Nutrition in pregnancy is arguably one of the most powerful tools we can use to influence the health of ourselves, our pregnancy and our growing baby. There is a growing body of exciting evidence to suggest that our Gut Microbiome forms an essential part of this.
What many people don’t know is that our gut microbiomes are fully developed by about 3 years of age.
What is the Gut Microbiome?
We often associate the term “bacteria” with something harmful. However, many are actually essential to our health. The microbiome is trillions of bugs, mainly of bacteria, that live on our skin and in our gut.
Why is it important?
There is good evidence to demonstrate that a healthy, thriving gut microbiome has many important health benefits such as reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity as well as improved immune function.
The most powerful way to influence your gut health and microbiome is through your diet and the foods you consume.
A mother’s diet before and during pregnancy affects the development of her child’s gut microbiota and therefore health status.
Newborns’ of mothers with a less healthy gut microbiome have been associated with an increased risk of autoimmune conditions in the future, such as type 1 diabetes, asthma, coeliac disease and allergic rhinitis.
Babies born through the vagina are exposed to their mother’s microbiome at the time of birth, so the health of your gut influences directly that of your newborn. Evidence does demonstrate that newborns’ born via caesarean section receive their mother’s skin microbes, and this is linked to delayed development of their intestinal microbiome compared to babies born vaginally.
We know that mode of birth can be unpredictable and around 25% of women in the UK give birth by caesarean section.
This highlights the importance of optimising gut microbiome in pregnancy to maximise the potential to transfer these healthy bacteria to your newborn.
Breastfeeding provides another very powerful time in which a new mum can influence the health of their newborns’ gut microbiome. In the final weeks of pregnancy evidence shows that some of the mother’s healthy gut bacteria actually migrates into breast tissues and therefore into their breastmilk which can be passed to their baby during breastfeeding. Breast milk contains prebiotics which promote the growth of a particular bacteria (Bifidobacterium) in the large intestine, which helps your newborn establish a healthy microbiome.
How can we improve our Gut Microbiome?
The term “eat a rainbow” is really relevant here!
A diet full of variety and colour including plenty of wholegrains, pulses, nuts, fruits and vegetables is the best way to boost your gut health.
Changing up your weekly shop to incorporate different types of fruit or vegetables and mixed seeds and grains are easy ways to do this.
Think of trying a new variety each week or changing orange carrots for purple as examples.
Kefir yogurts are also a convenient and effective way to add some good bacteria into your daily routine.
There is also some evidence for probiotic supplementation should you require antibiotic treatment.
These small changes can have hugely powerful benefits for your health and the development and future health of your new baby.
(Tanaka and Nakayama, 2017) (Dong and Gupta, 2019)