Supporting a Healthy Microbiome During Pregnancy

Prenatal care for you, and your microbiome, has long lasting benefits. It can mean a healthier pregnancy, a healthy delivery, and a strong start as a new parent. Most of the measures for prenatal care of your microbiome are also pretty easy. 

Oral Hygiene

There is a well established relationship between tooth decay, periodontal disease, and poor pregnancy outcomes. Up to 10% of women aged 25-44 may have moderate to severe periodontal disease and bleeding on pressure. 

While a study was unable to show a benefit from  treating periodontal disease during pregnancy, it is clear that women with better oral health (perhaps from conception) have better pregnancy outcomes. 

Bacteria do travel from the mouth to the placenta, so having clean teeth and a healthy oral biome cannot hurt. Periodontal disease can also lead to heart disease, stroke, diabetes complications, and Alzheimer’s. Good tooth brushing, flossing, and regular dental check-ups are always important. 

Diet

A healthy diet for pregnancy means:

    • Low sugar, high fiber:  Eliminating sodas, refined carbohydrates, and fructose corn syrup from your diet and replacing them with foods naturally high in fiber (not fiber supplements) has been proven to lower inflammation.
    • Fruits and vegetables: It cannot be stated enough that most of your diet, up to 90%, should be vegetables and fruit. Frozen or fresh, prepared with healthy fats and without excess salt.
    • Fermented foods: Sauerkraut, sorghum, kimchi, pickles, and yogurts are natural probiotics to repopulate your gut with healthy bacteria.
    • Reduced saturated fat and trans fats: Processed and packaged foods that contain seed and vegetable oils, (like soybean and corn oil) should be reduced.
    • Added Micronutrients:. Magnesium is listed as one of the most anti-inflammatory dietary factors. Vitamin D suppresses inflammatory mediators, increases bone strength, and more. You can get both of these and more from your daily prenatal vitamin.
    • Limit drugs: There are plenty of discussions out there, but it is worth repeating that there is no known safe level of alcohol, in pregnancy or not. However, many studies have suggested that there is limited harm to a single drink per day, that is taken slowly, with food. Similarly, studies have shown that a small amount of caffeine, no more than three 4oz cups per day, have limited harmful effects. 

Beyond healthy foods that are gut supportive, pregnancy is also a time to strongly consider reducing exposures to chemicals and antibiotics in food. If you can, limit processed foods, non-organic vegetables, and meats, dairy, and fish raised with antibiotics. 

Exercise

After diet, cardiovascular exercise -- running, walking, biking, swimming -- for a minimum of 20 minutes 3 times a week has been proven to help improve health in more clinical studies than any other drug or treatment available. If pharmaceutical companies could put exercise into a pill, they would have.  

Why does all this work? The microbes that have been riding along with us for hundreds of generations, and create the balance that keeps us healthy, evolved in an environment where humans were constantly in the sun, rarely had access to sugar, ate mostly vegetables, and were forced to exercise through physical labor. The balance we have with the microbes that control our immune system requires high fiber foods to properly feed them, and exercise to release hormones and chemicals they thrive on. 

Medications

There is very little research on how drugs and over the counter medications affect women and babies during pregnancy. In general, try sleep, diet, massage, etc as ways to reduce pain and reflux. But talk to your doctor, and use medications when needed

Reducing Vaginosis

Much like the link between oral health and pregnancy outcomes, there is a clear link between vaginal health disruption, or vaginosis, and poor pregnancy outcomes. 

Vaginosis can affect women who are trying to get pregnant and women who are pregnant. Bacterial vaginosis has long been known to be associated with late-term fetal loss and preterm birth.  

Treatment of bacterial vaginosis is also important because mothers who test positive for group b strep prior to labor will be given cautionary antibiotics to reduce the risk of infecting their baby during birth. Intrapartum antibiotics can wreak havoc on a newborn’s microbiome. 

Using a prenatal probiotic is one of the best ways, along with a healthy diet, and rest, to reduce vaginosis.