Of course you want to give your baby every feasible chance of her best possible life and health. Some things are difficult, even impossible, to control. Others are fairly simple and straightforward.
Ideally, you should resolve your own health issues – including gut health – before getting pregnant. This gives your baby many advantages, some of which last a lifetime.
During pregnancy, obviously it’s important to eat healthy, nutritious food. Go for organic, when possible, and avoid GMOs. We don’t yet know the long term effects of these engineered organisms but the short term effects don’t look great.
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables of various colors, particularly low starch vegetables, for optimal vitamin and mineral levels. Pregnancy is well known as a cause of constipation, and the natural fiber should help keep things moving along as they ought to. This fiber is also the food that keeps the beneficial flora in your own digestive tract happy and productive.
It has long been believed that the womb is a sterile place, and that baby isn’t exposed to any microbes until after birth. But that view is now being challenged. It appears that beneficial bacteria can cross the placenta, and begin colonizing baby’s own gut even before birth.
If possible, eat a small amount of fermented food every day. I’m not talking fermented as in alcohol. More like sauerkraut, kimchee, fermented seed pates, and live yogurt, kefir, or kombucha. With all the body changes that pregnancy brings, having a steady supply of beneficial inner organisms can help on many health fronts.
Consider taking quality digestive enzyme and probiotic supplements. Many of those weird pregnancy cravings are the result of nutritional deficiencies, and these specialty supplements will help your body wring as many nutrients as possible from the food you eat. Plus, keeping your own microflora in balance means you can also manufacture many important nutrients yourself.
Sometimes antibiotics are necessary, but if they aren’t, try to avoid them before and after the birth. You may want to talk to your doctor or midwife about this early on, because antibiotics are often given to mother and baby prophylactically as part of the birthing process. These drugs kill off your baby’s delicate protective microbial community. And since Nature abhors a vacuum, the more undesirable microbes from a hospital environment will likely take their place.
Besides this, antibiotics administered in infancy and childhood have been definitively linked to allergies, asthma, more frequent infections, and even obesity, later on. This would appear to indicate that a healthy balance of microbes is more than desirable- it’s essential for optimum health.
And this brings up another issue: C-section. Again, sometimes absolutely necessary and life saving. But many times, they are elective, scheduling birth around vacation times or other conveniences. These days in the US, as many as 1 in 3 births are by Caesarian; the numbers are even higher in some countries.
A natural vaginal birth will inoculate baby with a heavy duty dose of mother’s microflora to give him a healthy boost as he comes into the world. This is beginning to be better understood, and forward thinking doctors are bathing the new babe with mother’s vaginal juices when a C-section is unavoidable, to give him the same head start as in a non-surgical birth.
Assuming mom is healthy, breastfeeding is usually best for most babies. It’s pretty much impossible to totally duplicate mother’s milk in a formula. And baby’s system relies on the delicate balance of nutrients created especially for him in mom’s body. Even the specific sugars found in breast milk appear to be there to encourage the evolution of a healthy microbial community in baby’s digestive tract.
Going forward, allow your child to get dirty, within reason. They put everything into their mouths because they are exploring and learning. But they are also expanding their microbial repertoire… training their little immune systems to learn to handle new situations.
When it’s wash time, forego the antibacterial soap and sanitizer, and just use regular soap and water. It works just as well without the risk of destroying your child’s immune system.
It’s probably impossible to make your child’s life and health perfect in every way. But I say, do the best you can, considering your circumstances, and go from there. Tweak when needed, stay flexible, and enjoy your child. They grow up far too fast as it is.
Board Certified in Integrative Medicine
Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner
Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner