are probiotics safe while breastfeeding

Probiotic supplementation while breastfeeding

Something that may come up sometime during your breastfeeding journey is the use of probiotic supplements, especially when discussing your baby’s diapers and their diaper frequency or even baby cramps. But is it actually necessary to take probiotics while breastfeeding? Even more importantly, is it safe?

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are living microorganisms, primarily bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. This bacterium offers many health benefits such as supporting a healthy gut microbiome. This bacterium is naturally present in the body and has been found in abundance in breastfed babies’ stool.

Sometimes, the balance of these good bacteria may be interrupted such as when you use antibiotics or other medications which may kill all of the bacteria, both the good bacteria and the harmful bacteria and this can lead to many issues such as yeast infections.

Consuming probiotics, whether by food or supplements, can help restore and balance the gut microbiome again. Research has also shown that the breastmilk composition of mothers who consume probiotics are altered. This helps to restore and balance the infant’s gut which helps with optimal immune development.

It’s important to note that breastmilk already contains a big variety of bacteria to promote a healthy gut microbiome in infants. So, if your baby is healthy and doing well, additional probiotics are not necessary seeing as breastmilk is already composed of natural probiotics.

You can find probiotics in many different forms, from everyday foods to naturally fermented foods. Some common sources include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and probiotic-fortified snacks. The other option is probiotic supplements.

The benefits of probiotics for breastfeeding mothers

Improved breastmilk composition

Probiotics in your diet can potentially boost the composition of your breastmilk. Studies suggest that beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, can enrich breastmilk, which can then support a baby’s gut health and immune development.

Probiotics do not directly transfer into breast milk, but they work by improving the mother’s health, which in turn changes the composition of the breast milk to make it healthier for the baby.

It supports your gut health

After giving birth, our bodies go through many adjustments, including changes in the gut microbiome. Probiotics can help in restoring and maintaining a healthy balance of gut flora, which is important for our well-being and can indirectly benefit our babies.

Probiotics may provide relief from certain health conditions caused by bad bacteria

This may include (but are not limited to) diarrhea, constipation, yeast infections, urinary tract infections (UTI), eczema, and gum disease.

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 (an infection in the breast tissue) and can reduce the severity of symptoms (such as breast pain and soreness) you often experience during mastitis.

It may reduce the risk of postpartum depression

Research done on Lactobacillus Rhamnosus and its effects shows that the microbiome-gut-brain axis may be important for mental health.

They conducted a study of probiotic supplementation in pregnancy and 6 months after delivery (if breastfeeding).

The probiotic treatment group reported significantly lower depression and anxiety scores than those in the placebo group.

It strengthens both our and our babies’ immune systems

Probiotics can play a big role in strengthening both our and our babies’ immune systems.

It improves digestive function

Probiotics can reduce common digestive issues and promote regular bowel movements, making it easier for mothers to focus on caring for their newborn babies.

It’s clear that probiotics hold the potential for a wide range of benefits. Whether it’s to restore and balance the gut health after an antibiotic course, improving a baby’s gut health after antibiotics or medications, improve our own immunity or promote good digestive health for both mother and baby.

How does probiotics affect your baby’s health?

Eczema Prevention

While everyone is different, probiotic supplements have shown the potential to help prevent and treat eczema (atopic dermatitis).

Research also found that the use of probiotic supplements while breastfeeding may provide protection from eczema in breastfed infants in their first two years of life.

Reduced risk of infections

A healthy gut flora in babies is linked to a reduced risk of infections and possibly even long-term health outcomes such as a decreased likelihood of certain allergies and chronic diseases.

It may reduce colic in infants

There is no clear evidence that probiotics are more effective than a placebo at preventing infantile colic; however, daily crying time appeared to reduce with probiotic use compared to a placebo. There were no clear differences in adverse effects.

Gut colonization in infants

An infant’s gut is sterile at birth and is colonized by microorganisms during labor while they’re in the birth canal, and after labor during breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is even more important for cesarean section mothers as breastfeeding will help the good bacteria colonize their babies’ guts faster.

A healthy gut in babies is very important for both protection and for their digestive health. If anything interrupts the flora of an infant’s gut, probiotics by means of the mother’s breastmilk will greatly improve their gut health.

Are probiotics safe while breastfeeding?

According to research, consuming probiotics while breastfeeding is safe and is considered low risk as these bacteria are naturally present in the human gut to begin with. Side effects from probiotics are very rare unless you consume too much of it.

Breastfeeding mothers often ask if taking probiotics is safe for both them and their babies. The use of probiotics is considered safe during breastfeeding. Probiotics, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, are naturally present in the body and are also found in various foods.

These friendly bacteria have been associated with positive effects on gut health without significant adverse outcomes.

If you’re planning on using probiotic supplements, check the labels to see which strain probiotics it is and what the dosage is. Some strains are more researched and proven to be effective for breastfeeding mothers than others. Paying attention to the quality of the product is also key.

Types of probiotics and the different probiotic strains

Not all probiotics offer the same benefits, some are better suited for postpartum needs. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are widely researched for their positive impact on both mother and baby. These strains are found in both the maternal gut and in the infants gut.

Lactobacillus strains, such as L. Rhamnosus and L. Fermentum, have been associated with improved breastmilk quality and are considered safe for use during breastfeeding.

Bifidobacterium species, such as B. Lactis and B. Longum, show promise in supporting a baby’s immune system and contributing to a healthy infant gut flora.

Probiotic sources

Probiotic use doesn’t always have to equal supplementation, it’s also found in natural sources such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented pickles. All offering an array of probiotics.

When choosing a food for the sake of probiotics, live cultures are best for optimal benefits.

If you prefer supplements, it’s a good idea to look for products that indicate the strains and the CFU count – Colony-Forming Units, which reveal the number of live microbes in a dose. Always read the label for guidance on dosages, rather start with a lower dose to give your body time to adjust. Generally, supplements will range from one billion to ten billion CFU’S.

Monitoring changes in your baby’s health

You should always monitor your baby’s health when you start taking a new supplement or medication. If they show signs of discomfort, it may be best to stop taking the supplement or medication.

If your baby’s diapers weren’t frequent before you started using probiotics, do not be alarmed when your baby suddenly starts having a bowel movement every day.

Are Probiotics Necessary?

In most cases it’s not necessary for you to consume additional probiotics.

If you’re doing well with a healthy gut, and your baby has no gut health issues, introducing probiotics into your diet isn’t necessary.

If you or your baby were on an antibiotics course, you can definitely benefit from probiotics to help restore your and your baby’s gut health. There’s also rarely a need to give your baby probiotics, as they will receive plenty from your breastmilk.

Important notes on probiotics

A healthy gut plays a very important role in our overall health. There is a saying that goes “health starts in the gut”, and that sure is true. In normal circumstances, we don’t need any additional probiotics, but because of things like antibiotics and medical conditions, our gut bacteria and gut health may sometimes be out of balance and probiotics can help.

Breastfed infants don’t need additional probiotics, their mother’s breastmilk provides all the probiotics that they need.

If you ever need any education or support related to breastfeeding, contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) for evidence-based information and support.

If you’re ever worried about your or your baby’s health, do not hesitate to consult with your healthcare provider for support.

Additional information and resources:

Probiotics to prevent infantile colic

Early probiotic supplementation with B. infantis in breastfed infants leads to persistent colonization at 1 year

Impact of Maternal Nutritional Supplementation during Pregnancy and Lactation on the Infant Gut or Breastmilk Microbiota: A Systematic Review

Effects of maternal probiotic supplementation on breast milk microbiome and infant gut microbiome and health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

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