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The human microbiome is defined as the ecosystem of microorganisms living within your body and on your body. Your gut microbiome is made up of the trillions of microorganisms that live within your GI tract. While bacteria are the most studied component of the gut microbiome, this collection of microorganisms also includes viruses, fungi, and protozoa. These microorganisms interact with each other and also with your body. You want to cultivate a healthy microbiome because we know that it is crucial for good health.
A healthy gut microbiome supports:
When the gut microbiome becomes disrupted, alterations can play a role in the development of asthma, obesity, depression, and anxiety, just to name a few.
So, if you’re pregnant, or planning on becoming pregnant soon, it’s important to focus on your microbiome health. This is because your microbiome is essentially transferred to your baby through the birth canal at delivery, and your baby’s microbiome plays a foundational role in their long-term health.
Beyond creating the scaffolding for lifelong health, studies show that the microbiome plays a big role in pregnancy outcomes. Studies show that dysbiosis (a microbial imbalance) in the gut and vaginal microbiomes has been shown to increase the risk of complications in pregnancy such as preterm labor.
Here are 6 things you can do to support a healthy microbiome:
1. Consume prebiotic-rich foods—such as onions, leeks, garlic, jicama, chicory, dandelion greens, and Jerusalem artichoke. Prebiotics are the natural indigestible fibers found in certain plants and act as a food source for probiotics to live on and proliferate. Without prebiotics, probiotics cannot survive and diversify in the gut.
2. Eat cultured foods—such as yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, and lacto-fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut. These foods are brimming with several strains of Lactobacillus, an important microbe for gut health.
3. Eat foods that are fiber rich and resistant starch rich—such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, coarsely ground grains, and cooked and cooled starches like potato, yuca. Resistant starch, like fiber, feeds the friendly bacteria in your intestines.
4. Support a healthy stress response—When you experience high levels of chronic stress it causes your body to release inflammatory stress hormones and immune system chemicals, such as norepinephrine, cortisol, and cytokines—molecules that regulate immunity and inflammation. This forces your body into an inflammatory and immune-depressed state causing your gut to become permeable and thus vulnerable to overgrowth of unfriendly yeast, bacteria, and pathogens, while suppressing your gut’s beneficial bacteria. Regular relaxation response practices are very helpful in managing stress. Consider meditation, guided visualization, deep belly breathing, and don’t forget about sleep! Sleeping a solid 7-8 hours a night is also very important.
5. Avoid antibiotic use unless medically necessary. Because antibiotics can disrupt the microbiome, and cause imbalances within it, it is important to take them only when medically necessary.
6. Take a high quality probiotic -- Taking a high quality probiotic has been shown to have a beneficial effect on gut microbiome balance.
Now, there are always unexpected things that can happen during pregnancy and delivery—you may need to take antibiotics during your pregnancy for an infection, and not all women are able to deliver vaginally. But if you follow the above steps, you’ll be starting from a place of microbiome health, so finding balance again after antibiotics will be easier. And if your baby is born via c-section, many doctors and midwives now take swabs from the mother’s vagina to spread on the baby’s mouth and nose when the child is born. This allows the child to populate their own microbiome with the bacteria that would have been present in a vaginal birth.
Essentially, a healthy microbiome is one of the greatest gifts you can give to the next generation and focusing on your microbiome health during the preconception and pregnancy periods will allow you to do just that.
Family Medicine and Integrative and Holistic Medicine Doctor
A board-certified physician, Dr. Carrasco, is the bestselling author of Bloom: 7 Steps to Reclaim Your Health, Cultivate Your Desires, and Reignite Your Spark, as well as a wife and mom of three. She founded the Austin, TX functional and integrative medicine practice, Nourish Medicine, and co-founded the online resource for moms and motherhood, Hey Mami. Dr. Carrasco holds board-certifications through the American Board of Family Medicine, and the Institute of Functional Medicine.
Collective members are paid sponsors and receive compensation for their content, but all opinions are their own.
Are homemade fermented foods safe in pregnancy or is there a risk of bad bacteria?
Great info!Mary Featherstone