As a parent, you want to do everything you can to support your little one. But you need to make sure you're also taking care of yourself along the way, especially if you choose to breastfeed your baby.
Postpartum depletion, a drop in energy levels and changes in your digestive system make the postpartum period one of the most nutritionally demanding phases of your life.
Giving your body the nutrients, energy and immunity it needs to provide nourishing breast milk is essential to avoiding things like brain fog, tiredness, hair loss and mood changes.
Good bacteria can have a range of powerful health benefits and we know that human breast milk does an incredible job of seeding your baby's microbiome and supporting lifelong gut health.
But, if you're lacking the right beneficial bacteria in your own gut, you might not be giving your baby the best start in life.
That's where probiotics and breastfeeding come in. By taking the right probiotic supplements, you can ensure you're fuelling your body with everything you need to look after you, so you can look after your baby.
What are probiotics?
Before we go any further, let's clear up a few important definitions. In a nutshell, probiotics are a type of living microorganisms that have a stack of benefits for your gut health and the human microbiome.
In many cases, you'll find probiotics in fermented foods like yogurt or in specially formulated probiotic supplements. When it comes to probiotic bacteria, these microorganisms are helpful, not harmful and can actually deliver positive health benefits to the human gut.
Unlike bad bacteria, probiotics can help keep your body functioning and support overall health and wellbeing.
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of probiotic bacteria:
- Lactobacillus: Probiotic lactobacilli is one of the most common probiotics that is naturally occurring in your digestive system. It's also found in a range of foods and supplements and is used to support gut health.
- Bifidobacterium: Another common probiotic that lives in your gut and intestines, and helps to support digestion, and nutrient absorption and can even safeguard your immune system.
Plus, there is also a strain of yeast probiotics known as Saccharomyces boulardii.
While these strains of bacteria are naturally occurring in the gut, it can be beneficial to take probiotic supplements are they can:
- Support recovery from illness or a health condition that has disrupted your gut microbiota.
- Maintain and foster a healthy gut microbiota and ensure you have enough good bacteria to keep your digestive system healthy.
- Aid your body's immune system and support a range of gut health benefits.
Usually, probiotic supplements are available as tablets, capsules or liquids formulated for oral intake. Plus, you can find helpful probiotics in a range of fermented foods (but more on that later).
Is it safe to take probiotics while breastfeeding?
As a parent, you want to make sure you're doing everything you can to prioritise your baby's health. Being cautious about what you put into your body is normal, especially for pregnant women or lactating women.
Studies have shown that probiotic supplements are the third most common dietary supplements (other than vitamins and minerals), and the use of probiotics has quadrupled between 2007 and 2012.
The good news is that research shows that taking probiotic supplementation while breastfeeding is safe. When taken through oral administration (such as through capsules, tablets or liquids), your body receives a healthy dose of beneficial bacteria.
But, because these probiotics are rarely systemically absorbed (meaning they don't penetrate deep into our system or get carried throughout our entire body), the vast majority of these beneficial bacteria won't pass into human milk or breast milk.
In fact, specific research has been done into the impact and possible health benefits of the most widely used probiotics on infants. The results? There were no negative side effects, and some infants even saw an increased resistance to respiratory infections in the first two years of life.
As breastfeeding women, taking a probiotic as well as a postnatal supplement — like Kin's Postnatal — means you're reducing your chances of postpartum depletion and giving your body the 18 essential micronutrients you need in optimal dosages.
Plus, you can rest assured that probiotic use is safe and that breastfed infants won't experience any adverse side effects from these supplements.
Benefits of probiotics on babies
When your baby is born, they're born with what's called a 'sterile gut'. Over time, their gut microbiome is 'seeded' with helpful bacteria, ingested through breast milk, formula and foods (once they're old enough for solids).
This process, known as 'bacterial colonisation' of your infant's gut, usually happens naturally through breast milk and feeding. However, if your infant experiences a condition such as diarrhoea, infant colic or allergies, this process might be disrupted.
That's where probiotic supplements can help to restore the beneficial bacteria in your baby's gut. While probiotics have been shown to be safe and well-tolerated by infants, the evidence is limited and mixed as to their potential health benefits.
With only limited research to go off, we know that probiotic supplements can be a way to manage allergies and offer relief from eczema symptoms in infants. Some probiotics are also shown to reduce the frequency and duration of diarrhoea in infants, too.
However, there isn't enough evidence to definitely say exactly what strains of probiotics are the most effective, what exact dosages should be used and when to use infant probiotics.
In the meantime, it's worth chatting to your GP or doctor if you're concerned about your infant's health or want to discuss their diet or nutrient intake.
Benefits of probiotics on breastfeeding mothers
As a new mum, supporting your own microbiome health is just as important as taking care of your baby.
While you might be wondering how the foods you consume may impact your breast milk, another important factor that determines human milk health is this: your own gut microbiome.
That's where taking a probiotic can help support your overall wellbeing, boost the nutritional value of your breast milk and even help treat and prevent infectious mastitis.
Let's run you through a few of the key benefits of taking a probiotic while breastfeeding:
- Probiotics may be able to treat mastitis and reduce mastitis symptoms: Some studies have shown that lactobacillus strains of probiotics can lower the bacterial infection of mastitis and can reduce the severity of symptoms (such as breast pain and soreness) you often experience during mastitis.
- Probiotics can help to promote good digestive health and support a healthy immune system: During lactation, your body is working overtime to produce healthy breast milk for your baby. It's important to replenish your body with good bacteria, vitamins and minerals to take care of yourself and your health while breastfeeding.
- Probiotics can support a healthy postpartum mood: Some studies suggest that there is a link between your mood changes and your gut microbiome. By ensuring your human microbiome is healthy, probiotics can be a way to promote a better mood and even help you navigate medical conditions such as Postpartum Depressive Disorder.
What are the possible side effects of taking probiotics while breastfeeding?
While many clinical trials have shown that probiotic use is safe for you and your baby, there are a few minor side effects to consider too. Generally speaking, the most common side effects of taking probiotics are bloating, gas and some digestive discomfort.
That's because these supplements are focused on adding helpful bacteria into our gut. However, these side effects should pass within a few weeks (but if they don't make sure to chat with your GP or medical professional and discontinue use).
While it's very uncommon, it's also important to use probiotics with caution if you're severely immunocompromised or using a central venous catheter (as systemic infections may occur on rare occasions).
Natural sources of probiotics
Think probiotics can only be sourced from supplements? Think again. There are plenty of foods that contain naturally-occurring probiotics to support healthy breast milk and boost overall gut health.
Some of the most common natural sources of probiotics include:
- Sourdough bread
All of these ingredients are fermented foods, which are rich in beneficial enzymes, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and strains of good bacteria. However, it's difficult to assess to exact quantity and benefits of natural sources of probiotics as they're not formulated in the same way as probiotic supplements.
If you're unable to incorporate these foods into your diet, it's worth taking a specially formulated supplement to deliver the goodness straight to your gut.