The Surprising Connection Between Gut Health and Fertility, Postpartum Depression, and Colic

Conventional wisdom used to have it that the postpartum period was a joyous, magical time for all mothers—maybe with a dash of sleep deprivation and spit-up thrown in.

Fortunately, experts have finally become wise to the fact that many new moms experience some form of the “baby blues,” i.e. feelings of sadness, anxiety, and mood swings, soon after giving birth. And anywhere between 11 and 20 percent struggle with postpartum depression (PPD), which can develop any time during the first year after welcoming a baby—and can last and last.

Yet so many women still don’t get the care they need for many reasons, not least of which is that when simply getting out of bed feels impossible, scheduling an appointment with a mental health pro can seem insurmountable. Thankfully, science is continuing to explore ways to help moms manage symptoms associated with PPD, and even reduce their risk of developing it in the first place.

One place they’re looking? The gut.

The gut microbiome is about as buzzy as it gets these days—and it deserves all the attention. The trillions of bacteria produced in your intestines have a direct relationship with not only digestive health, but overall physical health and mental health, too.

The gut-brain axis is the two-way street.

That’s because the gut-brain axis is the two-way street. Communication takes place via the nervous and immune systems, with signals being passed back and forth between the belly and brain. When one is imbalanced, the other likely is too, says Ellie Cobb, PhD, a holistic psychologist based in New York City. So getting gut health in order before baby arrives is a good thing.

“Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet before and during pregnancy can even help reduce the chances of postpartum depression,” Dr. Cobb says. It’s important to note that, while one small Canadian study pointed to a potential link between diet and the prevention of postpartum depression, the connection is largely lacking in scientific support and more research needs to be done to draw definitive conclusions.

“The vast majority of the mother’s serotonin and dopamine is made in the gut.” – Shawn Talbott, PhD, nutritional biochemist

Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, a nutritional biochemist in Salt Lake City, Utah, also points out that the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and childbirth can affect the gut-brain axis and vice-versa. “Gut flora changes quite a lot from pre-pregnancy, to mid-term, to delivery,” he says. “The vast majority of the mother’s serotonin and dopamine is made in the gut, so disrupted microbiome balance can influence her mood dramatically.”


Dr. Talbott generally tells patients to consider a probiotic during pregnancy and after (bonus: Certain strains may help with colic!), to eat as close to the Mediterranean diet as possible (loading up on antioxidant-rich polyphenols and flavonoids), and to get tons of fiber.

“Eating more fiber is the single most important approach for improving microbiome diversity,” Dr. Talbott says. “But adding prebiotic fiber supplements can augment those benefits and target the growth of ‘good’ bacteria.”

Of course, PPD is a super complex issue and gut health is only one possible piece of the puzzle. The most important thing is for women who are struggling to reach out to a mental health professional ASAP.  Because mom-ing is hard, and there’s zero shame in getting help.

Additional Resources

While everyone loves shopping for a new baby – those teensy shoes! – you may feel a little mystified about how to gift all the pregnant people in your life. Good news! We asked a bunch of them what they’d love most this holiday season. So without further ado, we present our holiday gift round-up for your very favorite pregnant people. Trust us, she’ll love it.

Read More

Special thanks to Becca, a fertility dietitian at Little Life Nutrition, for today's post! Becca is passionate about helping moms and dads-to-be uncover the root cause of fertility challenges, using nutrition, lifestyle, and functional lab testing to optimize her clients' chance of getting pregnant — a true "no-stone-left-unturned" approach. Here, she shares five ways to boost fertility naturally.

Read More

In the early days of your pregnancy, it’s fair to want to keep your thrilling news to yourself. But what happens over the holiday season, when you’re probably spending endless hours with your loud, loving, all-up-in-your-business family? We polled our Beli community for the hands-down best way to mask a pregnancy – morning sickness symptoms and all – if you’re dreading the next few weeks with the fam, because this is one surprise that no one should spoil.

Read More

Anyone looking to boost fertility has hormones on the brain. And that makes sense. These chemical messengers regulate various systems and bodily functions, including growth, metabolism, temperature regulation, and yes, fertility. If you suspect your system is a little out of whack and you’re planning for a baby, here’s what it means to balance your hormones for fertility.

Read More

Recent studies have shown that optimal nutrition can improve egg quality. Fueling for fertility with nutrients that support egg quality can help raise your chances of getting pregnant faster and delivering a healthy baby.

Read More

It’s an interesting truth that many people trying so hard to conceive are willing to try just about anything – special herbs and teas, medications, you name it – but have often jumped straight past the fundamentals of plain ol’ good health. In the interest of keeping things simple, we’re sharing the five pillars of fertility.

Read More

There are all sorts of think pieces and articles and personal accounts outlining the ins and outs and pros and cons and “must knows” about egg freezing, but here at Beli, we have some specific advice. If you’re thinking about egg freezing, bump up egg quality first. Here’s how.

Read More

PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility in women, but it doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant. Supplementing with ingredients proven to support women with PCOS can help increase your chances, and so can speaking with your doctor and dietician.

Read More

Research shows that the overall health of both biological parents during the preconception window plays a huge role in everything from conception to pregnancy health to the lifetime health of their baby. Luckily, there are simple steps you can both take to improve your health together.

Read More

The decision to add another baby to the family is thrilling. But what happens if trying for baby number two or three isn’t as easy as it was the first time around? Unsurprisingly, secondary infertility can feel like a slap in the face, but understanding more about the issue is always empowering.

Read More