Can I Take Probiotics While Breastfeeding?

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Keeping your gut health in check isn't always easy, and probiotics have offered much-needed relief for many who need it. From digestive issues to bacterial infections, the use of probiotic supplements—which help increase your body's "good" bacteria needed to stay healthy—is a popular treatment option.

The good news? Whether you have just begun your breastfeeding journey or are a seasoned pro, probiotics are safe to use. In this guide, we'll dig a little deeper into how probiotics work, the possible benefits of using them while breastfeeding, and any safety precautions you should take to protect yourself and your nursing baby.

What Are Probiotics?

First, a quick biology lesson: Our bodies contain both "good" and "bad" bacteria. Too many bad bacteria can make you sick (for example, UTIs, strep throat, or food poisoning), but good bacteria are what helps fight against it.

"Probiotics replenish 'good' bacteria in the body which may have been depleted by illness or stress," explains Stacy Weiner, PharmD, a pharmacist and pharmacy manager in Virginia. "The 'good' bacteria help with digestion and also help strengthen the immune system."

When you are sick, probiotics (the good bacteria) help keep the bad bacteria from getting out of control, which restores the necessary balance your body needs to feel better. They also help you properly digest food, prevent bad bacteria from food or drinks from entering your blood, and break down and absorb medications.

The balancing act between good and bad bacteria happens naturally within your body. You can keep a healthy presence of probiotics by eating certain foods, such as yogurt and cottage cheese.

Natural Sources of Probiotics

You can naturally increase your body's probiotics by eating certain foods, including:

  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Pickles
  • Sauerkraut
  • Sourdough bread
  • Yogurt

That said, many people choose to take probiotic supplements that come in a variety of forms, including capsules, pills, drinks, and powders. The two most common strains of probiotics you'll find in stores are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. (You may be familiar with brands such as Culturelle, Align, and Activia.)

Probiotics may provide relief from certain medical conditions caused by bad bacteria, including (but not limited to) diarrhea, constipation, yeast infections, urinary tract infections (UTI), eczema, and gum disease.

Is It Safe to Take Probiotics While Breastfeeding?

It is generally considered safe to take probiotic supplements while pregnant or nursing. In fact, there are possible health benefits associated with probiotic use while breastfeeding.

Rebecca Agi MS, IBCLC, a private lactation consultant in Los Angeles and member of the Verywell Family Review Board, explains, "Studies have shown that maternal consumption of certain Lactobacillus strains can actually help treat mastitis and may even reduce crying time in babies with colic."

Of course, it is important to first seek advice from your healthcare provider. "It's always recommended to consult with a physician before starting any supplements," Agi says.

Benefits of Probiotics While Breastfeeding

Breast milk contains an array of healthy nutrients for babies, including proteins, fats, vitamins, and carbohydrates. Research has also shown that probiotics are naturally present in breast milk, which offer benefits to both the caregiver and baby.

As Dr. Weiner explains, "Probiotics do not directly transfer into breast milk but they work by improving the mother's health, which in turn changes the composition of the breast milk to make it healthier for baby."

While more research is needed to definitively confirm the benefits of probiotics while nursing, as mentioned previously there are some studies that suggest they may help treat mastitis in those who breastfeed and prevent eczema in breastfed babies.

Mastitis Relief

Mastitis occurs when a milk duct becomes blocked and/or the breast is not drained sufficiently. Bacteria begin to grow in the area, causing infection, swelling, burning, redness, or pain. Unfortunately, mastitis can affect up to 33% of people who breastfeed and is a common reason for quitting altogether.

One study found that probiotic supplements were shown to be an effective alternative to antibiotics for the treatment of mastitis. This is certainly encouraging, but it is always best to speak with your healthcare provider to discuss the best treatment for your mastitis symptoms.

Eczema Prevention

While everyone is different, probiotic supplements have shown the potential to help prevent and treat eczema (atopic dermatitis).

Furthering their effectiveness, research found that the use of probiotic supplements while breastfeeding may provide protection from eczema in breastfed infants in their first two years of life.

Safety Precautions

Although taking probiotic supplements while breastfeeding is generally considered safe, it is important to keep a few safety precautions in mind.

Medical History

While probiotics are beneficial to some, they can be harmful to others when it comes to certain medical conditions.

"There are some instances where probiotic use would not be safe," explains Dr. Weiner. "For example, if the mother is immune deficient or has certain digestive issues such as short bowel syndrome, it is not safe to take probiotics."

The best way to determine whether it is safe to start a probiotic supplement is to speak with your healthcare provider.

Side Effects

As with any new supplement routine, it is important to keep an eye on any side effects after starting probiotics.

According to Dr. Weiner, "The common side effects associated with probiotic use are bloating, gas, or diarrhea. If these symptoms worsen or last more than two weeks, I recommend calling your physician."

She also stresses the importance of keeping up with doses, as probiotics are most effective when taken every day.

A Word From Verywell

Probiotics are considered a safe option while nursing your little one. "Because probiotics are rarely absorbed in the bloodstream, they are generally considered safe to take during pregnancy or breastfeeding," confirms Dr. Weiner.

Whether you need help with digestive issues or UTIs, probiotics, whether ingested naturally in foods or by taking a supplement, can offer some added relief.

Before starting a probiotic supplement, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider for more information. The better you feel, the better your breastfed baby will feel—it's a win-win!

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10 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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