Gut microbiota health refers to the function and balance of microorganisms present in the different parts of our gastrointestinal tract. These microorganisms are in the form of bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses and their ensemble creates an ecosystem called the microbiome, in which microbial diversity playsa key role. The microorganisms in our gut play many crucial roles in human health such as regulating the digestive system, extracting nutrients from ingested foods and contributing to the development of a robust immune system. Maintaining a healthy microbial balance and diversity will encourage asuccessful functioning of the gut, which due to its primordial role in overall health, will play a big part in keeping us healthy.
When a mother carries ababy in her womb, her body triggers a cascade of changes that are necessary to support the growth and birth of the baby. For example, the body undergoes an immune system suppression which is needed to house the baby in the womb, a hormonal increase that will allow him/her to grow, and a slowdown in metabolism function to extract more nutrients from ingested foods. These changes alter maternal gut health composition and function which continue to fluctuate throughout the pregnancy.
Some studies show that at the start of the pregnancy, the microbiome remains similar to a non-pregnant woman. As the pregnancy progresses, the portion of microbial communities that arise from inflammatory fluctuations increases in approximately 70% of women. The microbial species that increase significantly in numbers are the Bifidobacteria, Proteobacteria and other lacticacid-producing species. During pregnancy, the mother’s gut health becomes even more important as it will closely influence her baby’s at his/her most important developmental stages.
Research has shown thei mportance of maternal gut health during pregnancy on the baby’s health. The mother’s gut microbiota during pregnancy and especially the last trimester will be transmitted onto the baby at different stages during and after birth. The first major exposure and colonization of infants’ microbiota happen when the baby passes through the birth canal. Vaginally delivered infants are exposed to the mother’s vaginal microbiota which immediately travels to and settles in the gastrointestinal tract.
The second major exposure to maternal gut microbiota occurs through breastfeeding. Many studies have shown that breastfeeding is a major contributing factor to the establishment of the infant’s gut microbiome, as well as a source of short and long-term health benefits for the infant, predominantly related to immune system development. For example, in the short-term scope, a decrease in the risk of infections, diarrhea, type-1 diabetes, and other diseases was identified. In the long-term, it contributed to shielding the baby from type-2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. It was also shown that, if a baby attains optimal gut health, he/she will benefit from fewer allergies, eczema, less inflammation and a stronger immune system.
For this, your doctor or yourself can book an appointment at a lab where they will take a sample of your stool. Typically, the analysis will look at the populations of bacteria living in your gut by isolating the microbial DNA from the microorganisms present inthe stool. From there, the dominant species will be established and the analysis will look at the balance between good and bad bacteria.
In the instance of gut dysbiosis, which is when the gut bacteria isn’t balanced, the priority step to take is to visit a healthcare professional who will be able to guide you through the next steps, especially during an important period such as pregnancy.
Throughout pregnancy, your body’s nutritional demands will fluctuate and increase along with the ageof gestation. Healthy nutrition will ensure the body has the appropriate nutrients to grow a healthy baby. Therefore, maintaining a diet and following your doctor’s recommendations has never been more important. Reducing processed, high-sugar and high-fat foods is important as they have been shown to either suppress ‘good’ bacteria or increase ‘bad’ bacteria. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and more fiber will feed healthy bacteria to the gut. For more specific information regarding nutritional requirements consult our article Nutrition during Pregnancy.
Staying active throughout pregnancy is important for you, your baby and your gut. Many studies have shown that exercise diversifies microbial communities and increases the number of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Different exercise intensities have been associated with specific beneficial bacteria growth that will positively impact gut health. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends pregnant and postpartum women to undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week.
Probiotics are living bacteria found in specific foods and supplements which feed friendly bacteria to the gut. Prebiotics are food ingredients that our bodies cannot digest, and they promote the growth of healthy bacteria that will break them down. Prebiotics are found in supplements or even in some fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Although many studies have shown the utilization of probiotics and prebiotics during pregnancy is safe, this has not yet been completely confirmed. Therefore, for any questions relating to probiotics and prebiotics, we encourage you to contact your doctor.
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