A new study has found that taking probiotics during pregnancy could lower a woman’s risk of preterm birth and preeclampsia, a complication characterized by high blood pressure.
Published in the journal BMJ Open, researchers analyzed data from over 70,000 births in Norway and found taking probiotics — especially the period of time in the pregnancy when they were taken — was beneficial. It was found that probiotic milk consumption in late pregnancy was associated with a 20-per-cent reduced risk of preeclampsia, while it accounted for an 11-per-cent lower risk of preterm birth when taken in early pregnancy and a 27-per-cent lowered risk when taken in late pregnancy.
The women studied consumed two different forms of probiotic-rich milk, both of which contained the Lactobacillus bacterium.
In Canada, nearly two-thirds of infant deaths are attributed to preterm birth, while preeclampsia occurs in almost 12 out of every 1,000 births.
“If future randomised controlled studies support a protective effect of probiotic consumption on reduced risk of preeclampsia and preterm delivery, recommending [it] would be a promising public health measure to prevent these adverse pregnancy outcomes,” the researchers said in a statement.
While they did not determine exactly how probiotics reduced preterm birth and preeclampsia, researchers believe that they may contribute to reduced inflammation in the body.
This study serves to further the growing belief that a mother’s diet can have a direct impact on her baby. Research has shown that what a woman consumes during pregnancy can have numerous effects on her and her baby, ranging from gestational diabetes and hypertension to asthma and depression.
The benefits of probiotics
Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that populate the gut and regulate digestive function, and until about 10 years ago when major food brands started adding them to everyday foods, they were relatively foreign.
They’re lauded for aiding in digestive issues as wide-ranging as minor cramping and bloating to colitis and irritable bowel syndrome, by preventing bad bacteria from growing and adhering to the lining of the digestive tract. This, in turn, enhances the immune system and helps to maintain general health.
They’ve also been linked to helping improve depression, anxiety and stress. Suffice to say, they have been positioned as a valuable addition to a healthy lifestyle.
Generally, probiotics are not contraindicated for pregnant women, though women are advised to speak to their doctors before adding them to their diet or supplement intake.
Because they help with digestion, it is believed that probiotics can be beneficial for pregnant women who could be more prone to constipation or diarrhea.
In addition, studies have shown that probiotics do not pose any risks to breastfeeding since they are rarely systemically absorbed.
Probiotics can be taken via supplements or by eating foods in which they naturally occur, including fermented dairy products like yogurt and milk, as well as fermented foods like pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut.