Prenatal probiotics are becoming more and more popular. You may have seen ads for them, or seen them in the supplement aisle at the grocery store, but your OB didn’t mention anything about them. So why should you take one?
Prenatal Probiotics vs Prenatal Vitamins
If you eat a perfectly balanced diet of vegetables, fish, healthy fats, and lean meat, you technically don’t need a prenatal vitamin. But you can never really be sure that your diet is providing all the magnesium, zinc, calcium, and folate your baby needs. Prenatal vitamins help fill in any gaps, to make sure your baby gets everything they need.
Prenatal probiotics are very similar. If you are never gassy, never get urinary tract infections or vaginal itching, have perfectly clear skin, and never have any constipation, your microbiome is probably doing great. But if you aren't sure about the state of your GI system, then a prenatal probiotic can help fill in any gaps to make sure your baby is growing in a properly supported environment.
What Do Prenatal Probiotics Do?
Prenatal probiotics work by supplementing your GI system with specific strains of bacteria that
- Balance out the pH level of the vagina
- Convert food into needed vitamins and minerals
- Reduce stress and anxiety in pregnancy
- Balance your immune system
Studies have shown that the wrong mix of vaginal bacteria and the wrong pH in your urogenital tract is a leading cause of early term labor. The wrong vaginal microbiome can also allow the bacteria behind Group B Strep to over-populate, leading to an infection or the need for antibiotics during labor. Lactobacillus probiotics can restore the vaginal microbiome to health.
Gestational diabetes is another major concern for pregnant women, and we now know that the wrong gut microbiome that improperly processes vitamins and minerals, can increase the risk of gestational diabetes. The right prenatal probiotics can reduce this risk.
Though it’s called postpartum depression, if you’ve experienced the mood effects of pregnancy, you may not be surprised to find out that it’s actually called “depression during and after pregnancy.” The gut biome is now understood to be a leading cause of a number of mood disorders including anxiety and depression. A prenatal probiotic can restore bacteria that reduce mood disorders.
Finally, during pregnancy, your immune system is working double duty - to keep you and baby safe from pathogens, without coming on so strong that it hurts your baby. We know that the wrong gut bacteria can kick your immune system into overdrive and hurt your baby, whereas the right gut bacteria help your immune system regulate itself. A prenatal probiotic can help regulate the immune system.
Are all Prenatal Probiotics the Same?
No! Many probiotics on the market today are not worth your time or money. Many probiotics do not contain strains that have been studied and proven to help women with the issue described above. A woman’s body is going through unique challenges during pregnancy and postpartum recovery, and needs special care. You wouldn’t grab any random vitamin off the shelf as a prenatal vitamin, to make sure to look for a probiotic that has proven strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.
Make sure that the probiotic you choose has enough CFUs (colony forming units) of each strain (often ~5B each). A super packed probiotic with 20 strains may not have enough of any one to be useful.
Lastly, make sure that the probiotic is delivered in a liquid or powder that is not full of chemicals or unwanted materials.
The right probiotic can work to support and enhance your gut and vaginal tract to keep you healthy inside and out.