Probiotic taken during pregnancy could promote healthy development of baby

A mother’s gut microbes can play a vital role in the healthy growth of her baby. An international team of researchers report that maternal microbiome helps in the development of the placenta, which in turn, promotes healthy development of the baby. One particular species of gut bacteria in mice is found to have beneficial effects for health in both the rodent and humans. This type of gut bacteria, called Bifidobacterium breve, changes the mother’s body during pregnancy and affects the structure of the placenta and nutrient transport.

B. breve is widely used as a probiotic. Researchers analyzed why this gut bacteria affected pregnancy in mice to find how metabolites are influenced by the maternal microbiome and how this impacts pregnancy.

B. breve rises in numbers in the microbiome during pregnancy in both humans and mice. Changes in its levels have been linked to pregnancy complications.

“Our findings reveal that the maternal microbiome promotes development of the placenta and growth of the fetus,” says Professor Lindsay Hall, from University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School and the Quadram Institute, in a statement. “We think that this is linked to the altered profile of metabolites and nutrients, which affects nutrient transport from mother to baby across the placenta. Excitingly it appears that adding in a probiotic Bifidobacterium during pregnancy may help to boost the placenta functions, which has positive effects on the baby’s growth in utero.”

The study also looked at the effect of feeding germ-free mice Bifidobacterium breve. Germ-free mice lack any microbes, which can be compared with mice that have a normal microbiome.

The fetus in germ-free mice did not receive adequate sugar and failed to grow and develop properly. However, when these mice were given the probiotic, it improved fetal outcomes by restoring fetal metabolism, growth and development to normal levels.

The placenta in these mice were also hampered since they lacked maternal microbiome.

“The placenta has been a neglected organ despite it being vital for the growth and survival of the fetus. A better understanding of how the placenta grows, and functions will ultimately result in healthier pregnancies for mothers and babies,” says Dr. Lopez-Tello, from the University of Cambridge.

Scientists also found that the microbiome affected key nutrient transporters, like those for sugars within the placenta that would guide the growth of the fetus.

However, there are limitations in this study as it was not a natural situation. Future studies are needed since this study was carried out in mice and cannot automatically be translated into treatments for humans, the authors caution.

The study is published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences.

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