Pregnancy is an incredible time of change. It also causes changes in the way your gut works and the make-up of bacteria in your gut, mouth and vagina. The microorganisms, including bacteria, living in your gut are called your gut microbiome. Sometimes the changes that occur to your gut microbiome during pregnancy last up to a year postpartum! Then, further changes often occur due to sleep deprivation, perineal injury, infections and neglected dietary needs. You will also experience a shift in gut microbiome if you’ve been on antibiotics at some stage during pregnancy or during delivery. We know that a disrupted gut microbiome may increase your risk of postnatal depression (your gut and brain are connected), how well you absorb your food and effect your immune system.
Looking after your gut postnatally is a crucial part in recovery, physically and mentally. The good news is your gut microbiome is extremely dynamic and can change relatively quickly. Here 5 simple tips to help you look after your gut:
- Variety: your gut microbiome contains trillions of different species each with different needs when it comes to the food (you are feeding your gut microbiome too!). The best thing you can do is get a variety of different plant-based foods in your diet, the more colourful the better. Aim for 30 different plant-based foods a week. Easy ways of doing this: batch cook soups and curries and include as many different veggies as you can, recipe boxes (pushes you out of your comfort zone) and make your freezer your friend, frozen berries are a great addition.
- Fibre: fibre is absolutely crucial to 1. bulk out your stool (postnatal constipation is really common and can disrupt your gut microbiome further); and 2. it feeds your good bacteria in your gut. You need 30g of fibre a day. Easy ways to get plenty of fibre in your diet: swap white bread, pasta, rice for brown, add seeds/nuts to salads/soups, have fruit as a snack or make a smoothie with a vegetable base.
- Ditch/reduce the processed food/drinks (e.g. fizzy energy drinks, sweets, artificial sweeteners, processed meats): as tempting as it is to reach for highly processed food when you’ve got a baby, the additives and preservatives used can be damaging to your delicate gut microbiome. Instead, make sure your cupboards are well stocked with the foods your need, and if you want a fizzy drink, opt for sparkling water with a generous squeeze of fruit or flavoured with herbs like mint and rosemary.
- Chew: What happens in your mouth is a fundamental part of digestion. Chewing mechanically breaks down your food into smaller pieces and the time you spend chewing allows the digestive enzymes in your mouth to further breakdown your food. You need to chew your food 20-30 times before you swallow to make sure it is properly broken down to make less work for your gut. Life with a baby often means eating food standing up or just when you can grab something but if you can, do make the time to sit down and eat and chew properly. It really can make all the difference to your gut.
- Stress: stress not only effects your immune system but also the make-up of your gut microbiome, this includes lack of sleep! lack of sleep is not something you can ‘fix’ in those early weeks but you can work on other sources of stress and look at ways you manage them. For example, it may be that you talk to your partner/family about things that are getting on top of you rather than taking all the burden on yourself. When you feel ready, exercise can be a great way to relieve stress too.
By Kristy Coleman
Registered nutritionist (mBANT, CNHC)