As a breastfeeding parent, it is normal to be cautious about the things that you are consuming. Our IBCLC (Internationally Board Certified Lactation Professional) is here with the answer to: Can you take probiotics while breastfeeding?
Can I take probiotics while breastfeeding?
After hearing old wives’ tales from someone in the family, listening to a friend’s experience, or legitimate concerns that from reading a news article or blog, most breastfeeding mothers are very cautious about what they are putting into their bodies. This is a great thing! I often get asked about which foods can cause gas, which options are safe for certain vitamins, minerals, medications, and “Is it ok to take probiotics while breastfeeding?”
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually bacteria, that are the same as the “good” bacteria that is found in the human gut. There are several different strains of bacteria that live in our gut, and they all have a different job. The four dominant strains are Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria, and Proteobacteria. These bacteria’s job is to maintain
good “balance” in our digestive system, which keeps us healthy. A lack of balance in the gut can lead to certain illnesses, depending on what is causing the imbalance. Using probiotics can help to get the gut back on track and balanced.
There are several strands of probiotic all of which are used to help maintain good gut health. The most common probiotics are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Acidophilus Bifidum.
How do I take a probiotic?
These are available over the counter at most pharmacies and health food stores, and come in the forms of tablets, drops, liquids, oral and vaginal capsules. In the United States, probiotics are treated as dietary supplements, so they do not undergo the strict testing and approval process as medications do. This means when picking probiotics, you should make sure that you are careful about what brands you choose and what the side effects are of certain strains.
You can also get probiotics in fermented foods like yogurts, kefir, soft cheeses, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and kombucha tea.
Probiotics have been used to treat
- Acute diarrhea
- Antibiotic-associated diarrhea
- Clostridium difficile (C diff)
- Yeast and bacterial vaginosis
In healthy people, “good” bacteria are normally found in the mouth, the stomach, the colon, and the vagina. This brings up the question: Can I take probiotics while breastfeeding? The answer is YES! Since probiotics are not observed by the body like traditional medications, the transfer into the breastmilk is very low. Many studies show that when mothers take
probiotics, the amount transferred of a specific strain to colostrum or breastmilk is low. This also means that if the mother is taking the probiotic herself in the hopes of giving some benefit to her baby, this is unlikely to occur. It may be more beneficial for the infant to take the probiotic directly. Parents should talk with their child’s pediatrician if they feel their baby could benefit from taking probiotics.
Do not let this deter you from taking probiotics while nursing though – the benefits for your own health are still there. As an IBCLC, I sometimes suggest to mothers to take probiotics to help:
- Prevent thrush
- Improve digestion
- Maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria
- Boost immunity
- Help treat infections like mastitis, in conjunction with antibiotics
- Reduce inflammation
Probiotics can help prevent Thrush
Thrush is a yeast infection on the nipples or in the mouth. When antibiotics are prescribed to mothers for a bacterial infection such as mastitis, these antibiotics can throw off the balance of good and bad bacteria. If a mother needs to take antibiotics, I suggest that she also takes a probiotic in order to help prevent thrush. If the mother has an active thrush infection I recommend that she take a probiotic to help her bacterial balance, as well as an anti-fungal to treat the thrush.
If a mother is trying to work through mastitis without the use of antibiotics, probiotics while nursing can be helpful as well. Probiotics help the mother’s “good bacteria” work with the body’s immune system to get rid of the mastitis. Please reach out to your health care and/or lactation provider for direction on a treatment plan for mastitis.
Does my baby need probiotics?
Breast milk naturally has probiotics in it! There are about 700 different strains of “good bacteria,” and the balance of these in our bodies are custom to our own microbiome. If you are feeding your baby breast milk, whether directly from the breast or expressed in a bottle, your baby is getting milk tailored to their unique needs.
These good bacteria help to protect the infant’s gut and help to boost the immune system. As the baby gets older, different bacteria will become more dominant due to different needs as the infant grows and develops. Incorporating good bacteria into your diet during pregnancy helps to make sure your baby has good bacteria to build their immune system.
How do I know which Probiotics are best for me?
The first step is to have a conversation with your lactation professional and/or health care provider, and ask them if it is ok to take probiotics while breastfeeding. They will be familiar with your health history and unique situation, and will be able to point you in the right direction. Each probiotic has its own benefits – they all behave differently and may have different results. Your provider may recommend something as simple as introducing fermented foods into your diet, or they may suggest a specific supplement. It is always important to have a conversation with your healthcare provider before introducing any type of new medication or supplement into your routine.
Probiotics are a great supplement to incorporate into your diet
and your baby’s diet. Probiotics can help correct illness and prevent illness, and along with a balanced diet, probiotics can make sure that mom and baby have a strong gut and strong immune system.
Support for Breastfeeding Moms
Our team of lactation professionals is here to help! If you have breastfeeding or pumping questions or concerns, please send us an email at [email protected] Our lactation team is available to answer your questions and help you find resources in your community.
If you are interested in online community support, our lactation consultant-led, peer-support group Kiinde Kommunity welcomes new members on Facebook. Join us for safe, reassuring and helpful conversations around infant and toddler feeding and parenting!
- A meta-analysis of probiotics for the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and treatment of Clostridium difficile disease
- The prebiotic and probiotic properties of human milk: implications for infant immune development and pediatric asthma