Is it safe to drink probiotics in pregnancy?

A new study from Norway even suggests drinking probiotic milk when you're expecting can help with pre-eclampsia and premature birth - but what's the real story?

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In a nutshell

Probiotics (live bacteria that can help to shift the balance towards good bacteria in your gut) and prebiotics (foods which nourish the good bacteria in your gut and encourages them to grow) are currently thought to be safe in pregnancy.

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Foods with prebiotic benefits include leeks, bananas, garlic, onion and Jersusalem artichokes. Generally, you’d have probiotics in a yoghurt, milk drink or yoghurt drink, such as Activia or Actimel.

There’s no reason at all to think these drinks aren’t safe – though GP Dr Philippa Kaye notes that nobody’s currently checking on the active ingredients in them the same way medicines are regulated.

Can probiotics help prevent pre-eclampsia and premature birth?

Headlines this week (January 2018) have been full of reports from a new study, carried out in Norway, which suggests drinking probiotics could help in the prevention of pre-eclampsia and premature birth.

The study, which was observational only, suggests a decrease in pre-eclampsia levels in women who took probiotics in the later stages of pregnancy.

The results also found a significant association between probiotic intake during early pregnancy and an 11% lower risk of premature birth, rising to 27% for preterm birth late in the pregnancy.

We asked Dr Kaye if she could tell us a bit more about what this latest research means, and she told us:

“This was a big study involving 70,000 women who were asked to write about their diet and lifestyles.

“Probiotic milk is easily available and popular in Norway and so many women took them during pregnancy and were found to have a lower risk of pre eclampsia and pre term delivery.

“This is an association and doesn’t mean that the milk definitely works: more research is needed into the effects of probiotics during pregnancy.”

Dr Philippa Kaye is a London GP who has written several books on pregnancy and childcare including The First Five Years. See www.drphilippakaye.com and follow her on twitter @drphilippakaye

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