What does ‘planning a pregnancy’ mean to you? Throwing the Pill in the bin? Downloading an ovulation app? Making sure your partner is not interstate mid-cycle? Checking your bloods with the GP?
Whilst these things are all important parts of getting pregnant, there’s a crucial aspect of pregnancy planning to consider even before all of this stuff, and it’s something that is often completely overlooked…
It’s your gut health.
What does your gut health have to do with your future baby, you might ask?
Turns out, a lot! There is now an abundant and ever-growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating that the state of the future parents’ gut health in the lead-up to, and during, pregnancy, can have a dramatic impact on your chances of falling pregnant, and also your baby’s future risk for chronic disease development and overall health!
Oddly, this information is not really out there as part of our standard sex and health education. Many of us don’t know the potential power we hold…that there are things we can change during this golden period of time in the months leading up to actively trying for a baby that can positively influence our gut microbiome, our fertility, and the healthy microbiome development of our baby.
Here are nine key points to consider before, during, and after pregnancy that can help shape the health of you, your partner’s, and your future baby’s gut microbiome.
- The Mediterranean-style Diet Takes Gold – The Mediterranean Diet is characterised by high intakes of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and seafood, moderate amounts of dairy (with a focus on fermented dairy) and eggs, and limited intakes of red wine and red meat. Following this dietary pattern pre- and during pregnancy been shown to promote a healthy gut. In fact, there are so many benefits of following a Mediterranean-style Diet that we can’t fit them all into this one article!
- Both Parents Matter – When it comes to fertility and baby-making, both Mum and Dad’s health is important! A healthy gut, vaginal and semen microbiome all play a role in successful conception, and diet can help to promote the more beneficial bacterial strains to thrive in these microbial communities.
- Your Gut Needs More Than Just Good Food – Yes, diet is super important in supporting a healthy gut, but there are others factors too…Stress levels, use of antibiotics or other medications, pet ownership, sleep, exercise, and even where you live can all alter your microbiome, for better or worse, and thus, impact your baby’s own microbiome development.
- Probiotics, Prebiotics and Antibiotics All Impact the Microbiome – Probiotics are defined as ‘live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer health benefit on the host’ . They can help to repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria and restore balance. Prebiotics are substances that ‘feed’ our good gut bugs, and are found in plant fibers. Antibiotics, whilst potentially life-saving, can dramatically alter the gut microbiome, changing the types, and abundance, of certain strains of microbes.
- The Impact of Birth Mode – Babies born via C-section have been shown to have different gut microbiome compositions to those born vaginally, remaining this way as far down-the-track their 1st birthday. Vaginally born babies tend to have more of the beneficial gut bugs, whereas the altered microbiome in C-section babies may negatively impact their immune development. Obviously, C-sections are essential and life-saving in some circumstances, but it is still important to understand the potential impact on gut health so that future discussions and decisions can be steered in a well-informed and advantageous manner.
- Breastfeeding is Great, if Possible – Far from just being a source of calories for your baby, breastmilk offers a nutrient-dense snack, full of bioactive compounds and immune-supporting componentsIt also continues the transfer of microbes from mum to bub, boosting the healthy colonisation of baby’s microbiome.
- The Significant Role of Bifidobacterium – Bifidobacterium, one particular group of microbes, plays a vital role in the healthy development of a baby’s gut microbiome, and thus, their immune system development (20). A vaginal birth and breastfeeding, if possible, are two great ways to boost levels of Bifidobacterium in your baby’s gut.
- Introducing Solids Changes Your Baby’s Gut Microbiome – Starting solids is a huge step towards independence for your bub, and it also suddenly and dramatically changes their gut microbiome so that it more closely resembles that of an adult. The diversity, and types of foods you offer your baby influences the richness and diversity of their gut microbiome.
- Furry Pets, Siblings and the Microbiome – Strange, but true…whether or not your baby lives with a pet or has siblings will impact their gut microbiome development and composition. Babies with either, or both, of these things experience faster maturation of the gut microbiome.
As you can see, there are many, many factors that influence our gut microbiome. Having an awareness and understanding of these factors can help to inform the multitude of decisions that arise surrounding pregnancy and birth, in a way that is going to give your bub one of the greatest gifts of all: A thriving, stable and diverse microbiome.