The relationship between good gut health and a thriving pregnancy
Everyone knows proper nutrition helps grow a healthy baby. But what role does your gut health play?
In fact, the health of your gut and your partners can impact your ability to get pregnant. Not to mention being integral in the health of the baby during pregnancy and the first few months to years of life.
There is evidence emerging to suggest the state of a baby’s gut health from birth has an impact on even longer term health outcomes.
Armed with that knowledge, let’s have a look at some of the ways gut health may influence the journey. From the decision to have a baby through to holding the bundle of joy in your hands.
How Gut Health Impacts Fertility
For the average person who looks after their health, you know you should have optimal gut health before falling pregnant. This helps to promote a fertile environment for a foetus to thrive.
But making sure the baby has the best start in life isn’t the only reason.
If you have poor gut health or even worse, an autoimmune disease or condition, such as colitis or irritable bowel syndrome, you might find it challenging to get pregnant.
This obstacle is due to a combination of factors.
Research by Baker et al. (2017) has shown how poor gut health can cause an estrogen imbalance, which may lead to infertility issues in both men and women. One explanation for this is not having a diverse range of healthy bacteria present to detox the body of hormones – a regular job of functioning gut microbiome. Check out this blog post if you are interested in finding out more about hormones and gut health.
The infertility concern has also been backed up by Tremellen and Pearce (2012). These researchers found dysbiosis, caused by poor gut health, leads to an increase in gut permeability. This is when larger particles of proteins enter the blood and lymphatic system. The resulting interplay of toxins in the bloodstream being attacked by the immune system, lead to interference of insulin levels, which then affected healthy egg and sperm development.
Additionally, having poor gut health can influence the absorption of essential nutrients for a healthy environment for both the egg, sperm, and endometrial lining to thrive before pregnancy.
The critical takeaway here; when hormone balance and nutrient absorption is compromised, the downfall can be infertility issues and poor-quality eggs and sperm.
Gut Changes During Pregnancy
Once you fall pregnant, there is a cascade of changes that impact your gut health, which in turn influence your pregnancy.
During the journey of pregnancy, there is a flow of changes – your immune system shifts, inflammation increases, and the microbiome are impacted. This sets the scene to support the growth and birth of a baby.
Estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that increase during pregnancy, can alter the microbiome and influence gut health. To add to this shift, metabolism slows to extract more nutrition from the foods eaten
Basically, your body is working overtime.
However, if there isn’t ideal gut health, it could be a breeding ground for chaos. Depending on the type of unhealthy bacteria present during pregnancy, it can increase the risk of complications.
Possible Complications Connected to Poor Gut Health During Pregnancy
Risk of premature birth
You may be surprised to know that gut bacteria have been found in the amniotic fluid of women who had preterm births. This is when delivery occurs before 37 weeks.
Research has shown that the health of the microbiome in the gut, vagina, and mouth have all been linked to a significantly increased risk of preterm birth (Staude, et al., 2018).
Risk of Pre-eclampsia
Pre-eclampsia is a condition that happens late in pregnancy and leads to dangerous complications for both mother and baby. It’s characterised by high blood pressure, liver dysfunction in the mother, and resultant lower birth weight. It complicates 3-5% of pregnancies in Western countries.
Researchers have found a definite link between gut microbial alterations and pre-eclampsia (Li-Juan, et al., 2019). The connection between gut microbiota and preeclampsia is still not fully understood. But what is known about the microbiome and pregnancy:-
- It has a profound effect on regulating metabolism
- Plays a vital role in blood pressure elevation during pregnancy.
- It is crucial to the development and maturing of immune factors that impact on the ability of the body to react to low-level chronic inflammation present during pregnancy.
Risk of Gestational Diabetes
This is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. If left untreated, it can lead to complications for both the mother an infant. It is characterised by preeclampsia, increased risk of caesarean birth, neonatal low blood sugar, and heavier birth weight. It also puts the mother at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in the long term (Ye, et al., 2019).
Women with gestational diabetes have a disrupted gut microbiota composition similar in profile to those of non-pregnant individuals with type 2 diabetes (Crusell, et al., 2018). Yes, this is the diabetes that is a significant chronic illness in the western world.
These complications sound scary. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A healthy microbiome can reduce your risk of complications.
Making sure your gut health is flourishing can increase your odds of having a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
Baby’s Gut Health
Babies receive 100% of their initial microbiome from their mother.
There is an entire unique microbiome in the placenta and amniotic fluid. And as the baby makes the journey into the world, their exposure to good bacteria is impacted by the type of birth (vaginal vs. caesarean).
There are also differences from the time they are born.
- Preterm infants show a lack of critical bacterial strains.
- Larger infants have different strains of gut flora than normal weight.
Baby’s microbiome continues to develop after birth. The first milk that comes from mum – colostrum – builds the baby’s immunity and microbiome. The resulting mature milk, which comes through a few days later, further develops the child’s gut flora.
- Whether the baby is breastfed or formula-fed transforms the microbiome as they age.
- How and when solids are introduced also changes the microbiome.
Benefits of having a baby with optimal gut health
Fewer allergies and eczema
A healthy microbiome and early exposure to bacteria can help generate a more robust immune system. It also teaches the immune system not to react to non-threatening triggers, as is the case with allergies.
Stronger Immune Function
An optimal microbiome with a diverse range of species tends to strengthen the immune system. Infants who are born vaginally and experience skin to skin contact after birth tend to have a greater diversity of gut bacteria.
Even in babies, it is essential to have a diverse range of gut bacteria to help control inflammation. This is gifted to them by exposure to a variety of different bacteria from their mother and the world around them.
During the first few years of life, the microbiome is taking shape and continuously diversifying and growing. There are so many factors that can influence and support its development. Starting from a healthy mother and pregnancy, through to baby’s first few years.
The truth is you can restore the balance and improve your microbiome and overall gut health before pregnancy and during pregnancy with some key strategies.
Key Strategies to Improve and Support your Gut Health
Eat more prebiotic foods – such as legumes, onions, asparagus, oats, bananas, and others. If you find you are having difficulty including them into your diet, try Gut Performance™. It has been proven to be an excellent prebiotic. Taking one scoop daily will give you a significant boost to your prebiotic intake.
Make time for quality sleep – Cut out caffeine late in the day. Sleep in a temperate to cold (around 18-20 degrees) and darkened room. Have a night-time routine that tells your body when it is time to rest and rejuvenate. Also, attempt to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. These strategies are often referred to as sleep hygiene and positively impact stress and fatigue. Trust us, you will need as much rest as you can get.
Reduce stress levels – through regular exercise, meditation, and deep breathing. If you regularly feel overwhelmed with stress, consider seeing a health professional to help you manage the issue and your reactions. Overwhelm is not a badge of honour.
Lowering your stress levels by getting into a regular habit or practice of mindfulness, meditation, or yoga allows you to become proficient in the ability to quiet your mind. And the resulting skill of ‘focus’ gives you the ability to not play into the activation of stress.
We all know that gut health impacts every part of our health. It is not a secret anymore. But do you want to have poor gut health impacting on the health of your baby as well?
The content in this blog is for information purposes. Always consultant your trusted health care professional for advice.
Let us know via our Gut Performance ™ Instagram page if you are pregnant and what you are doing to guarantee a healthy gut to support your pregnancy.
And share the love. Tag your friends who you know would be interested in establishing a healthy environment to prepare for a baby.
Baker, J. M., Al-Nakkash, L., & Herbst-Kralovetz, M. M. (2017, 103). Estrogen-gut microbiome axis: Physiological and clinical implications. Maturitas, 45-53. Retrieved April 2020
Crusell, M., Hansn, T., Nielsen, T., Allin, K., Ruhlemann, M., Damm, P., . . . Pedersen, O. (2018, May 15). Gestational diabetes is associated with change in the gut microbiota composition in third trimester of pregnancy and postpartum. Microbiome, 6(89). DOI:10.1186/s40168-018-0472-x
Li-Juan, Shen-Hui, L., Shao-Chuan, L., Zhi-Cheng, Z., Hong-Li, D., Cheng, T., . . . Ai-Hua, Y. (2019, June 26). Early-Onset Preeclampsia Is Associated With Gut Microbial Alterations in Antepartum and Postpartum Women. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, 9(224). Retrieved April 2020
Staude, B., Oehmke, F., Lauer, T., Behnke, J., Gopel, W., Schloter, M., . . . Ehrhard, H. (2018). The Microbiome and Preterm Birth: A change in Paradigm with Profound Implications for Pathophysiologic Concepts and Novel Therapeutic Strategies. Biomed Research Internation. DOI:10.1155/2018/7218187
Tremellen, K., & Pearce, K. (2012, Jul). Dysbiosis ofo Gut Microbiota – a novel theory for the development of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Medical Hypotheses, 79(1), 104-12. Retrieved April 2020
Ye, G., Zhang, L., Wang, M., Chen, Y., Gu, S., Wang, K., . . . Xie, X. (2019). The Gut Microbiota in Women Suffering from Gestational Diabetes Mellitus with the Failure of Glycemic Control by Lifestyle Modification. Journal of Diabetes Research, 2019. doi:https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/6081248