Taking probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding may be beneficial for babies
The first years of life are very important for the development of a baby’s microbiome and can have a short- and long-term impact on health.1, 2, 3
A woman’s microbiome during pregnancy influences the baby’s immune system
The immune system begins forming in the womb. It continues to develop and mature for the first 36 months of life.1 How the immune system develops is linked to the microbiome; scientific studies have highlighted how important the bacteria in the gut are for the way the immune system develops.2
The gut microbiome during pregnancy and breastfeeding affects the baby’s immune health
Exactly how bacteria affect the development of the baby’s immune system is not entirely known, but there are two ways that are thought to be important:
- The woman’s microbiome sends messages to the baby’s microbiome through breast milk and the placenta.3
- During vaginal birth, bacteria are transferred from the woman’s microbiome to her baby, influencing how the baby’s microbiome develops. This is called seeding.11
Let’s take a closer look at how these two natural processes affect the development of the baby’s microbiome and immune system.
Consuming probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding may benefit a baby’s immune health.4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Breast milk and the placenta help shape the baby’s microbiomeIt is beneficial if the woman’s microbiome is balanced during pregnancy because her own microbiome can affect the development of the baby’s microbiome. The woman’s microbiome naturally changes during pregnancy, due to external factors as well as the pregnancy. The mother’s microbiome may impact the health of the baby.12, 13 For instance, if a pregnant woman experiences stress during pregnancy, it may affect her microbiome, and consequently may impact the baby’s microbiome.14
Taking probiotics may help balance the maternal microbiome and studies have shown that a baby is less likely to develop an immune-related health condition when the woman takes probiotics. For instance, when women were given the Lactobacillus rhamnosus, LGG® probiotic strain (hereafter referred to by use of the trademark LGG®) during pregnancy and breastfeeding (or fed their baby formula that had been supplemented with the LGG® strain if they were not breastfeeding), 50% fewer babies developed a skin condition related to the immune system, compared to the babies whose mothers were given a placebo.4 When the babies were 4,4, 5 and 7 years old,4, 6 this positive result remained, suggesting that the LGG® probiotic had a long-term benefit.
Taking a combination of three probiotics (the LGG®, Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis, BB-12®, and Lactobacillus acidophilus, LA-5® strains) during pregnancy and breastfeeding has also been associated with fewer babies having immune-related skin conditions.7
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, followed by continued breastfeeding together with complementary foods.15
Vaginal delivery encourages beneficial bacteria in the babies’ gut microbiomeDuring vaginal birth, a baby’s microbiome may be directly influenced by the woman’s microbiome.
Between trimesters 1 and 3, a woman’s gut microbiome changes, which involves an increase in the amount of beneficial bifidobacteria present in the gut microbiome.16, 17
Bifidobacteria are important in the early years of life because these bacteria are central to the development of a baby’s immune health.18 In one study, researchers followed 17 mothers and their babies. It was observed that in babies born by vaginal delivery, very specific strains of bifidobacteria were present in both the mother and baby.19 However, the babies who were born by cesarean did not have these specific strains in common with their mothers.19 This suggests that these specific bacteria were passed from the woman to her baby during vaginal birth.19
In another study, babies born to women who consumed the LGG® probiotic strain in the weeks before giving birth had more of the beneficial bifidobacteria in their gut.9
The collection of different bacteria in the gut is called the gut microbiome.10
Taking probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding may benefit the baby’s developing immune systemResults from scientific studies emphasize that pregnancy and breastfeeding provide important points of interaction between the pregnant and breastfeeding woman’s gut bacteria and her baby’s microbiome. The studies discussed highlight that taking probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding may support the development of the baby’s immune system, resulting in fewer immune-related conditions such as itchy and dry skin.
Consult a health care professional to find out more about supporting the health of mother and baby.
LGG®, BB-12® and LA-5® are registered trademarks of Chr. Hansen A/S.
The article is provided for informational purposes regarding probiotics and is not meant to suggest that any substance referenced in the article is intended to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent any disease.
The probiotic strain Bifidobacterium, BB-12® is the world’s most documented probiotic Bifidobacterium. It has been extensively studied and has been associated with benefits for several areas of health.
BB-12® is a trademark of Chr. Hansen A/S
- Walker WA. Pediatr Res. 2017;82(3):387-95. (PubMed)
- Rautava S, et al.Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012;9(10):565-76. (PubMed)
- Macpherson AJ, Nature Reviews Immunology. 2017;17(8):508-17. (PubMed)
- Kalliomaki M, et al. Lancet. 2001;357(9262):1076-9. (PubMed)
- Kalliomaki M, et al. Lancet. 2003;361(9372):1869-71. (PubMed)
- Kalliomaki M, et al.J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007;119(4):1019-21. (PubMed)
- Dotterud CK, et al. Br J Dermatol. 2010;163(3):616-23. (PubMed)
- Huurre A, et al. Clin Exp Allergy. 2008;38(8):1342-8. (PubMed)
- Gueimonde M, et al. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2006;42(2):166-70. (PubMed)
- Brody H. Nature. 2020;577(7792):S5. (PubMed)
- Mueller NT, et al. Trends Mol Med. 2015;21(2):109-17. (PubMed)
- Nyangahu DD, et al. Microbiome. 2018;6(1):124. (PubMed)
- Roduit C, et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011;127(1):179-85, 85.e1. (PubMed)
- Zijlmans MA, et al. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2015;53:233-45. (PubMed)
- World Health Organisation. Accessed 12th November 2021. (Source)
- Koren O, et al. Cell. 2012;150(3):470-80. (PubMed)
- Nuriel-Ohayon M, et al. Cell Rep. 2019;27(3):730-6.e3. (PubMed)
- Ruiz L, et al. Front Microbiol. 2017;8:2345-. (PubMed)
- Makino H, et al. PLoS One. 2013;8(11):e78331. (PubMed)