Up until a few months ago, I didn’t know much about probiotics aside from the ads on TV for the digestive probiotic Inner Health Plus. I knew our bodies have good and bad bacteria, and that probiotics help to restore good bacteria when needed (e.g. after a round of antibiotics, which often attacks both) or balance good and bad bacteria, especially in the gut. I toyed around with the idea of taking them when I found out some research shows probiotics can help prevent colds and skin conditions like eczema, as well as keep your girly parts healthy. But like most things to do with my health, it stayed at the back of my mind – one of the many things in my “to look into” list that gets pushed back when more urgent things come up in life.
So when I came across the Life Space folks at an expo, I was attracted by two things: the idea that a probiotic could help lower the chance of my new baby developing eczema and the probiotic’s potential effects on my immune and digestive systems.
Probiotics and the eczema thing
Eczema in a newborn is painful for both the baby and its parents. When Mr 4 was just 2 months old his skin was so badly affected by eczema his cheeks would weep and he’d wake up with his wrap stuck to pus. It was awful. We didn’t know until we turned up at Westmead Children’s Hospital that discovering his eczema was just the beginning of a lifelong journey of battling allergies, as the two are autoimmune conditions that are closely linked. Many babies who present with either eczema, allergies or asthma are likely to have one or both of the other.
While we’ve learnt how to manage both his allergies and eczema, I wouldn’t wish what we’ve went through upon anyone. It is a challenging, stressful process and often quite frightening to see your child’s skin flare up or body swell to unusual proportions for reasons unknown to either of you. I’ve felt so helpless countless times.
So when I found out taking a probiotic during pregnancy and breastfeeding could lessen the likelihood of baby #2 developing eczema by up to 44%, I got pretty excited. There is still limited research on the effect of probiotics on skin conditions like eczema, but given the hell that Mr 4 had to endure in his first few months of life (and the ongoing cost of managing eczema and allergies), I wanted to start baby 2 with fighting chance at avoiding it.
I also found out Life Space produced a probiotic especially for children, free of dairy and tree nuts (the two things my kid is allergic to), which was a bonus. One of the many potential benefits (amongst many others) of him taking it daily was lessening the symptoms and inflammation of eczema, which for my 4-year-old would be a great thing.
Probiotics for me
If you know me, you know my immune system is pretty pathetic, even at the best of times. You know those “On this day” Facebook flashbacks? It is embarrassing just how many of those contain a status update of me bemoaning the fact I was stuck in bed, sick with some virus and very much over life.
Over the past few years my immune system has improved considerably, thanks to a change of diet and commitment to physical activity (instigated, for the most part, when I became a mother). But with winter fast approaching I knew I needed reinforcements. Nothing is worse than being super pregnant, sick and unable to take something as simple as a cold and flu tablet because of its possible effect on the baby in my belly. So a probiotic for me (that would also help my baby), as well as my 4-year-old could be that reinforcement against the gazillion colds and viruses we’d be exposed to at day care, on the train and at the office.
The folks at Life Space also told me about the benefits of probiotics to maintaining good gut flora and aiding digestion. Several months ago, when we were having this conversation at the expo, my digestive system was sluggish and at times uncooperative and painful. Pregnancy hormones tend to relax muscles and slow everything down, and I can’t say I find drinking Metamucil particularly pleasant. Something to help keep my gut in check – that came in tablet form – was very welcome.
The effects of probiotics so far
I’ve been on the Life Space pregnancy probiotic for almost 2 months. Before I started, I spoke to a few local pharmacists for their advice on probiotics in general, and specifically during pregnancy, and each of them directed me to the Life Space pregnancy range – I think because they may be the only company that produces a formula specifically for pregnant women. They’re also Australian-owned and manufactured, which is good.
So far the effect on my digestion was noticeable after the first week – I found sluggishness in my tummy wore off and I was more regular. I also (touch wood) have managed to stave off the infections that have been passed around of my office, including the flu and glandular fever. For the most part – aside from the hellish symptoms of pregnancy – I’ve been unusually well, and I’m hoping that taking the pregnancy probiotic daily will help in keeping my immune systems’ guard up, especially as winter gets colder and harsher.
The only time will tell if I experience the rest of the benefits that won me over (i.e. reducing the risk of eczema, mastitis and keeping the bacteria in my lady parts in tip-top shape) is after the baby is born – so fingers crossed that as I continue to take it even months after pregnancy, it all works well. This is all personal experience though, and those in my family with a medical background have been quick to remind me that there testing on the success of these commercial probiotic brands has mostly been unsuccessful, so finding the right strain of bacteria and having it work on one person doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work with another.
Have you ever taken a probiotic? Share your thoughts in the comments below
N.B. I was given 6 months worth of Life Space pregnancy probiotic tablets and a jar of the Children’s and Baby’s probiotic for me and my family to try. You can find out more about Life Space on their website and Facebook page, and check out their health advice here.