Pregnancy Alters Resident Gut Microbes

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August 23, 2012 | 85,900 views

Story at-a-glance

  • The composition of a woman’s gut microbes actually changes during each trimester of pregnancy in ways that support the growth of the fetus.
  • During pregnancy the microbes actually become less diverse and the number of beneficial bacteria decline while disease-related bacteria increase; under normal circumstances, such changes could lead to weight gain and inflammation, but in pregnancy, they induce metabolic changes that promote energy storage in fat tissue so the fetus can grow
  • The importance of gut flora continues during and after birth, and may have a profound influence on the baby’s health and development
  • Maintaining optimal gut flora by eating raw food grown in healthy, organic soil and 'reseeding' your gut with naturally fermented foods may be one of the most important steps you can take to improve your health and your baby’s during pregnancy

By Dr. Mercola

The microbes that reside in your gut are very much a living, and integral, part of you.

Far from being just passive bystanders, the bacteria are impacted by your health, your lifestyle and even your life stages – and they actively change in response to different periods of your life, like pregnancy.

Your Gut Microbes Change During Each Pregnancy Trimester to Support Fetal Growth

The composition of a woman's gut microbes actually changes during each trimester of pregnancy in ways that support the growth of the fetus. This is largely influenced by the hormonal shifts that occur during pregnancy.

Interestingly, for the first time, research has shown the microbes actually become less diverse and the number of beneficial bacteria decline while disease-related bacteria increase. Under normal circumstances, such changes could lead to weight gain and inflammation, but in pregnancy, they induce metabolic changes that promote energy storage in fat tissue so the fetus can grow.1

The study's lead author noted:2

"The findings suggest that our bodies have coevolved with the microbiota and may actually be using them as a tool -- to help alter the mother's metabolism to support the growth of the fetus."

The importance of gut flora continues during and after birth, and may have a profound influence on the baby's health and development. An article in Science Daily reported on the featured findings of one related study,3 stating:4

"Each individual's community of gut microbes is unique and profoundly sensitive to environmental conditions, beginning at birth. Indeed, the mode of delivery during the birthing process has been shown to affect an infant's microbial profile. Communities of vaginal microbes change during pregnancy in preparation for birth, delivering beneficial microbes to the newborn.

At the time of delivery, the vagina is dominated by a pair of bacterial species, Lactobacillus and Prevotella. In contrast, infants delivered by caesarean section typically show microbial communities associated with the skin, including Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium, and Propionibacterium. While the full implications of these distinctions are still murky, evidence suggests they may affect an infant's subsequent development and health, particularly in terms of susceptibility to pathogens."

Interestingly, gut flora is not the only factor influenced by the method of birth. One recent study showed that vaginal birth triggers the expression of mitochondrial uncoupling protein 2 (UCP2) in mice, which is important for improving brain development and function in adulthood. The expression of this protein was impaired in mice born via caesarean section (C-section).5

Mom's Gut Bacteria Seriously Impacts Baby's Future Health

Microorganisms in your gastrointestinal tract form a highly intricate, living "fabric" that affects body weight, energy, and nutrition, among other factors.

Not only is each individual's community of gut microbes unique, but the groundwork for each person's gut flora is laid from birth. In fact, the mode of delivery during the birthing process has been shown to affect an infant's microbial profile. This is in part why it's so important for pregnant women to become mindful of their gut health, as it will affect not just their own health, but also that of their child.

The health implications of this variation in gut bacteria acquired from birth is exactly what Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride's research sheds light upon. Her research shows there's a profound dynamic interaction between your gut, your brain, and your immune system, starting from birth. She has developed what might be one of the most profoundly important treatment strategies for a wide range of neurological, psychological, and autoimmune disorders—all of which are heavily influenced by your gut health.

I believe her Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and Gut and Physiology Syndrome (GAPS) Nutritional program is vitally important for MOST people, as the majority of people have such poor gut health due to poor diet and toxic exposures, but it's particularly crucial for pregnant women and young children.

According to Dr. Campbell-McBride, in children with GAPS, the toxicity flowing from their gut throughout their bodies and into their brains continually challenges their nervous system, preventing it from performing its normal function and process sensory information. GAPS may manifest in a wide range of symptoms, fitting the diagnosis of either autism, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD) without hyperactivity, dyslexia, dyspraxia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, just to name a few possibilities... She explained:

"What I see in the families of autistic children is that 100 percent of mom's of autistic children have abnormal gut flora and health problems related to that. But then I look at grandmothers on the mother's side, and I find that the grandmothers also have abnormal gut flora, but much milder."

In essence, what we have is a generational build-up of abnormal gut flora, with each generation becoming ever more prone to being further harmed.

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What Can You do to Encourage Healthy Gut Flora Once Your Baby is Born?

Breastfeeding was designed by nature to ensure that your child's gut flora develops properly right from the start, as it is loaded both with beneficial bacteria and nutrient growth factors that will support their continued growth. It also has powerful components that will inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria and yeast. So one of the most important foundational elements of building a healthy GI system for your child is to first eat a healthy diet with fermented foods while you're pregnant, and then breastfeed (whenever possible) for at least one year after your child is born.

Providing abundant beneficial bacteria in the form of breast milk and, later, fermented foods is one of the most powerful ways to restore your baby's gut flora.

Once your baby is ready to start solid foods, the first fermented food Dr. Campbell-McBride recommends for your infant is raw organic grass-fed yogurt (not commercial yogurt from the grocery store), because it's well tolerated by most infants and children. It's best to make your own yogurt at home from raw organic milk, and start with a very tiny amount. Once yogurt is well tolerated by your baby, then start introducing kefir. If you have any problems with cow's milk, you can always try goat's milk or substitute vegetables fermented with yogurt culture or kefir culture.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1 Cell August 3, 2012; 150(3):470-80
  • 2 MedicineNet August 2, 2012
  • 3 Nutrition in Clinical Practice 2012 Apr;27(2):201-14
  • 4 Science Daily June 6, 2012
  • 5 PLoS ONE 7(8): e42911.