If you're worried about complications during your pregnancy and birth, you might want to start looking at holistic ways to reduce your risks of certain issues — and if you're a dairy drinker, I have a good news for you. A new study out of Norway recently found that consuming probiotic milk may reduce the risk of pregnancy complications.
The study, which was published in BMJ Open earlier this month, looked at the habits of over 70,000 women during their pregnancies. The information was collected as part of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study between 1999 and 2008, and the mothers provided plenty of information about their diets and lifestyle habits at different stages of their pregnancies. The study also tracked the women's pregnancies and births, noting different complications and conditions that took place with each.
The researchers found that probiotic-rich milk seemed to help reduce the risk of pregnancy complications — but depending on the complication, it had stronger protective effects at different times in a woman's pregnancy. Women who drank probiotic milk early on in their pregnancy, it turns out, had a 21 percent lower risk of preterm delivery, while women who drank probiotic milk during late pregnancy had a 20 percent lower risk of preeclampsia.
The research only showed a correlation between probiotics and a reduced risk of complications, rather than causation, but the link shouldn't be too surprising, according to researchers. Probiotics — healthy bacteria or yeast that exist naturally in individuals' digestive systems — can improve immune function, protect against infection, and improve digestion, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
The researchers weren't able to point to a cause behind this link, but there are a couple of theories as to why probiotics might protect pregnancy complications. Preterm delivery is often due to infection, which produces inflammation in the body, according to LiveScience. The study's results hint that lowering inflammation (as probiotics do) during early pregnancy could be helpful in warding off preterm delivery.
As for preeclampsia, probiotics could potentially help by reducing symptoms often seen in the third trimester, such as high blood pressure, according to LiveScience.
More research definitely needs to take place before doctors start recommending probiotics to pregnant women in order to ward off preeclampsia and preterm delivery. But already, many experts believe that probiotics can — and should — be a part of a healthy diet during pregnancy.
"Exposing pregnant mothers and infants to probiotic bacteria could help stimulate the growth of the immune system and potentially play a role in preventing allergies, but how they might do this has been a matter of debate," Rania Batayneh, a nutritionist and wellness coach, told Babble in 2012. And despite the ongoing debate about the benefits of probiotics, a study published in Canadian Family Physician found that probiotics at least didn't pose any harm to pregnant or lactating women.
Wondering if you should be drinking probiotic milk or another form of probiotics? Regardless of whether they can reduce the risk of pregnancy complications or not, probiotics can be part of a healthy diet and offer multiple benefits — whether you're pregnant or not. If you're expecting, speak to your doctor about whether it's a good fit for you during your pregnancy, just like you would with any other part of your nutrition.
After that, though, feel free to enjoy foods that are high in probiotics: many sources come from dairy (such as yogurt and kefir, as well as some cheeses and milk) but probiotics can also be found in fermented foods like miso, tempeh, soy drinks, kombucha, kimchi, and some juices.
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