Gut health and nutrition during the
postpartum phase and breastfeeding

The postpartum is a truly unique window of time when it comes to health outcomes for mothers and their babies. A child’s first 1000 days of life extend from pregnancy to their second birthday.

It is during these 1000 days that powerful development takes place that will go onto shape the child’s future health, likelihood of disease and future prosperities. 

Nutrition is a key component in the optimisation of these first 1000 days and gut health is at the forefront. 


Breastfeeding


When considering the gut health of a new baby it is essential to consider the impact of breastfeeding. During pregnancy a mothers immune cells gather healthy gut microbes from her gut and store them in her mammary glands in the breast in preparation for breastfeeding. 

During breastfeeding these healthy gut microbes can be passed to the baby and therefore enhance a child’s gut health leading to a huge range of short- and long-term health benefits such as a reduced likelihood of eczema, asthma, and allergies. 

Breastmilk contains around 700 different types of healthy bacteria which all play an important role in a new baby’s gut health. Breastfeeding is so influential in fact that 1/3 of the beneficial microbes in a baby’s intestinal tract comes directly from a mother’s milk and an additional 10% from the skin on a mother’s breast.

The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, with breastmilk supplementing a weaning baby for up to 2 years or beyond. This window of time is the most dominant for creating the foundations of a healthy gut for a new baby.

 


The gut microbiome


Developing a healthy gut microbiome early in life supports the establishing immune system in a baby, which is pinitol in protecting against illness in the early days and reducing the risk of inflammatory conditions in later life. 

Common and challenging conditions in babies, such as colic and reflux, also have a link to the gut microbiome. Developing evidence has begun to highlight lower amounts of beneficial gut bacteria and higher levels of gut inflammation in infants with digestive problems such as these. 

The power of supporting a healthy infant gut is fascinating and inspiring but the benefits extend to maternal health also. During the fourth trimester, commonly termed the first 12 weeks postpartum, a mother’s physical and psychological self undergoes huge change and hormonal transformation. It is a significant period of readjustment and healing that comes with a new set of challenges. 

A mother’s gut health can influence how she recovers and copes in this delicate period. It is not uncommon for maternal gut health to be supressed in the postpartum because of stress, sleep deprivation and medical intervention, such as antibiotics, so considering lifestyle measures and potential supplementation is a very sensible approach.

 


Maternal mental health


Maternal mental health is always an important consideration in the postpartum and the gut-brain axis is the important connection that highlights how the health of our guts directly impacts the wellbeing of our minds.

Hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released when we feel stressed or anxious, these enter and disturb the digestive tract further disturbing maternal mental wellness. 

It is also true that 90% of serotonin, our ‘happy’ hormone that is responsible for boosting our mood is made in the gut. Put simply - the healthier the gut, the more serotonin may be produced and therefore the happier our brains can be. 

Postnatal depression affects around 1 in 5 women, this condition can develop anytime in the year after birth and can be a very debilitating mental illness. The gut-brain axis works on a two-way communication therefore optimising the health of a mother’s gut may protect her against depressive symptoms associated with postnatal depression.


What can we do as mothers and parents?


Gut health, maternal and child nutrition really are giants that deserve much more consideration in the postpartum and it is surprisingly easy to make simple changes that will improve you and your child’s gut health.

First of all, the good old saying ‘eat the rainbow’ is a useful meal planning methodology - colourful fruits, vegetables and grains are a great way to enhance your gut microbiome. 

Switching things up on your weekly shop and adding in that all important variety helps improve the diversity of your gut microbiota and therefore enhances your overall gut health.

This is really important as a new parent, children are like little sponges soaking up everything they see you do. Being a positive role model around food will help set them up to be more confident and explorative eaters meaning they also consume a great variety and balanced diet, growing up with healthy functional guts.

 


Do the best you can


Supercharging your gut health should always start with you considering dietary changes, however there are times in life where out gut is affected by things out of our direct control.

The use of necessary antibiotics is a common example of this for mothers and children. Whilst antibiotics are fantastic for destroying harmful bacteria that make you sick, they will also disrupt and damage the healthy bacteria that you need to thrive. During periods of antibiotic use it can therefore be useful to consider supplementation to support your healthy gut microbiome.

We also know that mode of birth impacts a baby’s gut microbiome, as a baby born vaginally will benefit from the microbiome of the mother’s vaginal tract that is not present during an abdominal birth.

When it comes to postpartum gut health, we must accept components that we cannot control ourselves without guilt or comparison and focus on the incredible ways we can enhance both our own and our baby’s microbiome through our lifestyle choices.

 


About Midwife Pip, the Author:


Pip is an experienced, practicing Midwifery Sister, MSc graduate, founder of Midwife Pip Podcast, Hypnobirth and Antenatal Educator, co-author of published research and importantly a mum. 


Pip is on a mission to ensure all expectant and new mums feel like superwoman during pregnancy and when they give birth. Pip believes passionately that with the right support, honest and evidence-based information all birth should be positive regardless of any twists and turns that may crop up. 

For this reason, Pip begun her Instagram page, @midwife_pip, followed by her online courses where she is on hand to support and guide women through all aspects of pregnancy, birth, and the early postpartum every step of the way. 

Frustrated by seeing families poorly equipped with conflicting, inaccurate, or unrealistic advice and information, Pip decided this was not good enough.

Pip is proud of how her Your Pregnancy Journey Course has momentously improved women’s pregnancy experiences, as well as running her Antenatal Courses to ensure women and families are prepared with the very best information for their birth and start to parenthood.

Providing friendly, non-judgemental advice and all with the benefit of exclusive community support groups. Pip is here to create empowered, positive experiences for all!


Connect with Pip on Instagram and follow @midwife_pip

Learn more from Pip at midwifepip.com and find courses to support you on your pregnancy journey.