A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of teaching a class about newborn care with three other local naturopathic doctors. In our two-hour class we covered lots of information about optimizing a baby’s health. We discussed sleep, nutrition, immune health, and temperament. The four of us are very passionate about educating new and expectant parents about how they can give their babies a great start and impact lifelong health. I was excited to have the chance to talk about nutrition and babies. Here’s a little snippet of what I discussed ~
Most of us think of infant nutrition as a very simple matter: babies drink milk, right? We have heard the many benefits of breastmilk and we know it is the perfect food for babies. This is all true! And yet, there is certainly a lot that goes into making great breastmilk. A nursing mama’s nutrition is very important. It takes an incredible amount of energy for a woman’s body to make milk—she needs adequate rest, plenty fluids, and an abundance of healthy foods. I advise women to focus on eating variety of whole foods, meaning foods that have not been processed. A simple way to think about this is: Can you imagine your food growing? It’s easy to imagine a field of corn or apple trees growing. It is much more difficult to imagine a field tortilla chips or bottles of apple juice growing. Eating whole foods allows for optimal nutrient intake for a hard-working mama’s body AND makes nutrient-rich milk for baby. Eat a rainbow of colors and choose organic, locally grown foods whenever possible. Check out our food blog: nourishingthemother.com for great recipes and other tips!
Another very important aspect of infant nutrition is gut health. Probiotics are a hot health topic these days and for good reason. A probiotic is a supplement that provides one’s digestive system with healthy bacteria. We all have billions of bacteria living inside of our intestines. These bacteria have many important roles in the body, including the production of certain vitamins and aiding in the digestion and absorption of the food we eat. And, what many people don’t realize is that gut health is linked to so many aspects of our overall health, including our immune function and our brain health. I find this to be pretty amazing! So, of course, the gut bacteria of our babies is very important indeed. A baby’s gut bacteria is established at birth, as the baby passes through the vaginal canal. The vagina contains abundant bacteria, and the health of a woman’s vaginal bacteria is affected by the health of her own gut bacteria. The take home message here is that vaginal birth is great for a baby’s gut health because it helps establish healthy gut bacteria. Moreover, there is research out of Europethat found babies born at home who are also breastfed exclusively have the highest levels of healthy gut bacteria! All of this being said, some babies need to be born by cesarean section and miss out on exposure to vaginal bacteria. Also, some moms receive antibiotics in labor which can negatively effect a baby’s gut bacteria. It is essential for these babies to receive probiotics after birth. This will help them to establish healthy gut bacteria and will minimize the amount of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria that makes its way into the gut simply from the hospital environment.
I could go on because there is so much I love to share with new parents about infant nutrition and overall health. If you are interested in learning more and exploring naturopathic pediatric care, click here. Three Sisters Midwifery also hosts a free Mothers Group on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month from 10-12 where we discuss a variety of health topics related to babies and children. Please e-mail me at [email protected] for more information.
Here are a couple of great links for further reading on a babies’ gut bacteria: