The Importance of Gut Health in Pregnancy

7 June 2016
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The commonly accepted belief that the baby inside the uterus is sterile, while the membranes are still intact, is being challenged recently.  Research shows that the gut bacteria from the mother may be able to reach the baby (Through the placenta via the blood stream). Why is this a concern? Our modern lifestyle is not very microbiome friendly, and many of us have dysbiosis (an imbalance in gut bacteria). Dysbiosis and too much of the ‘wrong’ bacteria have been linked to premature rupture of membranes and premature birth, not to mention the links  of gut health to chronic illnesses.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0923250808000028

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23332725

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24390916

http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/339182

Gut health contributes to proper immune function because 80% of the immune system is in the gut.  The gut, which houses at least 10 times as many human cells as there are in our bodies, and 150 times as many genes as are in our genome, controls many vital operations and is responsible for synthesis of neuroactive and nutritional compounds, for immune modulation, and for inflammatory signaling. Poor gut health can predispose us to everything from autoimmune disease, allergies, asthma, skin problems like eczema and psoriasis, cognitive difficulties, depression, anxiety and metabolic problems like obesity and fatty liver.

During pregnancy, your microbiome (also known as gut flora) is not only crucial for your health, but for your baby’s health as well.

The mother’s intestinal bacteria is also found in her breastmilk and is continually passed to baby.

An unhealthy, unbalanced gut flora in the mother can cause problems such as preterm labor, and once baby is born, issues like colic, cradle cap, asthma, food sensitivities, ear infections, reflux, GERD, etc.  Healing the gut when pregnant should be a high priority for the mother so the baby can have a healthy start to life.

A study obtained stool samples from women during each trimester of pregnancy and analyzed the bacteria present. They found that bacteria typically linked with good health decreased over the course of pregnancy, while bacteria associated with diseases generally increased. In addition, signs of inflammation in the gut increased. These changes in gut bacteria may play a role in changing a pregnant woman’s metabolism. Two changes that happen during pregnancy are an increase in the amount of body fat, and reduced sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar.

“The findings suggest that our bodies have coevolved with the microbiota and may actually be using them as a tool — to help alter the mother’s metabolism to support the growth of the fetus.” http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=160986

Research also shows, during pregnancy, the microbes actually become less diverse and the number of beneficial bacteria decline while disease-related bacteria increase. Under normal circumstances, such changes could lead to weight gain and inflammation, but in pregnancy, they induce metabolic changes that promote energy storage in fat tissue so the fetus can grow. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22863002

No matter how you look at the research, women’s gut bacteria changes during pregnancy.  Ideally, women should try to head into pregnancy with a healthy microbiome and then maintain it, so that as the flora is altered during each trimester, it has a strong base in which it began.

If antibiotics are needed before or during pregnancy, repopulating the gut with friendly bacteria and eating a diet containing minimal toxins will help counter-act the harmful effect on the gut the antibiotics cause.

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Toxicity flows from the gut throughout the body and into the brain. This continually challenges the nervous system, preventing it from performing its normal functions and processing sensory information. Virtually any toxic exposure can be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and cause a chronic illness, allergies, even symptoms of autism, and/or any number of other neurological problems.

As noted by Scientific American: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/12/27/seeding-baby-microbiome.aspx#_edn7

“Scientists have long wondered whether the composition of bacteria in the intestines, known as the gut microbiome, might be abnormal in people with autism and drive some of these symptoms. Now a spate of new studies supports this notion and suggests that restoring proper microbial balance could alleviate some of the disorder’s behavioral symptoms.”

In recent years, it has been discovered just how important the mother’s bacteria is for the baby throughout pregnancy and birth.  The way the child enters the world sets the stage for his own gut flora. The process of “seeding” a baby at birth is when the bacteria is passed from mother to baby.

Keeping healthy levels of bacteria throughout pregnancy, seeding your baby’s microbiome, and optimizing your vitamin D level (make sure you have this checked while pregnant) will provide a strong foundation for creating a strong and healthy gut in your baby.  However, the hazards of chemical exposures during pregnancy to endocrine disruptors like BPA and phthalates, and pesticides from the environment and foods can have wide-ranging and long-term health effects.

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While you may not be able to avoid all toxic exposures, it’s important to take whatever proactive measures you can to reduce your toxic burden, especially before and during pregnancy. For example, avoiding any and all unnecessary drugs and vaccinations is one aspect you have a large degree of control over. Below are several more.

It is not the time for a full on detox, but you should remove as many toxins from your diet and environment as you can. Use non-toxic cleaners and eat a whole foods diet rich in prebiotics and probiotics, with as much organic as possible. This helps the body to detoxify at a rate that supports your ability to get pregnant while creating a healthy environment for your little one.

This includes: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/12/27/seeding-baby-microbiome.aspx#_edn7

  1. As much as you’re able, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to agricultural chemicals like glyphosate. Steer clear of processed, prepackaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid pesticides, artificial food additives, dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring, MSG, and unlabeled genetically engineered ingredients.
  2. Maintain optimal gut flora by eating raw food grown in healthy, organic soil and ‘reseeding’ your gut with fermented foods. (This is absolutely essential when you’re taking an antibiotic). If you aren’t eating fermented foods, you most likely need to supplement with a probiotic on a regular basis, especially if you’re eating processed foods.
  3. Optimize your vitamin D level.
  4. Exercise regularly throughout your pregnancy. Previous studies have shown that, in general, women who exercise throughout their pregnancies have larger placentas than their more sedentary peers. The volume of your placenta is a general marker of its ability to transport oxygen and nutrients to your fetus, so it stands to reason that having a large, healthy placenta will lead to a healthier baby.
  5. Once your baby is born, try to breast feed for as long as you’re able—ideally at least six months. Breastfeeding helps ensure that your child’s gut flora develops properly right from the start, as breast milk is loaded both with beneficial bacteria and nutrient growth factors that will support their continued growth.
  6. Rather than eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity.
  7. Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA-containing liners).
  8. Have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath).
  9. Only use natural cleaning products in your home.
  10. Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics.
  11. Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances, as they often contain phthalates, which have been linked to reductions in IQ and other chronic health problems.
  12. Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
  13. When redoing your home, look for “green,” toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
  14. Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric, or install a glass shower door. Most all flexible plastics, like shower curtains, contain dangerous plasticizers like phthalates.
  15. Avoid spraying pesticides around your home or insect repellants that contain DEET on your body. There are safe, effective and natural alternatives out there.
  16. Minimize stress. Stress messes with your gut microbiota.
  17. Avoid antimicrobial skin products (eg. handsoaps), and house cleaning products
  18. Avoid unnecessary medications
  19. Stop smoking

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