In short

This is a question many nutritionists and healthcare professionals will hear in practice. And the short answer is yes, indeed! Many clinical trials indicate that having a healthy balance of friendly probiotic bacteria during and after pregnancy can support both the mother's and baby's health, digestion and immune systems.

During vaginal birth, as the baby passes through the birth canal it swallows what will become its first healthy intestinal bacteria. This is nature's way for mothers to inoculate their babies and provide them with a foundation of good bacteria for their future health. If a mother has good levels of friendly bacteria at the time of birth, and the right types to support child health, these will be passed to the baby during birth. Pharmacists and healthcare practitioners therefore encourage OptiBac Probiotics 'For babies & children' to be taken at least during the last trimester of pregnancy.

Nearly all products in the OptiBac Probiotics range are suitable for pregnancy or breastfeeding. However, pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult their doctor before taking Saccharomyces boulardii, or 'For travelling abroad' which contains Saccharomyces boulardii, as a precautionary measure.

Following birth, development of the infant's microbiota is influenced by diet (breast milk/formula), environment, and medication (e.g. antibiotics). The natural development of Bifidobacteria in infants is favoured by breastfeeding, and studies4 have found higher concentrations of Bifidobacterium infantis and Bifidobacterium bifidum in breast-fed infants as opposed to babies bottle-fed with formulas (who have greater colonisation with Enterococci and Clostridia species.) Recent research has also discovered that when a breastfeeding mother supplements with a probiotic, the same strains of beneficial bacteria have been found in their breast milk. You can read about this research here.

Many nursing mothers take For babies & children whilst breastfeeding to help support their child's health during this time. 'For babies & children' can be recommended for pregnant and nursing mothers who are looking to support their child's digestion and immunity.

In depth

Gut microbiota in pregnancy

Recent research1 has shown that the maternal microbiota changes during different stages in pregnancy. During the first trimester it is similar to that of a healthy, non-pregnant woman, however between the end of the first trimester and the end of the third trimester the composition of the gut flora changes dramatically. A 2012 study looked at the gut flora of 91 pregnant women and found that women in their second and third trimesters had an overall increase in Proteobacteria and Actinobacteria, and a reduction in species diversity. This same study showed that the postpartum period is also characterised by significant changes in the maternal gut microbiota, and that one month after giving birth the mothers microbiotas had still not returned to their pre-pregnancy states. The implications of these changes in microflora are not yet fully understood. More research is needed to understand how these changes affect both foetal and early infant development.

The placental microbiota

Until very recently it was believed that the placenta was a sterile, germ-free environment, and that this was essential to prevent the developing fetus from infection. However a 2014 study2 reported that the placenta contains a unique microbiome, and includes species such as Prevotella tannerae and Neisseria. This microbiome is more similar to the oral microbiome than the gut microbiome in the mother.

The discovery of bacteria at the placenta led scientists to look at whether or not this placental microbiome could be manipulated by the mother's use of oral probiotics. A 2012 study3 gave oral probiotics to expectant mums for two weeks before they were due to have an elective C-section. The supplement contained both Bifidobacterium infantis and also Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. At the time of delivery the amniotic fluid and placenta were tested for the presence of these bacterial strains and both were found, proving that oral probiotics given to an expectant mum, do somehow make their way to the placenta. This is a very exciting discovery which now demands more research in order that the mechanisms behind this bacterial translocation (movement from one area to another) are fully understood.

Probiotics & prebiotics in breast milk

There has been much debate and uncertainty over the years, surrounding the question of whether breast milk contains probiotics and prebiotics, and whether it can transfer specific strains of friendly bacteria to the baby. The most recent research shows that both are found in abundance, in the mother's breast milk; thought to originate from the gut, travelling via the lymphatic system. A small study published in 2011 even found that specific probiotic strains taken in a supplement form by the mother, could be identified later in her breast milk. This study and topic has been explored recently on the blog.

For further information about 'For babies & children' seeCustomer Reviews and Research on 'For babies & children'.

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1. Host remodeling of the gut microbiome and metabolic changes during pregnancy. Koren O1, Goodrich JK, Cullender TC, Spor A, Laitinen K, Bäckhed HK, Gonzalez A, Werner JJ, Angenent LT, Knight R, Bäckhed F, Isolauri E, Salminen S, Ley RE.

2. The placenta harbors a unique microbiome. Aagaard K, Ma J, Antony KM, Ganu R, Petrosino J, Versalovic J.

3. Microbial contact during pregnancy, intestinal colonization and human disease. Samuli Rautava, Raakel Luoto, Seppo Salminen & Erika Isolauri

4. Diet and faecal flora in the newborn: breast milk and infant formula. Balmer SE, Wharton BA. Arch Dis Child. 1989 Dec;64(12):1672-7.