By Dr. Mercola
Children's health and full potential are being limited before their lives have begun, starting in the womb and continuing through birth and the early years.
A number of abuses to their developing bodies and minds come from their mothers' diets, standard childbirth practices, and poor nutrition. To give your children the best chance for full and healthy lives, you need to know the difference between what's harmful and what's healthy.
Trouble can start before your child is conceived. To give birth to a healthy baby, your own health is critical, but concerns don't end there.
You need to know how to protect your baby and yourself from harmful medical practices during birth and to provide them with nutrition that develops sound bodies and minds.
Serious Health Problems Can Start with Mother's Excess Weight
Babies of obese mothers are born with thickened aorta walls, a common sign of impending cardiovascular disease, according to a new study. The research team expressed concern that the earliest signs of heart disease are seen in a thickened abdominal aorta, so these babies may be at far higher risk of heart disease and stroke.1
The newborn's weight does not appear to make a difference. Researchers found that when mothers are obese, babies are born with thickened aortal walls and a likely predisposition to cardiovascular disease.
If you're a woman with weight problems, it would be helpful to take steps to address this major risk factor it before becoming pregnant. You can, though, take heart in knowing that every pound of unhealthy weight you lose will benefit your baby, because the study found that less weight means thinner arteries, even if you aren't able to reach your ideal weight.
If you've tried to follow typical diet plans that focus on restricting calories, be sure to investigate my Nutrition Plan which will help you get away from the yoyo of quick weight loss followed by rebounding and gaining even more than before the diet.
The Type of Fat Consumer Seriously Affects Baby's Health
A new University of Kansas study reports multiple benefits for infants of mothers given the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, during pregnancy. Their babies not only weighed more at birth, their weight was less likely to be low, and they had a better chance of being born full term.2
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is one of the omega-3 fatty acids that your body cannot synthesize and is required for health. While it's usually best to get nutrients from your food, omega-3 fatty acids are an exception. The best food sources are fish, but unfortunately, they're often polluted with mercury, PCBs, and other toxins. Therefore, this is one exception to the rule. You're better off taking an animal-derived omega-3 supplement than eating most of the foods that provide it.
Some Beverages Should Be Avoided During Pregnancy
You are what you eat — and your baby's nutrition comes from your diet. That's why two beverages should probably be limited or stricken from the pregnant woman's diet altogether: coffee and alcohol. New studies have documented that both have bad effects on a baby's health.
- Caffeine consumption during pregnancy can result in two seemingly contradictory results. Babies may suffer from low birth weight and pregnancies may be too long.3 There is also a well known correlation with caffeine consumption, especially during early pregnancy, and increased risk of birth defects and miscarriage.4
- Alcohol abuse during pregnancy has been implicated in 1 of 6 cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and 3% of other infant deaths.5
Of course, the drink you associate most with caffeine is probably coffee, which does have a beneficial side, if it is high quality and made safely. Pregnancy, though, is a game changer. Although the study's authors are cautious in pointing out that a cause and effect connection hasn't been shown between coffee and low birth weight or extended pregnancy, do you really want to take a chance with your baby's well-being?
You are probably aware already that fructose can be harmful to your health. At a minimum, it exacerbates many conditions, and is the cause of many others. Particularly significant during pregnancy, though, is that fructose's even more evil offspring, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) causes obesity.6 Fructose is similar to alcohol, so it's not surprising that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause so much harm to babies in the womb.
The Best Start in Life Is Natural Birth
Trillions of microorganisms in the human gastrointestinal tract form an intricate, living fabric of natural controls affecting body weight, energy, and nutrition, according to a recent study.7 Anything that upsets the natural balance of gut bacteria could negatively impact your newborn's health.
Babies born by caesarian sections are missing an entire group of bacteria normally found in the gastrointestinal tract, according to a New York Times report of a new study.8 It found that the microbiota of infants born by caesarian delivery is particularly low in bacterial numbers and diversity.9 Children born by caesarians are five times more likely to suffer with allergies than those born naturally.
Scientists believe the loss of bacterial diversity provided by passage through the birth canal is the reason. Prevent Disease reports that lead researcher, Dr. Christine Cole Johnson, says, "We believe a baby's exposure to bacteria in the birth canal is a major influencer on their immune system." C-section-delivered children are far more likely to develop allergic reactions to common household substances, such as dust mite droppings and pet dander. Prevent Disease reports other health problems more common to children born by caesarian deliveries:10
- A Danish study of 34,000 deliveries found that C-section births may be causing babies to suffer four times more respiratory problems.
- Obesity rates may be doubled.
- Food allergies are more common.
Mothers who undergo caesarian deliveries also suffer health problems. They are more likely to have placenta problems during a second pregnancy. The risk of a uterine rupture during a later vaginal delivery is 50 times more likely! One study from Latin America reports that non-emergency caesarians double the mother's risk of illness and death.
In fact, there is a growing body of clinical evidence that caesarian deliveries increase the risk of over 30 adverse health outcomes, which is all the more tragic considering how many are now being performed electively as a "convenience" or "precaution."11 Suffice it to say, you should avoid caesarian deliveries unless it's medically necessary for both your baby's health and your own.
Natural Birth Is More Than Avoiding Caesarian: Cord Clamping
The standard routine in most hospitals, and even by most midwives, is to clamp the umbilical cord as soon as possible.12 It may be the single most harmful medical procedure because it is done to nearly everyone. At birth, about one-third of a newborn infant's blood is in the cord. It is your child's birthright. Here's what happens because of impatience to clamp the cord:
- Iron deficiency anemia is a serious problem in newborns. By waiting until the cord blood has literally pulsed into your infant's body, this risk is almost eliminated.
- Oxygen deprivation is one of the greatest causes of neonatal death. Early cord clamping loses a third of a baby's oxygen.
- Red blood cells carry that life-giving oxygen, so babies start life without a third of their blood.
- White blood cells and antibodies are one of the most important factors in fighting infections. A full third of newborns' ability to fight pathogens is stolen from them.
- Stem cells in cord blood are everyone's birthright. By clamping the cord early, the equivalent of an autologous stem cell transplant is lost.
If you insisting on waiting to cut the umbilical cord until it stops pulsing, rarely more than 90 seconds, you will be providing your newborn an edge that may save her life.
Your baby loses up to a third of the blood that rightfully belongs to him because of routine cord clamping. Dr. Alan Green gave an entertaining and impassioned TED Talk, "90 Seconds to Change the World," explaining how it came to be routine and what is lost to nearly every person born today:
Breast Milk: Perfect Nutrition from Birth
While in the womb, your baby's nutritional needs are met by you. Most women can continue to provide the perfect food. Breastfeeding is not only the least expensive way to feed and protect your new child's health, it also helps you transition into being a mother. Your brain is activated to respond to your own infant's cry and helps to build the empathy needed to develop a strong mother-child bond.13
The same study that demonstrated the importance of natural childbirth for healthy gut microbiota also showed that babies fed breast milk have a better balance of bacteria than formula-fed babies. As a result, their digestion and immune systems are better, and inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, cancer, or allergies are less likely to afflict them. Breast milk provides several critical factors that affect your baby's wellbeing for the rest of his life:
- Antibodies are transferred to the baby, providing immunity to the same diseases that the mother is protected from.
- Neurotrophic factors — from ancient Greek meaning nerve nourishing factors — help your baby's brain grow to her best potential.
- Cytokines in breast milk are involved in cellular communication and immune response.
- Protein extracts from breast milk increase survival of intestinal neurons and growth of neurites, which are extensions of neurons.
The brain and gut grow from the same tissue during early fetal development. They're connected by the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the abdomen, allowing them to coordinate and communicate. The gut is truly a second brain. So providing your child's digestive tract with well balanced gut flora also improves brain function, and after birth nothing does that better than breast feeding.
Breastfeeding Saves Babies' Lives
A report from Save the Children calls breast milk "Superfood for Babies." It estimates that 830,000 newborns' lives could be saved each year if they were breastfed during the first hour of life.14 That simple change is all it would take because the mother's milk during the first couple of days after birth is colostrum, which contains more concentrated nutrients and antibodies, specially made to nourish and protect newborns whose digestive systems are quite small.
Colostrum has a mild laxative effect, helping the newborn expel the first stool, called meconium. This stool contains excess bilirubin, which results from the large number of red blood cells produced to help prevent jaundice.16 It also contains high quantities of white blood cells called leukocytes to help protect the new child from disease. The first hour of birth is referred to as the power hour. Not only does beast feeding your baby early provide a jumpstart to a life of good health, it also helps assure that you'll continue breastfeeding for at least six months.15
However there are many factors that impair a woman's ability to breastfed. So rather than feeling guilty and stopping breast feeding, if you or someone you know finds yourself in that group that it would be wise to consult with a lactation consultant or contact LaLeche League to guide you through the process of seeking to address the reasons that are preventing you from breastfeeding.
Do You Know What Your Children Are Eating?
National Public Radio (NPR) conducted a poll to see if children are actually eating what their parents believe. The disappointing results showed that the reality was not as parents thought. NPR reported that 87% of parents believed their children were eating much healthier food than proved to be the reality.17
One parent, Deborah Richards of Oakland, California, said that her son, Donta, ate well. NPR reported that she believes he eats a healthier diet than she does. That proved not to be true. Donta said that his regular breakfast consists of a pack of Skittles candies. Obviously, in today's busy world it is very difficult to know just what your children are eating. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that good eating habits are instilled very early in life.
Your Child's Lifelong Welfare Depends on You
People did not always need to think about health. Hunter-gatherer diets were naturally healthy. Exercise was a given, because survival required being physically active. Now, though, things have changed. Food does not generally arrive through foraging or hunting. Employment keeps most of us inside and inactive most of the time. Natural methods of giving birth have given way to ritualized medical techniques that run counter to both the child's and mother's wellbeing. Children don't spend most of their time with parents, learning how to survive by watching and receiving instruction as needed.
Today, far too many people have little awareness of their basic health requirements, and the result is showing up in the misery of chronic disease. Young children are suffering diseases that their grandparents saw only in their own grandparents. It has become critical to educate yourself so that you can save your children from lives circumscribed by ill health.
Whether already born or still a twinkle in their father's eye, if you want your children to lead full and healthy lives, you need to optimize your own health and your knowledge of foods and methods that support health.