As you know from doing She Births®, gut health is so important for your family’s health and wellbeing – and especially important pre-conception, during pregnancy and during your baby’s early development.
I never stop editing, improving and developing She Births®. I have been educating about no wheat and sugar for over 10 years now but I’ll never forget the first class I introduced the term microbiome and began to mention vaginal swabbing – the looks on people’s faces was priceless!
For some of you this blog will be a great reminder of all the Avoid and Favour topics we discuss and for others who may have fallen back into the wheat, caffeine and muffin addiction in an attempt to muddle through sleep deprivation – this may help you get back on track!
Here Emma explains what gut health is all about, and gives us some great tips for helping boost gut health, improve your chance of conceiving, nourishing foods to consume during pregnancy, plus, how to kick start a healthy gut for your baby. We also asked her to give us some extra tips for caesarean births, antibiotics during labour and if unable to breastfeed.
And just for being a part of the awesome She Births® community you can access a special offer with the highly researched and amazing Qiara probiotics range. I have seen this range in action for some of our mums and especially for the treatment of mastitis it has been outstanding!
Love and gratitude,
P.S. If there’s a topic you’d like us to cover on our blog, please let us know.
EXPERT INTERVIEW | GUT HEALTH – WITH EMMA PARK
How do we know if we have a healthy gut?
Traditionally signs of poor gut health are focused around digestive signs & symptoms – constipation, diarrhoea, heart burn, bloating, food intolerances, etc.
Now we have a greater understanding of the role of the gut in our health we understand that most health conditions either have their roots in the gut – or poor gut function will be contributing to it.
Allergies, skin conditions, fatigue, inflammation, poor memory, foggy head, autoimmunity, hormone imbalance, behavioural & learning issues and mood disorders are all signs of an unhealthy gut.
How does gut health impact on fertility and what can couples do to improve their chances of conceiving?
Gut health contributes greatly to overall health so is important to consider from pre-conception.
There are also a couple of key points that relate to fertility directly, and should be addressed to optimise conception chances;
The Microbiome is a MAJOR player in gut health – the ‘microbiome’ refers to our microbial community – all the bacteria, viruses, yeasts etc that live in and on us. We usually think of it in terms of the gut as this is where the greatest concentration of bacteria and microbes live, but all body sites have their own microbiome, including the reproductive organs. The microbiome has direct influences over each body site & our whole immune system health.
DYSBIOSIS is an imbalance of the microbiome that can contribute to many different health conditions – but specifically in fertility it can lead to hormone imbalance, infections &/or inflammation that can impact conception chances.
Hormone Imbalance – oestrogen dominance, androgen excess, ‘unopposed’ estrogen or testosterone deficiency are common imbalances that can contribute to infertility. New research shows us that the microbiome has great influence over the manufacture & clearance of hormones – and that dysbiosis in the gut and other body sites, can contribute to these imbalances.
Infection – conditions like candida overgrowth, staph/strep infections, bacterial vaginosis (dysbiosis in the vagina), and dysbiosis in the endometrial lining, fallopian tubes, testes or seminal fluid will all impact fertility.
Inflammation – many of the conditions contributing to infertility are driven by inflammation. Some of these include – endometriosis, adenomyosis, PCOS, uterine fibroids, thyroid problems, autoimmune conditions and PID. Oxidative stress is the bi-product of inflammation and causes damage to cellular DNA, membranes & cell replication – all of which are important mechanisms in fertility.
Dysbiosis is a really common problem in our communities as its main causes are;
- Environmental toxins, pesticides, chemicals & food additives
- The ‘Modern’ diet – high sugar, processed foods & alcohol intake. Low intake of fibre & whole plant foods.
- The ‘overuse’ of medications – particularly antibiotics.
- Stress & poor sleep habits.
Couples need to address imbalances in the microbiome & optimise gut health to improve their chances of conceiving. Often it’s as simple as cleaning up the environment & changing the diet;
- Avoid environmental toxins (where possible)
- Address stress & improve sleep
- Reduce or eliminate sugar and junk food
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol
- Include more plant foods and fibre
- Include PRE & PRObiotic foods daily
Although sometimes it is necessary to work with a qualified Health Professional as chronic infections, dysbiosis & hormone imbalance can be more complex to treat.
At She Births® we recommend eliminating wheat and refined sugar throughout pregnancy (especially in the 3rd trimester). Is there anything more mums-to-be can do throughout pregnancy for optimal gut health for themselves and their baby?
Absolutely agree with eliminating wheat & refined sugar during pregnancy – I’d also add A1 casein (the protein fragment in ‘standard’ dairy) to that list.
Other common aggravants that may need to be removed include corn, soy & gluten – and for some people removing all grains can be beneficial.
I also like to focus on what we SHOULD include – as we all get sick of what we ‘can’t have’!!
PRE & PRObiotic foods are crucial to optimising and maintain a healthy gut and microbiome and should be included daily. Probiotic foods contain the live bacteria (yoghurts, kombucha, kefir, ferments etc), and PREbiotics FEED & NOURISH the bacteria.
PREbiotics are actually more important than probiotics when it comes to the long-term health of our gut and microbiome. They are specific fibres in food that humans can’t digest – so they pass through the digestive system into the bowel and feed the bacteria that live there.
The great news is there are lots of pre-biotics in a healthy, wholefood, plant-based diet. We should be aiming for 40 different plant foods per week, diversity is key!
‘Plant Foods’ include;
- Nuts & seeds
- Legumes & pulses
- Wholegrains (gluten free are best)
And polyphenols are the best when it comes to regulating the microbiome (keeping the ‘bad’ guys at bay & feeding up the ‘good’ ones).
Polyphenols are in all the colourful plant foods – particularly blues, purples & reds (think berries, red cabbage, purple carrots, black olives, black/red rice & quinoa etc)
Diet is key for optimising gut health – get onto it as early in pregnancy as you can – even from pre-conception!
We know that a vaginal birth and breastfeeding help seed a baby’s microbiome. How can mums who experience a c-section birth or are unable to breastfeed help give their babies the best possible start to a healthy gut?
There’s lots that mums (and partners!) can do to support optimal colonisation of the microbiome & development of the digestive & immune systems in their babies, even if they haven’t had a vaginal birth or are unable to breastfeed.
The major impact here is the antibiotics that are given at the time. Often mums don’t even know they’ve had antibiotics – particularly in an emergency C-section. The antibiotics, although necessary, are not selective in the bacteria they target – so wipe out all the good flora as well.
This is the time that a specific strain probiotic is crucial, and if they are having an elective C-section, then it’s best to start taking it from third trimester.
Lactobacillus Fermentum CECT5716 (Qiara) is the best probiotic strain to take at this time – it is clinically researched to restore beneficial bacteria in the gut & breast milk & help offset the negative effects of the antibiotics. It has even been shown to reduce the likelihood breastfeeding complications like Mastitis.
It’s also very important to start working on rebuilding the flora with the diet and lifestyle approaches discussed above – particularly for the long-term health of mum & bubs.
Other considerations for an optimal start for babies is delayed cord clamping and skin-to-skin. Mums can discuss this with their Obstetrician and/or midwives before they go into labour.
Unable to Breastfeed
Breastfeeding is often a really difficult process for mums and bubs and complications are common – even more so in C-section births (research shows up to 70%!).
Skin-to-skin post birth (for at least one hour) has been shown to improve breast feeding outcomes, so this is again an important consideration.
But if mums are unable to breastfeed (for whatever reason) the most important thing for them to remember is to NOT FEEL GUILTY. Sometimes it happens – and luckily we have back-ups!
This is another crucial time to use Qiara probiotics – Lactobacillus Fermentum CECT5716 is actually a breastmilk strain (it was originally discovered in healthy human breastmilk) so is one of the uniquely selected foundation strains involved in the colonisation of the infant, the training of the immune system and the development of the digestive system. It can be added to the formula to provide a live bacterium that the non-breastfed infant would otherwise miss out on.
Although this was not in the question it’s really important in regard to gut health so I wanted to mention…
When introducing solids to ANY infant (C-section, vaginal birth breastfed/non-breastfed) this not only supports growth & development of the infant – but also contributes to the development & diversity of the microbiome.
The microbiome is ‘established’ & immune system ‘trained’ by the time the baby is 3 years old so this is a crucial time to be including the right foods… The days of FARAX are over – and good riddance to them!! When did it ever make sense to feed our babies a processed rice cereal as their first food?? That stuff feeds the bad bugs!!
Fruits, vegetables & healthy wholefoods (REAL FOOD) should comprise the majority of babies first food & should include a combination of pureed and finger foods.
Babies don’t need food until 6mths and until this age they should have a relatively low diversity of microbes in their gut.
The 6-8mth period is a ‘learning’ period – where they are still learning to chew & eat properly, and we should be ‘offering’ them food accordingly. Fruits, vegetables and quality proteins with the key being to slowly increase VARIETY as this will also slowly increase the diversity and numbers in the gut microbiome.
Look for ‘developmental readiness’ as well – this tells you more about a baby’s readiness for food than the commonly believed myths of a ‘baby watching you eat’ or ‘helping them sleep through the night’.
This looks like;
- Be able to sit unaided
- Holding head up unaided
- Picking up food in a pincher grip
- An ability to chew
- Loss of ‘tongue push’ reflex
Mums microbiome in pregnancy, birth method, whether she breastfeeds or not & the introduction of solids all contribute to gut health and microbiome colonisation. It’s a crucial life stage to get right, so if you have unanswered questions it’s always a good idea to get the advice of a qualified Health Professional.
About Emma Park
Emma Park is an accredited practicing Holistic Nutritionist based on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. Through her role in private practice, community health and as Health Professional Educator for Puremedic, Emma is an industry leader in the field of Gut Health and the Microbiome.
Her passion for education sees her routinely present to groups regarding gut health and the microbiome and its role in fertility, pregnancy, lactation and pediatrics as well as general health, wellness and healthy aging.
She is a long-standing member of The Australian Natural Therapists Association and Nutrition Society Australia, a passionate believer in the power of Food as Medicine, and a dedicated supporter of the Integrated Healthcare movement.
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WINNER OF OUR BOOK GIVEAWAY!
Congratulations to TARRYN WOODS! Thank you for entering our book giveaway competition. We will be sending you an awesome bundle of inspiring books for love, life and parenting: Open Wide by Melissa Ambrosini, Earth is Hiring by Peta Kelly, and Becoming Us by Elly Taylor. We hope you enjoy these as much as do!
Photo credit: Beautiful photo by Kath McLean, Bright Photography