Most of the
bacteria we encounter do no harm. Many do quite a bit of good. But moms-to-be
are often certain that all bacteria are out to get them, thanks to a few bad
players like Listeria monocytogenes, sometimes found in unpasteurized
soft cheeses, and Salmonella, a potential hazard when meat and eggs are
pregnancy is an excellent time to rethink your attitude toward the more benign
microscopic critters who live in, on and around us, says pediatrician Alan
Greene, M.D., author of Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth and
Baby Care. "Bacteria help with digestion," he explains. "They help your
immune system. They prevent allergies. It's primarily a good relationship."
researching the role of probiotics—"good" bacteria found in yogurt, kefir and
fermented foods like sauerkraut—are discovering that these merry microbes can
be particularly healthy for expectant mothers. A Finnish study found that those
who took probiotic supplements had lower rates of gestational diabetes, while
British researchers found that babies born to women who drank probiotic-
fortified milk during pregnancy had half the incidence of eczema as those whose
moms drank regular milk.
take on bacteria
may say, eating certain bacteria-rich foods can be good for you. But what about
bacteria in the environment—the stuff that makes dirt dirty? Here too, they get
a bad rap. German scientists showed that prenatal exposure to environmental
microbes may make offspring more resistant to allergies. Their study was done
on pregnant mice, but it's additional evidence of what's known as the hygiene
hypothesis, a theory that suggests increases in allergies, asthma and
autoimmune disease are linked to the modern world's overly clean lifestyle.
Research in rural Germany, Switzerland and Austria found that women who worked
with farm animals during pregnancy bore children who later had a lower
incidence of asthma and hay fever, and that babies who visited stables frequently
in their first year developed much less hay fever.
visitors get another advantage: exposure to Mycobacterium vaccae, a soil
bacterium with surprising effects on brainpower and mood, at least in lab
animals. Scientists at The Sage Colleges in Troy, N.Y., found that mice exposed
to M. vaccae navigated a maze in half the time it took other mice, and
showed fewer signs of anxiety and stress.
our all-encompassing prejudice against bacteria subjects us to some potentially
dangerous chemicals. A University of Florida study indicates that triclosan, an
anti-bacterial chemical found in everything from hand soap to anti-plaque
toothpaste, may interfere with an enzyme that's crucial to pregnancy. The
enzyme helps metabolize estrogen and move it through the placenta, where it
plays a key role in fetal brain development.
another common anti-bacterial chemical, seems to have endocrine-disrupting
properties. Stay safer by avoiding items labeled "anti-bacterial" or
"anti-microbial," including personal-care products, cutting boards, towels,
shoes, clothing, bedding and highchair trays.
you needn't use anti-bacterial soaps and cleansers to eradicate germs that
could make you sick (many are viruses and thus unaffected by anti-bacterial
products anyway). Multiple studies have found no significant difference in the
bacteria-killing properties of regular and anti-bacterial soaps. For household
cleaning, use diluted white vinegar or lemon juice to kill any nasties. "There
are so many things that good bacteria can do for pregnant women," Greene says.
"We want to be out there supporting them, not fighting them."