What women eat during pregnancy can have a signiﬁcant impact on their baby’s gut microbiome and disease risk later in life. (1) Evidence suggests that this is most likely inﬂuenced via the expecting mum’s diet, and her own gut microbiome population. (1) Nutrition plays a huge role in the composition, abundance and function of the various gut bugs within the host microbiome (i.e. the pregnant woman), and this, in turn may impact the gut microbiome of the child. (1)
How Is the Child Exposed to Mum’s Microbiome?
This transfer of microbes from mother to child is fundamental for building a healthy infant microbiome, crucial for immune system maturation, infant growth, and brain development. (1) Up until quite recently, the intrauterine environment was thought to be sterile, but this hypothesis has been called into question lately, with emerging evidence that transmission of gut bugs from mum to bub may occur during pregnancy, not just during delivery. (1) It is not understood just yet how much of an impact this transfer of microbes to the foetus during pregnancy will have on the infant’s gut microbiome and overall health throughout the course of their life. (2) Of course, during birth, and immediately after birth, the baby receives a huge and diverse dose of microbes from mum and surroundings, and this signiﬁcantly inﬂuences the make up of baby’s microbiome. (2)
Mother’s Pregnancy Diet Impacts Bub’s Gut Health
Although research into the eﬀect of the maternal diet on oﬀspring gut health is still in its early days, promising ﬁndings demonstrate the signiﬁcance of a mother’s diet during pregnancy, and the impact this has on the infant’s microbiome. (1) The mother’s gut microbiome changes progressively during pregnancy, and plays a signiﬁcant role in determining the composition of the oﬀspring gut microbiome. (3) Diet is a major inﬂuence on maternal gut microbial alterations, and it is therefore no surprise that what a woman eats during pregnancy appears to impact the trajectory of baby’s microbiome development. (3)
Recent studies have highlighted that excess maternal weight gain or inﬂammation during pregnancy can signiﬁcantly alter the transfer of microbes from mum to bub, with the knock-on eﬀect of altering the way in which the baby’s gut microbiome develops once born. (1)
Although human studies are limited, certain strains of gut bugs have been associated with the mother’s diet during pregnancy. (3) For example, a high fat maternal diet is associated with a decreased abundance of Bacteroides and Enterococcus in the baby’s gut (3). Also, mothers who consume the recommended amount of ﬁsh during pregnancy are more likely to have babies with a Biﬁdobacterium-dominant gut. (3)
The Inﬂuence on Disease Across the Lifespan
The mother’s diet during pregnancy has been associated with the development of a number of diﬀerent diseases over the lifespan of the oﬀspring. (1, 3). For example, an obesity-associated maternal gut microbiome may lead to a state of imbalance in the gut (known as dysbiosis) for the infant, which can then lead to obesity later in life. (3) Furthermore, an obesity-associated maternal microbiome has been shown to alter the infant’s immune response, increasing the risk of developing asthma and other inﬂammatory diseases. (3) The mum’s diet during pregnancy may also impact the brain development of the child. It is thought that this occurs via the gut and brain interactions, and that an imbalance in certain strains of bacteria within the gut may aﬀect the ‘early programming’ of the infant brain. (4) On a more positive note, there is also evidence that a good quality diet during pregnancy, characterised by high intakes of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and omega 3 fatty acids, may help to reduce the child’s risk of developing a mental illness or hyperactivity-inattention later in life. (5, 6).
Keywords: Diet/Nutrition, Lifestyle, Immunity, Prevention, Disease
1. Chu DM, Meyer KM, Prince AL, Aagaard KM. Impact of maternal nutrition in pregnancy and lactation on oﬀspring gut microbial composition and function. Gut Microbes. 2016 Nov
2. Collado MC, Segata N. Initial exploration of in utero microbial colonization. Nature medicine. 2020 Apr;26(4):469-70.
3. Alsharairi NA. The infant gut microbiota and risk of asthma: The eﬀect of maternal nutrition during pregnancy and lactation. Microorganisms. 2020 Aug;8(8):1119.
4. Al Rubaye H, Adamson CC, Jadavji NM. The role of maternal diet on oﬀspring gut microbiota development: A review. Journal of neuroscience research. 2021 Jan;99(1):284-93.
5. O’Neil A, Itsiopoulos C, Skouteris H, Opie RS, McPhie S, Hill B, Jacka FN. Preventing mental health problems in oﬀspring by targeting dietary intake of pregnant women. BMC medicine. 2014 Dec;12(1):1-7.
6. Galéra C, Heude B, Forhan A, Bernard JY, Peyre H, Van der Waerden J, Pryor L, Bouvard MP, Melchior M, Lioret S, de Lauzon‐Guillain B. Prenatal diet and children’s trajectories of hyperactivity–inattention and conduct problems from 3 to 8 years: the EDEN mother–child cohort. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2018 Sep;59(9):1003-11.
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