The importance of probiotics in pregnancy

Diabetes is classed as a global crisis of sorts, with soaring incidences around the world.  Sadly, the state of our mental health statistics experienced, are equally rising at startling levels.  In pregnancy, the statistics for New Zealand families/whanau, show our rates are increasing also at an alarming rate. 


In 2015 I wrote the article “probiotics nutrition matters” for the homebirth in Aoteroa magazine discussing the health benefits of probiotics in health.  Two years on, and the growth of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia during that time, are concerning.  Health officials state pregnant women are both coming into pregnancy, in poorer health, with higher risk factors throughout pregnancy.  

As a midwife myself, I strongly encourage the use of probiotic foods in pregnancy (before and after).  From looking at my own practice, I have noticed a reduction in pregnancy related aliments, improved pregnancy experience and mental well bring, along with no increase in gestational diabetes, or alteration in perinatal maternal mental health outcomes.   Greater maternal satisfaction appears to have increased in family wellbeing, especially in stress response times.  I have only seen benefits for probiotic use, with no adverse or negative effects.

The period during pregnancy and breastfeeding, continue to remain as one of the most important, and nutritionally, demanding times in a woman’s life. Women who eat a healthy diet for the year prior to pregnancy, are shown to have a significantly lower risk of having a baby with birth defects. 

As midwives, we talk to pregnant women about the importance of nutrition.  Sub-optimal diets equal depleted women, resulting in nutrient depleted children, therefore introducing susceptibility to both acute and chronic conditions to develop.  Nutrient poor foods in pregnancy increase the risks of children experiencing mental health problems later into childhood and adulthood.  Eating a highly nutritional diet, along with daily consumption of probiotic foods, set us up for good moods, balanced energy levels, good sleep, and an optimal stress response level for the things the day may bring.

Following on from international studies, a joint study was conducted here in New Zealand by the Universities of Otago, Wellington, and University of Auckland.  In April of 2017, their study showed significant results in the clear links to probiotics role in reducing incidences of gestational diabetes developing.

“Using the current New Zealand definition for gestational diabetes, 6.5 per cent of the women had diabetes in the placebo group, versus 2.1 per cent in the probiotic group. This is a 68 per cent reduction,” says study leader Professor Julian Crane from the University of Otago, Wellington.

Fermented foods contain large numbers of both, crucial macro and micro nutrients, helping to restore and keep our body in optimum health. Fermented foods are probiotic rich. Probiotic foods help the regulation of glucose metabolism and insulin resistance, plus also improves the regulation the inflammatory pathways.

The best way to ensure optimal gut flora is to regularly consume traditionally fermented foods, which are naturally rich in probiotics. A non-exhaustive list includes, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and other fermented veggies, natto, kim chee and miso. Homemade probiotics foods are shown to contain the highest yield of the strains of good bacterias, compared to commercially bought fermented foods.

Consuming fermented foods and probiotics during pregnancy can provide the following benefits.

  • Prevention and treatment of yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and bacterial vaginosis
  • Prevent and treat constipation and diarrohea (which may in turn, reduce the risk of prolapse due to straining)
  • Maintenance of healthy digestion with less wind and discomfort
  • Can help reduce the risk of preeclampsia
  • Reduce risk and improve events of perinatal and post-natal anxiety and depression
  •  Can help to prevent and/or manage obesity and excessive weight gain in pregnancy which in turn can help a return to pre-pregnancy weight.
  • Increased energy from production of vitamin B12
  • Healthier skin, since probiotics improve eczema and psoriasis
  • Healing from leaky gut and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Reduced risk of premature labor
  • Improved placental health
  • Improved blood glucose control, prevention or reducing gestational diabetes, and subsequent diabetes development later in life

For babies in the womb, a maternal diet high in probiotic foods can provide:

  • The growth of beneficial gut flora in babies born by caesarean or those that are not breastfed
  • Healthy regular bowel frequency and bowel motion consistency
  • Resistance to tummy infections
  • Lowered instances of colic or irritability, with recorded reductions in crying time by up to 75%
  • Optimal immune function with improved recovery from illness.
  • A favourable environment for the absorption of nutrients, eg, increased energy from production of vitamin B12
  • Lowered risk of childhood allergies, including eczema and asthma
  • Reduced risk of ‘failure to thrive’ and reduced risk of childhood obesity.
  • Improve the symptoms of colic, decreasing average crying times by about 75 percent


Twenty five percent of women suffer from some level of depression during, or following birth (perinatal and anxiety depression Aoteroa). Increased periods of stress, anxiety and depression can be worsened, or created by a chronic gut health inflammation, leading to activation in the areas of the brain associated with mental health and behavioural disorders.  Studies have shown a clear link with how probiotics can both prevent and reverse stress responses in the brain.  The probiotic enzymes within the gut (intestinal microflora) help to increase the hormone serotonin in the brain (the pleasure and stress lowering hormone).  In addition, research highlights the importance of Vitamin D levels in its role also to reduce and prevent perinatal and postnantal depression, and that by taking a probiotic vitamin d levels can be increased by more than 25%

As a midwife I recommend to my clients consuming fermented fruits and vegetables, along with milk based kefir foods as the ideal regular use of probiotics.  As kombucha and water kefir based drinks still can contain some residual sugars, this I reccomend during pregnancy to be consumed as a treat drink.  For women with a family history of diabetes or thrush/candida histories, I advise to omit these drinks.

Probiotic foods in my eyes are one of the easiest and cheapest ‘self care’ practices we can do for our own feel good factor, to help us feel great, both physically and mentally.  Like a favourite song, or pair of slippers..... the warm internal snugglies are on my daily ‘feel good, to do’ list.

Written by Tammi Heap


Probiotics may reduce risk of gestational diabetes