probiotics

4 of the most important pregnancy foods you never hear about

Bone brothHere at Health Foundations, we emphasize the importance of a healthy diet before and during pregnancy because we've seen again and again how much of a difference good nutrition makes in the health of mom and baby, including a reduced risk of c-sections, easier labors, quicker postpartum healing, and so much more.  And the benefits aren't just relegated to the childbearing year.  Babies who receive good nutrition in the womb are at a lower risk for many serious diseases in their child and adulthoods, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, breast cancer, autism, and ADHD.  Science is finding the crucial role nutrition plays in epigenetics, or the factors, such as chemical reactions, that influence gene expression.  Cutting edge studies are finding the importance of the gut microbiome in overall health for both babies and adults.  

So in that spirit, here are five foods that you might not find on the list of best pregnancy foods but are actually some of the best foods you can eat when expecting (and when planning to conceive).  

1.  Traditional Fats:  

We went through a phase in our collective history during which everyone feared fats.  And we still haven't quite recovered.  But many kinds of natural fats are not only good for you, they are essential to your wellbeing.  Across cultures, you will find fats emphasized in fertility and pregnancy diets.  Good fats include ghee, butter, dairy fat (full fat dairy products), avocados, and coconut oil.  Used in moderation, these healthy fats can do a world of good for you and baby.  They can support maternal skin health, optimizing your body's response to the stretches and effects of gravity that pregnancy impose.  Healthy fats in pregnancy also lower the risk of childhood allergies for baby, research shows.  Additional studies show that health fat consumption in pregnancy can lower the risk of baby later developing autism.  

2.  Organ meats:

Okay, we are not a culture that commonly enjoyed organ meats.  In fact the words alone may turn people off.  But meats like liver are super foods when it comes to baby making (we're talking pregnancy here, folks).  Organic, grassfed and/or free range organ meats are some of the most nutrient dense foods absolutely loaded with a wide array of vitamins, minerals, proteins and fat.  They are particularly rich in the nutrients that help keep our brains healthy and grow healthy well-functioning baby brains-- i.e.  the essential fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docasahexaenoic acid), and AA (arachidonic acid). Liver is one of the best sources of folate, which is SO crucial in pregnancy (and supplemental folic acid pales in comparison to food-sourced folate in terms of health).  Liver and other organ meats are also tremendous sources of:

  • high-quality protein
  • fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
  • vitamin A, which is rapidly depleted during periods of stress
  • All the B vitamins in abundance, particularly vitamin B12
  • A highly usable form of iron, so important in pregnancy
  • Trace elements such as copper, zinc and chromium
  • CoQ10, a nutrient that is especially important for cardio-vascular function
  • Purines, nitrogen-containing compounds that serve as precursors for DNA and RNA

One of the easiest and tastiest ways to eat liver is through liver pates.  Here is a tasty recipe for Chicken Liver Pate.  Here is one for a delicious Beef Liver with fig, bacon, and caramelized onion.  While not as ideal as consuming as food, desiccated liver in capsule form is also available.  

3.  Bone Broth

Beloved by the burgeoning paleo health movement, bone broth has numerous benefits for both mamas and babies (and the rest of us!)  Bone broth has shown to offer the following benefits:

  • builds, rebuilds and repairs our connective tissue, including joints, tendons and ligaments
  • improves hair, skin and nails
  • strengthens bones
  • heals and promotes a healthy digestive system 
  • supports optimal nerve health
  • great for the immune system
  • good source of protein
  • supports brain health
  • boosts fertility
  • and much more

Because broth supports the nervous system, endocrine system and brain function, consuming it while pregnant helps the developing fetus build healthy organs.

Bone broth is cheap and easy to make yourself.  You can use the bones from a whole chicken you have cooked or can get soup bones from the coop. It is best to use high quality bones to make bone broth-- those from healthy (grassfed or free range), organic sources.  This is not a difficult thing to do in Minnesota!  There are many great recipes out there for bone broth.  Here is one simple way to make and enjoy bone broth throughout the week.

4.   Fermented foods

Fermented foods are some of the best sources of probiotics one can get from food (which is a superior source of all nutrients, compared to supplements, in virtually all cases).   Fermented foods are great for maintaining a healthy digestive system in pregnancy, which many of us know can go awry when we are expecting.  Eating these probiotic-rich foods is also great for gut health and the immune system and can positively impact your child's gut health and overall wellbeing.  Fermented foods also increase your body's ability to absorb the maximum level of nutrients from the foods you eat.  You can make your own fermented foods or there are some great (and quite tasty!) options available at co-ops, Whole Foods, and other health markets.  Examples of fermented foods include:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Kefir
  • Plain yogurt
  • Kombucha

Here's to you and your family's health, mamas!

Benefits of probiotics in pregnancy, postpartum and for baby

probiotics Probiotics (which roughly translates to “for life”) are beneficial forms of bacteria/microbiota that can assist the human body in preventing and treating many types of illness and disease—from cancer to diarrhea.  We have these beneficial bacteria in our body naturally, but supplementation can greatly support the body in health and healing.

While nearly everyone can benefit from consuming probiotics, using probiotics is especially important and advantageous during pregnancy and once baby is born.  Read on to learn all about the amazing benefits of probiotics for mom and baby.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria living in your body that help protect against illness.  We can take supplements of these beneficial bacterial or obtain them from some food sources.  There are hundreds of different strains of probiotic, which are all important to overall health.  Certain strains are particularly good for pregnant women and others best for new mamas and babies.

While we typically think of probiotics as being good for digestive health, they do more to promote health in the body.  Probiotics are found lining the mucous membranes of your digestive, urinary, and vaginal tracts.  This last one is particularly important in pregnancy, because we want to foster healthy vaginal tissues before and during delivery (more about why below).

Additionally, probiotics are key to a healthy immune system.  These beneficial bacteria make up approximately 70% of your immune system, making them an important part of your daily defense mechanisms.  Ensuring a healthy balance of good bacteria in the body can foster overall wellness.

 Probiotics in pregnancy

Regular use of probiotics in pregnancy can offer women many benefits.  These benefits include lower risk of:

  • illness (colds and flu)
  • constipation
  • gestational diabetes
  • preeclampsia
  • urinary tract infections
  • yeast infections
  • premature labor

Use of probiotics in pregnancy has also been found to keep levels of Group B Streptococcus (Group B Strep) low.  Group B Strep is a common bacterium of the vaginal lining, but if levels of these bacteria get too high at the end of pregnancy it can pose some risks to baby.  When this issue presents itself, it is often managed during labor/delivery with antibiotics.  However, steps in pregnancy, including probiotic use, can reduce the risk of this condition.

Healthy vaginal flora is crucial to baby’s health.  Babies are born with a sterile gastrointestinal system and exposure to mom’s vaginal flora is their first exposure to the bacteria their systems will be colonized by.  Healthy vaginal flora helps give baby’s immune system a good start.  Babies also continue to receive beneficial bacteria through breastfeeding, being held skin to skin, and via saliva exchange (think pacifier “cleanings,” shared spoons, and the like) in the first year.

Postnatal Probiotics Benefits 

Recent studies have found that consuming probiotic supplements beginning in the first trimester of pregnancy and continuing their use through at least the first six months of exclusive breastfeeding can help women lose weight after the birth of their baby.  Supplements with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium were linked to less central obesity (defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more or a waist circumference over 80 centimeters).

Probiotic use can be especially important if you need to take antibiotics for any reason in the postpartum period (really any time you take antibiotics, you can benefit from use of probiotics).

When mamas consume probiotics, the health benefits also find their way into breast milk and are passed on to baby. Breast milk is actually the source of our first immune-building “good” bacteria.  Since baby’s gut bacteria continues to culture throughout the nursing time, it is great for mama to continue taking probiotics in the postpartum and as long as she breastfeeds.

Probiotics for baby 

In addition to receiving probiotics via breast milk, probiotics can also be given to baby directly.  Supplementation to baby can take a few forms: you can add a bit of probiotic to a bottle of milk, you can take a little probiotic on your finger to give to baby orally, or you may even put a little on your nipple and baby will ingest it during a feed.

Probiotics have numerous potential benefits for babies including the prevention and treatment of:

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • eczema
  • food sensitivities, especially in infants with a family history of allergy
  • colic, one study found decreased crying times by up to 75% (look for product containing Lactobacillus reuteri)
  • diarrhea
  • ear infection
  • illness (colds and flu)

Research shows that good probiotic exposure in infancy can actually help optimize baby’s weight later in life.  Early probiotic exposure may modify the growth pattern of the child by restraining excessive weight gain during the first years of life.

Probiotics: Sources and Guidelines

Different blends of different strains of probiotic may be optimal depending on whether you are pregnant or taking them in the postpartum (or giving to baby).  We have a few excellent supplements at the clinic and we can talk to you further about what to look for in a probiotic.

Generally speaking, recommendations tend toward 1 to 10 billion Colony Forming Units for infants, and 10 to 20 billion CFU for older children and adults. To achieve and maintain a therapeutic effect, probiotics must be used consistently to ensure a sufficient and consistent population levels over time.  It can be difficult to say exactly what dose is ideal, as products vary.  Different probiotics have been shown to be effective at different levels.  Products containing a higher number of live probiotics may not be better than one with fewer.  It’s best to go with a reputable high-quality brand, ideally one that has been vetted by your health care professionals (such as us!).

There have been no reports of adverse reactions to supplementation of probiotics in moms or babies.

Food sources of probiotics

While supplementation is great, there are also many foods rich in probiotics.  Fermented foods are particularly rich in probiotics.

Food sources of probiotics include:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Spirulina (with other great benefits in pregnancy and in general)
  • Miso soup
  • Pickles
  • Tempeh
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha tea

If you have questions about probiotics, be sure to discuss them with your midwife at your next appointment, give us a call, or stop in.  We’d be happy to talk with you further about what to look for in a probiotic or connect you with a great supplement we carry.

Sources:

http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/Probiotics-may-help-women-regain-their-figures-after-pregnancy

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20231842

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24164813

http://cdrf.org/home/checkoff-investments/usprobiotics/probiotics-basics/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=11172991&ordinalpos=36&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum