How pregnancy probiotics can help you and your baby

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While the popular image of pregnancy is one of glowing vitality, the reality is that pregnancy comes with some pretty unpleasant side effects. Heartburn, constipation and digestive complaints are all common ailments, making mums to be pretty uncomfortable.

So what can you do? Well, a new body of research suggests that taking specific pregnancy probiotics could be the answer.

Zoe Ryan, midwife and birth educator at Born Online, says she often recommends probiotics to her patients. "Pregnant women are at a higher risk of experiencing digestive issues such as heartburn and constipation because of pregnancy hormones, and probiotics can help with this," she says.

Probiotics are live microorganisms, essentially 'good' bacteria that are similar to those that are found naturally in the human gut. Studies show that taking a daily probiotic can improve digestion and reduce associated complaints such as constipation and heartburn.

Heartburn is common amongst mums to be because progesterone, the hormone that relaxes muscles during pregnancy, also relaxes the stomach valve that keeps acid out of the esophagus.  

Ryan says that while popular heartburn treatments such as anti-acid medications can provide short term relief, they are not getting to the cause of the problem the way probiotics do.

Probiotics that contain species such as Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus salvarius help by balancing out the gut flora and encouraging proper functioning of the digestive tract.

Probiotics also speed up gastric emptying so there is less opportunity for the excess acid that causes heartburn to be produced.

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Constipation is another common pregnancy side effect, thought to plague 40 per cent of expecting mums. It's also exacerbated by progesterone, which slows the movement of food through the digestive tract. Apart from being uncomfortable and inconvenient, constipation can also lead to piles (haemorrhoids).

A 2012 study from the University of Amsterdam found that taking some types of probiotic bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium longum, significantly improved the frequency of bowel movements and improved other symptoms such as abdominal pain and straining in pregnancy. 

The pregnant women who participated in the study were all suffering from "functional constipation". They were each given a daily dose of multi species for a period of four weeks. The women were asked to complete a questionnaire that recorded the frequency of defecation, the constancy of stools and other associated observations. 

The researchers noted that after four weeks the average frequency of bowel movements had significantly improved. 

Of course, the benefits to taking probiotics in pregnancy are not limited to digestive complaints. In fact, Ryan notes that taking a specialty pregnancy probiotic can also be good for the baby.

"Probiotics taken by the mother during pregnancy can help ensure that the baby will get a good dose of beneficial bacteria when he or she passes through the birth canal," she explains.

This is important because babies who are not exposed to the right sort of bacteria at birth (and through breastfeeding) have a greater risk of developing health conditions such as eczema, asthma, allergies and type 1 diabetes. 

A large NZ study has also shown that fewer babies develop allergies such as eczema when Lactobacillus rhamnosus is taken through pregnancy & breastfeeding.

It is also the beginning of the baby's immunity, which will continue to develop as she is exposed to germs and bugs as she grows.

"Taking probiotics in pregnancy is great start for the baby's gut flora," says Ryan.

This article was brought to you by life space.