Thrive Birth Center Blog

Gut Health and Pregnancy; By Tessa Mancini Gillen

You might have read the recent article in the NY Times about microbes and the wondrous world of human milk, or you might have seen our Facebook post on the benefits of babies born through the bacteria dense birth canal. Let’s dive in a little more, into the magical world of gut bacteria and pregnancy, and how you can balance the micro biome through diet and nutrition. There is a reason we call refer to healthy gut bacteria as the second greatest ‘gift’ a mother can give her child.

Beneficial microbes that populate our gastrointestinal tract are not only unique for every individual, but are also laid out from birth. Babies essentially inherit their micro-biome from their mother, making maternal gut health of vital significance during pregnancy and the postpartum period. These microbes can affect the mechanisms that regulate our body weight, energy, digestion, assimilation of nutrients, mood, mental health, immune system function, among other factors, and these colonies of microbes can be quite complex. For example, did you know that the severity of toddlers tantrums can be linked to the populations of microbes in their gut? Or that 90% of our serotonin (the happiness hormone) is made in our gut, and how much serotonin we make as an adult can be traced back to our gut health as an infant? Or even that the microbiome of a pregnant woman’s reproductive tract can predict preterm birth? (4) Pretty wild, eh?

Our gut microbiome actually changes during each trimester in pregnancy, with these beneficial microbes shifting as pregnancy hormones do, helping to support fetal growth as it progresses. (2) Research suggests that our bodies are coevolving with these microbes, and that we are able to use them as a tool, inducing metabolic changes that promote energy storage, allowing fetuses to grow optimally. (2) The importance of gut flora can not be understated and is of vital significance, not only during pregnancy, but during birth and the postpartum period as well. New research from Scientific American notes the possible connection with gut health and the microbiome’s role in autism. According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, children with GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome), toxicity flows from their gut throughout their bodies and into their brains. This burdens the nervous system, preventing it from performing its normal functions and process sensory information. She states,“Virtually any toxic exposure, including a vaccine, can be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” in a situation like this. The end result can be symptoms of autism, and/or any number of other neurological problems.” (3)

So where do we start? How a baby enters the world influences their microbial profile, with microbe communities differing in babies born vaginally versus via ceacarean. An article in Science Daily reported:

“At the time of delivery, the vagina is dominated by a pair of bacterial species, Lactobacillus and Prevotella. In contrast, infants delivered by caesarean section typically show microbial communities associated with the skin, including Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium, and Propionibacterium. While the full implications of these distinctions are still murky, evidence suggests they may affect an infant’s subsequent development and health, particularly in terms of susceptibility to pathogens.” (5)

The documentary Microbirth, directed by Alex Wakeford and Toni Harman, takes an in-depth look at the life-long consequences that our micro-biome have on our health, noting that there are generational impacts, affecting DNA that can then be passed on to future generations. This new emerging research shows how vital these microbes really are, and how imbalances can contribute to life-long chronic, degenerative diseases. (3) Toni Harman wrote an article about her film in the Huffington Post, stating: “Two amazing events happen during childbirth. There’s the obvious main event, which is the emergence of a new human into the world. But then there’s the non-human event that is taking place simultaneously, a crucial event that is not visible to the naked eye, an event that could determine the lifelong health of the baby. This is the seeding of the baby’s micro biome. However, with interventions like the use of synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin / Syntocinon), antibiotics, C-section and formula feeding, this microbial transfer from the mother to baby is interfered with or bypassed completely.” (1)

Babies born without this first exposure to the microbes, located in their mother’s birth canal, start life with an incomplete and imbalanced microbiome. This imbalance can have life-long consequences. Harman continues, “The discovery of the microbiome is an exciting moment in human history. The insight gives into the existence of the trillions of bacteria that live on us and in us potentially offers the medical community a new way to treat disease. Even more importantly, it also offers the possibility of helping prevent disease in the first place. And it all starts with birth. Even if vaginal birth isn’t possible, then immediate skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding should be fully supported and encouraged by all healthcare providers to help ensure the baby’s microbiome is still seeded with the mother’s own bacteria. Apart from the obvious gift of life, the seeding of the baby’s microbiome is perhaps the second greatest ‘gift’ a mother can give her baby.” (1)

And while it is easy to recommend ways to reinoculate the gut with beneficial microbes, it is just as easy for the bad guys to take over. Antibiotic use, sugar consumption, birth control, and processed food all negatively affect the micro-biome. Beneficial gut microbes are highly susceptible to toxins, which can wreck havoc on your gut health. Studies show that glyphosphate, the active ingredient in Roundup, alters and DESTROYS these beneficial microorganisms. (3) So a good place to start is simply to eat non-processed, organic foods, with an emphasis on including fermented foods into your diet, everyday. The health of your baby’s gut starts with the health of your gut, so make it a priority. Yogurt, Kimchee, Sauerkraut, and Coconut Keifer are a few of my favorites.

DSC_0136 And then there are Probiotic Pops (recipe below). The sun is out, the weather is hot, and summer is kicking. These golden days are often accompanied with trips to the beach, rafting on the river, and more often than not, treats for the kids. But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your child’s health, nor your own, while loading them up with refined sugar, which leads to the growth and overpopulation of the bad microbes. These frozen treats not only help to cool you down during these scorching days, but are rich in beneficial gut microbes and are sweetened with natures array of natural sugars that actually help to feed these good guys. These microbes are essential for you, for your kids, for your unborn baby, and these pops make it easy to ensure everyone is getting the goods.

Probiotic Pops

2 cups Watermelon
Fresh fruit of choice
Coconut Water Probiotic (I love inner-eco, but there are several good ones out there.)

Puree watermelon and pour into popsicles molds. Fill 3/4 full.
Add 1 TBS Coconut Water Probiotic to each mold.
With a chopstick, stir to disperse evenly.
Add in chunks of your favorite fruit to fill the molds. Blueberries, strawberries, kiwi slices, figs, you get the picture.
Freeze and enjoy. <3


Tessa Mancini Gillen is Thrive’s go to herbalist and nutritionist. She teaches classes and is the master mind behind the Mama Meal Plan which delivers home cooked, organic and nutritionally dense meals to new families in Sonoma County.