Are you curious how probiotics may benefit you and your baby while breastfeeding? Understanding the impact our gut health can have on the rest of our body and breastfeeding provides a window into different symptoms you or your baby might experience. Certain strains of probiotics can help in various ways in the body. Understanding more about the function of probiotics in the body will help you know what to look for when choosing a probiotic supplement that fits your needs along your breastfeeding journey.
We know that our gut health affects each area of how our body and brain function, our ability to fight off colds and illness, and the integrity of our skin. Our gut sends messages to our brain and vice versa. Have you ever felt anxious and got a stomach ache, or the opposite, you get a stomach ache and start to become anxious? You are experiencing the connection between the brain and the gut. The microbiome of our gut communicates with the microbiome of our skin, protecting us from or contributing to homeostasis. (11)
Our intestinal tract has a single cell layer of cells, called enterocytes, that make up the mucosal lining of our gut. The gut lining absorbs nutrients and separates what stays in its walls and what passes through the barrier entering the bloodstream and immune system. Our gut lining keeps large molecules and germs from being able to get into the bloodstream.
The gut lining can become compromised. What we eat, the products we put on our body, stress, autoimmune conditions, medications, and our environment all affect our gut health. When we have a leaky gut, food particles, and bacteria not meant to be in the bloodstream can leak through the damaged lining and affect breast milk quality and supply. (1)
Probiotics can help add good bacteria to your gut. Your gut microbiome is made up of groups of bacteria. We want the good bacteria to multiply so there is no room for the unfavorable bacteria to take hold and cause imbalance and illness. These good bacteria help keep the bad bacteria in check.
Taking probiotics during pregnancy and breastfeeding can not only make the parent’s gut healthier, but directly impact the baby’s immune system and digestive system positively.(2) Breast milk is a natural source of probiotics for your baby, containing 700 different types of bacteria.(6)
The most common groups of probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria and Saccharomyces boulardii yeast. Under these groups are many species, all of which have many different strains.(9) Each has a different function or way it can help us.
Babies have lower diversity of gut flora and are influenced by how they are born and what they are fed. Bifidobacterium is the predominant bacteria in the infant's gut. Breast milk also has oligosaccharides, which are the food that feeds the friendly bacteria, so they multiply, forming the baby’s immune system.
Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs) are not digested by the baby. As babies grow, their gut microbiome becomes more diverse until the age of 1-2 years old, when it is more similar to an adult. This points out the importance of the first year of life and the nursing parent’s gut health being crucial for the infant’s development of their gut and future health.(3)
L. fermentum is a probiotic strain that transfers from mom to baby in breast milk. It offers protection to mom and baby by promoting overall breast health for the mom and a healthy immune system for the baby.(4) L. fermentum is the probiotic strain in Legendairy Milk’s Lacta-Biotic.
Probiotics with L. fermentum have been found to be more effective than antibiotics in treating mastitis in breastfeeding women.(5) Antibiotics can disrupt the balance of bacteria in our gut, but Lacta-Biotic restores the balance of bacteria in our intestinal tract.
CFU (colony forming units) listed on the box of your probiotics is the number of live bacterial or fungal cells that may be able to divide and form colonies. How many CFUs you take will depend on why you are taking the probiotics. A smaller amount of CFU works well to maintain overall health and immune support. If you are treating something specific or taking a probiotic to recover from antibiotic use, a higher CFU count may be of benefit.
Sometimes, a single strain will give someone more advantage than a probiotic product with many strains. When choosing a probiotic that might work best for you, it is best to evaluate your symptoms and health history. (7)(8) Lactobacillus strains work in the small intestine and Bifidobacterium work in the large intestine. It is helpful to have both in your probiotic supplement for most conditions unless you are treating something specifically.
Supplements can help give you a boost, but real change to our health and microbiome happens when we make lasting lifestyle and diet changes. Add probiotic and prebiotic foods to support all those friendly bacteria and crowd out the bad bacteria.(10) Consider the products you use on your skin and in your home. Our skin is our largest organ and absorbs what we expose it to. When you find yourself out of balance, a high quality probiotic supplement can help your body fight the intruders and recover more quickly.