Researchers at Stanford University in California have been looking at possible links between a pregnant woman’s microflora (both in the gastro-intestinal tract and vaginal tract), and the likelihood of her giving birth prematurely.

The study group was made up of 49 pregnant women who all gave regular samples of their microflora throughout their pregnancies, and then again after the birth of their babies. It was the samples taken from the participants' reproductive tracts that proved to be of most interest to the study scientists, who believe that the findings could represent a real breakthrough for their research in to premature birth. Analysis showed that, of the 49 study participants, the 15 women that gave birth prematurely all showed abnormally low levels of bacteria from the ‘probiotic’ Lactobacillus family, whereas those women that maintained their pregnancies to full term showed healthier levels of this particular genus of bacteria.

Low levels of Lactobacilli thought to increase risk of premature birth

Dr David Relman who led the research said ‘These findings may help us screen women and identify and predict those who are more likely to have a baby born too soon’. Premature birth can lead to many different long-term health consequences, some of which can be serious, such as neurological damage and chronic lung diseases, so anything that can be done to prevent this occurrence would be hugely beneficial, with every extra week spent in the womb being advantageous to the future health of the child.

Dr. Relman went on to say that once expectant mothers who are at a high risk of going in to premature labour have been identified using this bacterial analysis method, a targeted treatment plan could be implemented to try to prevent them giving birth prematurely. He stated that a stitch could be placed in the neck of the womb to help prevent premature birth, or that the use of steroids could help to mature the babies lungs more rapidly in readiness for a predicted early birth.

Personally, I agree more with the views of Joe Leigh Simpson, from the U.S based ‘March of Dimes’ charity (a charity dedicated to helping mums have full-term pregnancies and healthy babies), who said that another option (outside of the use of steroids or cervical stitches), would be to use probiotics to rebalance the levels of Lactobacilli in the reproductive tract. He went on to say that ‘having too few friendly bacteria may leave a woman’s womb open to attack by other bacteria and toxins, triggering early birth’.

It would make sense to me that rebalancing the vaginal microflora with the correct strains of bacteria that naturally colonise this area, would seem a better treatment option than giving steroids which are well known to worsen dysbiosis, or placing a stitch in the womb to physically ‘hold’ the foetus (un-naturally, in my opinion) in place. If a lack of health promoting beneficial flora is a causative factor in premature birth, I would hope that replenishing that vital flora would be the first treatment option to be considered.

For any alternative health practitioners reading this post, it might be worth my mentioning that our ‘For women’ product contains two of the most prominent strains of Lactobacillus found in the vaginal tract (Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 ®, and Lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 ®). These strains are known to colonise the ‘intimate’ area and to adhere to the endothelial lining of the vaginal tract, however I can only recommend them within the context of maintaining general vaginal health, and do not suppose to make any further links to these study findings.

One other interesting point that the Californian study showed was that even amongst the study participants that didn’t go through a premature birth, their levels of friendly Lactobacillus bacteria still dropped dramatically after birth, and in some cases took as long as one year to return to normal. This could explain why having multiple pregnancies close together can be a risk factor for premature birth, as levels of protective Lactobacilli have not returned to normal between each pregnancy.

Perhaps this study will prompt more research in to the link between the vaginal/reproductive tract microflora and premature birth. It could prove to be another promising area of research for probiotics...

To read more about probiotics for female intimate health, click here.



  • How fascinating! Why do we think the lack of Lactobacilli would lead to premature birth? - is it all down to change in the environment? I think we know that a lack of friendly bacteria in the vaginal area can alter the pH right, does that mean more pathogens and thus an inhospitable womb and vaginal area for pregnancy? So body tells baby to vacate sooner, as it were? If these aren't too many leaps to make, suggests that all women looking to conceive should be addressing their natural bacteria in the vaginal area (as well as the gut) - perhaps probiotics for women will be as common a pregnancy supplement as folic acid in the future! We shall see. Well done Optibac for keeping us up to date. Love your blog.

  • Dear Star Anisa,

    Thanks for your question, and for your lovely comments!
    We do try to report all the latest developments in the fascinating field of probiotic research.
    This is a really interesting study, isn't it, with incredible potential for improving fertility and successful full-term pregnancy?

    The causes of miscarriage and premature birth are not well understood, and are thought to be multi-factorial making them difficult to predict or prevent.

    What we do know is that dysbiosis in the intestinal - and vaginal - flora can cause a change in pH and the overall environment, so yes, it's possible that if this is altered by the presence of pathogenic bacteria then this could result in the pregnancy failing or ending pre-term.
    Sexually transmitted infections have long been associated with fertility issues, and so it would seem to make good sense for anyone who is considering pre-conception and gestational support to consider a probiotic supplement, ideally one that targets intestinal health and one that contains strains that are known to colonise in the genito-urinary tract.

    Exciting times for probiotic research - we'll be keeping a close eye on this area and can't wait for more research to be done.


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