Karolinska Institutet

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Examining Bacterial Flora in the First Trimester of Pregnancy?

Ina Schuppe Koistinen is an associate professor and lecturer at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. She also works at the Center for Translational Microbiology Research to study the role of bacterial flora in inflammatory bowel diseases and women’s health. In addition to research, she is passionate about yoga and guiding people to a healthier lifestyle. She is also an active artist.

Could a bacterial sample at the beginning of pregnancy predict if the child will be born prematurely or if the newborn mother will suffer from postpartum depression(PPD)? These are some of the questions that Ina will be shedding some light onto for us today.

Today, I am going to tell you about the Swedish Maternal Microbiome Project (SweMaMi) – Sweden’s most exciting research project in women’s health (in our opinion anyways) that investigates how the bacterial flora affects both mother and child during pregnancy. The SweMaMi study is conducted by our research team at the Karolinska Institute in collaboration with Söder Hospital in Stockholm. The goal is to reduce the number of pregnancy complications in the future, such as premature delivery.

In today’s medical community it is still unknown why some births start too early or why some women suffer from Preeclampsia or PPD. All of which can imply major health risks to the child and/or mother. Smaller studies on fewer than one hundred women have shown that an adverse bacterial flora in the vagina has led to premature births. Those who give birth prematurely tend to lack bacteria from the Lactobacillus family. However, a more detailed study is needed to prove this hypothesis. The aim of the SweMaMi study is therefore, to collect samples from 2,500 pregnant women to create a representative picture of pregnant women’s bacterial flora (in Sweden). Research has shown that a strong connection between the intestinal bacterial flora and the brain allows them to communicate with each other and in return, affect our mental health. Hence why we take bacterial samples from the mouth and the intestine as well as the vagina.

All women throughout all of Sweden can join. The study is aimed at women who have not yet reached week 19 of their pregnancy. During pregnancy, samples are taken on two occasions and questionnaires are collected about the women’s lifestyle, health, eating habits, illnesses, stress, bowel function and several other things. After the child has been born a concluding test is taken.

By mapping the bacterial flora in pregnant women and coupling that with the questionnaire responses, we want to understand if certain bacteria are associated with a higher risk of complications and which bacteria could potentially offer more protection. The goal is that healthcare would be able to detect women who are at risk by taking a simple bacterial sample early in the pregnancy and thereupon be able to take preventive action. I will update here and share the results with you eventually as we conclude the study.

Want to help reduce early premature births? Tell expecting mothers you know about our study. And if you are pregnant, don’t forget to eat a diet that promotes the good bacteria and sign up to join our study at www.swemami.se. You are also welcome to follow us on Facebook and Instagram: SweMaMi.

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