Have you heard of probiotics? According to WebMD, probiotics are “live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system.” Our bodies are full of bacteria, both good and bad and we know that antibiotics kill or inhibit growth of both good and bad bacteria. It’s only been since the mid 1990’s that probiotics have gained popularity although we’re still learning exactly how they work. We do know that probiotics help move food through the digestive system and help balance our body’s good and bad bacteria. Some research suggests that having too many of the bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria can lead to a variety of health conditions. These health conditions are often seen as “normal” but can be remedied by improving overall gut health with probiotics.

Probiotics during pregnancy

We already know that a healthy diet of fresh foods and limited processed foods can improve overall health and well-being. But new research suggests probiotics taken during pregnancy can help thwart postpartum mood disorders such as postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. Taking probiotics during pregnancy can alter neurotransmitters in the gut which boosts the ability to deal and cope with anxiety and depression.

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women who consumed probiotics via fermented milk products during the first half of their pregnancy had a reduced risk of developing preeclampsia.

If receiving antibiotics during labor for a positive GBS (group-b streptococcal) test or because of an infection or fever during labor, you might consider adding probiotics to your postpartum recovery to protect not only your gut health but also your baby’s since the antibiotics you receive baby will receive. If you consume probiotics they will transfer to baby through breastmilk. If you do not plan to breastfeed there are infant probiotics you can give. Some doctors recommend starting probiotics within the first 24-48 hours after antibiotics are started and then continuing for up to three weeks.

Probiotics for your baby

Baby’s first probiotic dose comes from the vagina. Babies who are born vaginally have a higher diversity of gut bacteria in their intestinal track compared to babies born via cesarean. The bacteria in the mother’s vaginal canal kick starts baby’s immunity. If you’re having a cesarean, you can help give baby these beneficial bacteria by talking to your provider about vaginal swabbing. Additional bacteria are received through immediate skin to skin contact with mom after birth, and via breastfeeding.

Unfortunately, doctors are currently unable to test for and diagnose gut health but there are some warning signs to look for. For adults these signs may include migraines, eczema or skin rashes, acne, food sensitivities, hyperactivity, diarrhea, bloating, constipation, gas, UTIs. However, if your newborn lacks probiotics or if he has a problematic gut they may exhibit “normal” symptoms such as gas, colic, reflux, constipation or irregular stools, or eczema. Additionally, it is a long held common belief that babies can go days between bowel movements. Although this is common, it does not mean it is normal. Ideally, babies should be having a bowel movement at least daily. Of course, you’ll want to consult with your baby’s pediatrician to rule out any serious medical conditions.

The next step

Talk to your health care team to discuss if probiotics are right for you and your family, and visit some of the links below to learn more about the benefits of probiotics.

If you’re considering adding probiotics to your diet, first consider whole foods such as keifer, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kombucha, dark chocolate, or apple cider vinegar (we recently spotted flavored apple cider “sipping vinegar” by Vermont Village at a local Walmart. Flavors included Blueberries & Honey, Cranberries & Honey, and Ginger & Honey). If opting for a supplement, look for one that contains anywhere between 5 to 40 billion live cells. There are also powdered probiotics for infants available.

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