This post is sponsored by GoodBelly Probiotics but all opinions and information is based on current probiotics pregnancy research reviewed and this article authored entirely by myself, a registered dietitian.
Probiotics are having a moment in the nutrition spotlight, and for good reason! But what about probiotic consumption and supplementation during one of the most careful and considerate times in many women's lives - pregnancy? Probiotics & pregnancy is a growing area of interest and research.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are the "good" bacteria that live in and on our bodies (1). The bacteria in our body is found everywhere from your digestive tract, to your skin, to your genitals. This bacteria is also not a constant; all your bacteria, viruses, and fungi (your "microbiome") fluctuates based on what you eat, how you sleep, your stress levels, and more.
Why is a Healthy Microbiome Important?
Pregnant or not, having a healthy microbiome, is important for overall health.
Fun fact: there are roughly 40 trillion bacteria cells in your body and 30 trillion human cells (2,3). This means you're actually more bacteria than human! 😉
The microbiome can affect your body in many ways, starting from birth when some of the first bacteria in baby's gastrointestinal tracts helps them digest breast milk, to helping digest fiber, help control your immune system, and help control brain health, and more (4, 5, 6, 7).
Are Probiotics Safe in Pregnancy?
The American Pregnancy Association, National Library of Medicine, and the National Institute of Health all say probiotics are probably safe in pregnancy (8). Why just "probably"? Because there are so many types of probiotics and research hasn't comprehensively covered every single type.
For the research that is available at the time of this writing, studies reflecting probiotic safety in pregnancy seem to show that probiotics do not appear to pose any safety risks (9). When probiotics are used by healthy individuals, systemic absorption is rare. Current literature does not indicate an increase in adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Probiotics & Pregnancy Benefits
Consuming probiotics in pregnancy can be useful for supporting the mother's microbiome. Growing research suggests the human microbiome plays an influential role in maternal and child health outcomes (10). Some studies suggest an imbalance of healthy-to-unhealthy bacteria may influence risk of pregnancy complications, leading to increased risk of preterm birth, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and excessive weight gain in pregnancy (10, 11).
Probiotic supplements taken in pregnancy may support better blood sugar regulation and levels. Studies have shown probiotic supplements may reduce the risk of gestational diabetes (GDM) by up to 23% and for those who have GDM, they may lower the risk of having a larger baby (12).
Another really interesting note is that we used to believe that the womb and placenta were sterile and an infant's first bacterial contact was through the birth canal. However, emerging research is showing that the placenta actually isn't sterile at all, but is plentiful with bacteria that can be transferred to the fetus throughout gestation (13).
Probiotic supplementation in late pregnancy (and while nursing) is also being shown that it may help protect against infant allergies, eczema, colic, spitting up, and more (14, 15).
Food Sources of Probiotics
I always like to think food first when it comes to nutrition and supplements as just that - supplemental. Focus on consuming a variety of probiotic-rich foods such as:
- aged cheese
- raw sauerkraut
- fermented vegetables (like pickles)
A lot of the more familiar probiotic-rich foods, like kefir, yogurt, and aged cheeses, aren't always a great fit for those avoiding dairy. Whether avoiding dairy or not, I'm a big fan of GoodBelly Probiotics. In my house we love the GoodBelly JuiceDrinks and GoodBelly PlusShots! I also personally really enjoy the gluten-free GoodBelly Infused Beverages.
Some fermented beverages, like kombucha, are a source of probiotics but not one I necessarily recommend during pregnancy. The issues with kombucha are that it can be alcoholic (which can pass to the fetus and even through breast milk in higher amounts) and it can be unpasteurized (which brings a higher food safety risk, like why you're avoiding raw fish/ sushi when pregnant).
If you're looking for a kombucha substitute, I highly recommend GoodBelly Infused Beverages, as it's a water beverage infused with fruit juices and flavors and probiotics. It's not the same as kombucha, but I've been preferring it pregnant (and not! My husband and daughter enjoy it, too!).
Pregnancy Probiotics Supplementation
There are a wide variety of probiotic supplements available on the market, like this GoodBelly Probiotic Supplement with 10 billion live and active probiotic cultures (affiliate link). I would highly recommend discussing with your OB/GYN and finding a probiotic you and your provider think would be most beneficial for you and your pregnancy prior to starting a supplement.
Should I Take Probiotics When Pregnant?
This is absolutely a question for your provider! Like I said before, research currently indicates supplementing with probiotics is likely safe for healthy individuals, but it's always worth discussing with your provider (especially if you have any health concerns).
Regardless, eating a variety of probiotic-rich foods to help support a healthy variety of bacteria in your microbiome is a fantastic health focus that can provide you benefits when you're pregnant - and when you're not! It's always something great to keep in mind!
If you have further questions or need support in tailoring nutrition to fit your individual needs, don't hesitate to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Live well!
P.S. For more information on probiotics boosting the immune system, check out this post where I go into more detail, including how I pack a probiotic-rich, gut-healthy lunch to amp up my teacher husband's immune system!
- Nichols L. (2018.) Real Food for Pregnancy.
- Sender R, et al. (2016, August.) Revised Estimates for the Number of Human and Bacteria Cells in the Body.
- Qin J, et al. (2010, March.) A Human Gut Microbial Gene Catalogue Established by Metagenomic Sequencing.
- Arboleya S, et al. (2016.) Gut Bifidobacteria Populations in Human Health and Aging.
- Slavin J. (2013, April.) Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits.
- Rooks MG, Garrett WS. (2016, May 27.) Gut Microbiota, Metabolites and Host Immunity.
- Cryan JF, Dinan TG. (2012, October.) Mind-Altering Microorganisms: The Impact of the Gut Microbiota on Brain and Behavior.
- American Pregnancy Association. (2018.) Probiotics During Pregnancy.
- Elias J, et al. (2011, March.) Are Probiotics Safe for Use During Pregnancy and Lactation?
- Dunlop A, et al. (2015, December.) The Maternal Microbiome and Pregnancy Outcomes That Impact Infant Health: A Review.
- Brantsaeter AL, et al. (2011, October.) Intake of Probiotic Food and Risk of Preeclampsia in Primiparous Women: The Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study.
- Luoto R, et al. (2010, June.) Impact of Maternal Probiotic-Supplemented Dietary Counselling on Pregnancy Outcome and Prenatal and Postnatal Growth: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Study.
- Aagaard K, et al. (2014, May 21.) The Placenta Harbors a Unique Microbiome.
- Rautava S, et al. (2002.) Probiotics During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Might Confer Immunomodulatory Protection Against Atopic Disease in the Infant.
- Yoon KY, et al. (2006, August.) Production of Probiotic Cabbage Juice by Lactic Acid Bacteria.