Gut microbiota health refers to the function and balance of microorganisms present in the different parts of our gastrointestinal tract. These microorganisms are in the form of bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses and their ensemble creates an ecosystem called the microbiome, in which microbial diversity plays a key role. The microorganisms in our gut play many crucial roles in human health such as regulating the digestive system, extracting nutrients from ingested foods and contributing to the development of a robust immune system. Maintaining a healthy microbial balance and diversity will encourage a successful functioning of the gut, which due to its primordial role in overall health, will play a big part in keeping us healthy.
How does gut health change during pregnancy?
When a mother carries a baby in her womb, her body triggers a cascade of changes that are necessary to support the growth and birth of the baby. For example, the body undergoes an immune system suppression which is needed to house the baby in the womb, a hormonal increase that will allow him/her to grow, and a slowdown in metabolism function to extract more nutrients from ingested foods. These changes alter maternal gut health composition and function which continue to fluctuate throughout the pregnancy.
Some studies show that at the start of the pregnancy, the microbiome remains similar to a non-pregnant woman. As the pregnancy progresses, the portion of microbial communities that arise from inflammatory fluctuations increases in approximately 70% of women. The microbial species that increase significantly in numbers are the Bifidobacteria, Proteobacteria and other lactic acid-producing species.
During pregnancy, the mother’s gut health becomes even more important as it will closely influence her baby’s at he/she’s most important developmental stages.
How does your gut health impact your baby?
Research has shown the importance of maternal gut health during pregnancy on the baby’s health. The mother’s gut microbiota during pregnancy and especially the last trimester will be transmitted onto the baby at different stages during and after birth. The first major exposure and colonization of infants’ microbiota happen when the baby passes through the birth canal. Vaginally delivered infants are exposed to the mother’s vaginal microbiota which immediately travels to and settles in the gastrointestinal tract.
The second major exposure to maternal gut microbiota occurs through breastfeeding. Many studies have shown that breastfeeding is a major contributing factor to the establishment of the infant’s gut microbiome, as well as a source of short and long-term health benefits for the infant, predominantly related to immune system development. For example, in the short-term scope, a decrease in the risk of infections, diarrhea, type-1 diabetes, and other diseases was identified. In the long-term, it contributed to shielding the baby from type-2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. It was also shown that, if a baby attains optimal gut health, he/she will benefit from fewer allergies, eczema, less inflammation and a stronger immune system.
How can you find out the health of your gut?
For this, your doctor or yourself can book an appointment at a lab where they will take a sample of your stool. Typically, the analysis will look at the populations of bacteria living in your gut by isolating the microbial DNA from the microorganisms present in the stool. From there, the dominant species will be established and the analysis will look at the balance between good and bad bacteria.
In the instance of gut dysbiosis, which is when the gut bacteria isn’t balanced, the priority step to take is to visit a healthcare professional who will be able to guide you through the next steps, especially during an important period such as pregnancy.
How can you improve your gut health during pregnancy?
The Correlation between Pregnancy and the Gut
What you eat while pregnant may affect your baby’s gut microbiota and growth
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Gut Health for Pregnancy and Beyond – Gut Performance
The Role of Mom’s Microbes During Pregnancy
Why is it important to analyze gut microbiota in pregnancy? – Bioscience Institute
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Interplay Between Exercise and Gut Microbiome in the Context of Human Health and Performance