipation and straining can aggravate hemorrhoids. The right probiotics also help improve nutrient absorption, which is important to support pregnancy as well as breastfeeding. Mothers pass gut bacteria to their children through the birth process and breast milk. These sources lay the foundation for the child’s immune system. Probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding are tremendously important for the health of the baby, in addition to the health of the mom.
Is a supplement right for you?
Some fermented foods are good probiotics sources. It can, however, be difficult to get a sufficient amount through diet alone. Kimchee or sauerkraut also have the potential to cause gas, something that some expectant moms already struggle with. Consistency matters in practicing home prenatal care and, in that light, convenience is an underrated aspect of any regimen. The easier it is to maintain a habit, the more likely you are to stay with the program. A probiotic supplement that is shelf-stable and easily obtained can help in keeping it simple.
Other things to consider:
Check the label for a guaranteed shelf life. Probiotics are fragile. They can easily be destroyed by stomach acid. Look for a time-released formula, which helps ensure they arrive in your gut intact so you’ll get their full benefit.
Look for strains with benefits that support pregnancy. Pregnant and breastfeeding moms need support for nutrient absorption, producing natural (nonsynthetic) folate, improving the odds of successful breastfeeding, and promoting healthy immune systems for both mother and child. These benefits have been associated with particular probiotic strains through clinical research.
Stay away from allergens and anything artificial. Studies show that you will pass the probiotics on to your baby through the birth process and through your breast milk. That’s why many moms choose a formula that is vegetarian, non-GMO, and free of lactose, gluten and yeast. Many expectant moms also look for clean formulas that don’t contain soy, sugar, iron, nuts, artificial flavors, artificial colors or preservatives. Also, always choose products made with human strains of beneficial bacteria.
Make sure to feed your probiotics. Probiotics need their own nourishment—in the form of prebiotics—to thrive. Consider probiotics supported by kiwi fruit powder, which is a good prebiotic and promotes regularity. Kiwifruit powder also contains healthful polyphenols, a kiwi-specific enzyme called actinidin, and insoluble fiber. Probiotics are generally well tolerated by expectant moms. Taking them daily is a natural step toward better wellness for mom and baby. Answers to other probiotics-related questions can be found at Hyperbiotics.com.
Sherry Torkos, BSc, Phm, RPh, is a pharmacist, author, and health enthusiast with a passion for prevention. She currently practices holistic pharmacy in the Niagara region of Ontario, integrating conventional and complementary therapies to optimize health and prevent disease.