Pregnancy is a critical period in a woman’s life. The maternal diet should provide enough energy and nutrients to meet the needs of both the mother and the growing fetus. Among the food groups, dairy products can help achieve these higher nutritional requirements because of their high nutrient density, high bioavailability, and widespread consumption (Achon et al., 2019).
Yogurt is one of the best choices for dairy product consumption during pregnancy. It is a good source of vitamin D, calcium, protein and other nutrients. It can also provide the extra calories needed during pregnancy to support the health of a growing baby.
Is Yogurt Safe for Pregnant Women?
Commercially-prepared yogurts are generally safe to eat by pregnant women. They are pasteurized and follow a strict protocol for control and sanitation measures. In a lot of countries, like USA, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, yogurts sold in supermarkets are made from pasteurized milk by law.
Raw and unpasteurized yogurts are rare. But they can be found at “barn door” sales or farms that directly sell these products. They are legal in some countries, and are more frequently seen in European countries, such as Italy, Greece, and France.
Unpasteurized yogurts can potentially harbor harmful bacteria and lead to food-borne illness in a pregnant mother and her unborn child. Therefore, it is best to avoid them. Always check the label if you are unsure of the source and ingredients of the yogurt you want to consume.
Yogurt is a fun and versatile food product. It can be eaten plain or topped with fresh fruit, dried fruit, or whole grain cereals. It can also be enjoyed with cooked sweet potatoes. It can even be made into smoothies for a pregnant mom’s pleasure.
Moreover, maternal intake of yogurt during pregnancy is associated with a beneficial increase in weight of newborns. In the systematic review by Achon et al. (2019), the authors reported one study in Portugal that demonstrated a positive association between yogurt intake during the first trimester of pregnancy and placental weight. During the second trimester of pregnancy, the same study found a positive trend between yogurt intake and increased birth weight.
Consumption of Dairy Products During Pregnancy
Pregnant women have increased nutritional requirements. Maternal diet should be sufficient for the health of the mother and the developing baby. A varied and balanced diet during pregnancy generally includes lots of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and dairy.
A pregnant woman undergoes a lot of physiological changes. Requirements for energy, protein and micronutrients are highest during pregnancy because of fetal and maternal tissue growth. By the second trimester of pregnancy, an additional 300 calories are needed every day.
Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, are effective for promoting fetal growth because they exhibit a consistently high nutrient density. They are good dietary sources of vitamin D, calcium, protein, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin B12, iodine, riboflavin, and others (Achon et al., 2019).
Achon et al. made a systematic review in 2019 of published studies focusing on dairy product consumption during pregnancy and birth outcomes. They found eleven studies that showed a positive association between intake of dairy products and reduced risk of delivering a small for gestational age (SGA) baby. Six studies also reported that maternal dairy consumption was significantly associated with increased birth length, fetal femur length or head circumference.
In addition, pregnant women who are vegetarian or those who follow vegan diets may be receiving insufficient key nutrients. Therefore, the recommendation is for them to eat more nuts, beans, tofu, legumes, seeds, fortified cereals and soy milk, as well as dairy products like cheese, yogurt and milk (Sebastiani et al., 2019).
Benefits of Probiotic Yogurt During Pregnancy
Some varieties of yogurt contain probiotic bacteria. They can also be called “live yogurt” or “bio yogurt”. These contain different probiotics, which commonly include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Streptococcus thermophilus
Probiotic yogurt is considered a safe and natural way of taking probiotics. It has been found to improve maternal health and pregnancy outcomes. Studies on the consumption of probiotic yogurt demonstrated a number of positive benefits, from improvement of metabolism to improved inflammatory and infectious pregnancy outcomes, and decreased preterm births (He et al., 2020).
During pregnancy, a woman’s gut microbiota undergoes significant changes. These changes can result in hyperglycemia and insulin resistance. Probiotic supplement and intake of probiotic yogurt during pregnancy can help prevent development of insulin resistance (Chen et al., 2019).
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are consumed for the purpose of promoting health through improvement of the gastrointestinal flora (He et al., 2020). Some studies have focused on the use of probiotic yogurt as means of reducing the incidence of gestational diabetes among pregnant women.
One such study was done in 2019 by Chen et al. They made a case-control study of more than one hundred cases of Chinese women with gestational diabetes and controls that were matched for age and pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI).
They found that intake of probiotic yogurt during pregnancy was significantly lower among women who had gestational diabetes mellitus. Therefore, probiotic yogurt consumption among pregnant women can be an effective means to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes (Chen et al., 2019).
Another benefit associated with consumption of probiotic yogurt is an improvement on symptoms of constipation among pregnant women. Evidences suggest that female sex hormones have a role in inhibiting gastrointestinal motility during pregnancy. Constipation is the second most common complaint in pregnant women, and it occurs in forty percent of pregnant women worldwide (Mirghafourvand et al., 2016).
Probiotics are known to alter the colonic microbial flora and improve bowel function, hence its possible use for treating constipation. Mirghafourvand et al. in 2016 did a randomized controlled trial to evaluate this effect by using yogurt enriched with probiotics.
The clinical trial included sixty pregnant women in Iran, who were diagnosed with constipation, from December 2014 to July 2015. The treatment group was given yogurt enriched with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus while the control group was given conventional yogurt for 4 weeks. After the intervention, the following outcomes were evaluated: defecation frequency, stool consistency, straining, sensation of incomplete evacuation, amount of defecation, stool color and quality of life (Mirghafourvand et al., 2016).
Symptoms of constipation as well as amount of defecation were significantly improved in both treatment and control groups. There was no statistical difference found between the two groups in terms of quality of life. The authors concluded that consumption of 300 grams per day of either probiotic yogurt or conventional yogurt can improve constipation in pregnant women (Mirghafourvand et al., 2016).
When a woman becomes pregnant, she needs a lot more calories, vitamins and minerals to support her own health and that of her growing baby. Having a healthy, balanced diet is the best way to achieve nutritional goals during this time.
One way to achieve these extra calories is through consumption of dairy products, specifically yogurt. It is a versatile dairy packed with nutrients, calcium, and protein. It can also contain probiotics that may help aid in digestion and provide other benefits for the pregnant mother and her baby.
Commercially-sold yogurts in supermarkets are generally safe since they are required by law to use only pasteurized milk. Be sure to check if you are doubtful of the source of your yogurt. Consult your physician for any concerns you may have regarding the best nutrition for your pregnancy.