What in the world are fermented foods, and why would they help with a healthy birth canal? And why do you even care about a healthy birth canal?
Assuming your baby is going to be born vaginally, a healthy birth canal is crucial! Fermented foods provide probiotics which can help to achieve this. But if you really want to know why this matters, keep reading!
Babies, before they are born, have sterile guts. That is, they have no bacteria at all in their intestines/digestive tracts. We require certain types of bacteria in our guts in order to properly digest our food and absorb nutrients from it. Also responsible for about 70% of our immune system, the “good” bacteria helps to keep the “bad” bacteria in check so we don’t get sick. That’s why there’s been such a fuss about probiotic foods and supplements in the last several years.
Babies’ guts are initally colonized with bacteria when they are born and pass through the birth canal (if they’re born via c-section, they’re initially colonized with whatever bacteria’s available in the room around them, as well as whatever they first eat). Their guts continue to develop as they are fed. Breastfeeding is ideal because it colonizes their guts with proper bacteria, as well as helping to seal the “holes” in the gut wall (this is why they don’t recommend solids before a minimum of 18 weeks — babies’ guts are still open, and undigested proteins can get through into the bloodstream, causing sensitization and allergies).
But, back to the birth canal. If you aren’t healthy — if you have a yeast infection, or if your own gut has more bad than good bacteria– that’s what your baby will get at birth. That can open your baby to more frequent illnesses in the early weeks and permanently (slightly) lower his immune system. This isn’t meant to freak you out, because regardless your baby will be fine; your baby will just be even healthier if you can prepare a healthy birth canal!
It’s unfortunate, but in our society, most people don’t have very good gut flora. It’s one reason why people are often sick, especially in the winter (the body doesn’t easily fight off bacteria or viruses when the immune system is weakened by having too much bad bacteria in the gut). It’s why doctors are now recommending that their patients take probiotic supplements and eat foods like yogurt. “Special” versions containing “extra” probiotics have even entered the market in the last decade! It’s unfortunate, though, that these will not help you much if you continue to eat large amounts of sugar and processed foods, as most do. Those kill good gut flora and help bad to grow, and a small cup of yogurt each day isn’t going to turn things around.
But there is something you can do! In addition to eating a healthy pregnancy diet, you can consume a number of fermented foods that will help good gut flora to develop in your body, which you can then pass on to your baby!
Some good strains are bifido bacterium, s. boulardii, and lactobaccillus. These, and others, are found in a number of different fermented foods (and supplements, but for many, supplements aren’t as effective as foods).
Fermented foods include: yogurt, milk kefir, water kefir, kombucha, traditional pickles and sauerkraut. There are others, but these are the most readily found and recognized foods (besides water kefir, which can’t be purchased). These foods are delicious and provide your gut with a dose of healthy bacteria. They should be included in your diet daily.
If you’re not used to fermented foods, they can cause a bit of a reaction — minor headaches, stomachaches, bloating, etc. Start slowly to prevent this. Ideally, start consuming fermented foods before you even conceive; but it is never too late!
If you have a yeast infection — talk to your doctor — but some women have had success applying yogurt topically to help get rid of it!
Consuming fermented foods helps to shift your gut flora to be healthier, so that you have good gut flora yourself. And if you have good gut flora, you can pass this along to your new baby too!
Do you consume fermented foods in hopes of giving your baby the healthiest start possible?
Top image by @joefoodie
Deciding on a birth plan? Read 10 Things to Know Before Choosing a C-Section.