Before we are born and throughout our first two years, we lay the foundation for the rest of our lives. Our development in the womb and our journey down the birth canal are the first steps in determining our overall health as we age.
As an expectant mother, you can get your newborn off to a healthy start by taking care of yourself during pregnancy and adequately preparing your body for birth.
The first step in giving your baby a healthy start is taking care of your own body during pregnancy. Your baby depends on you for everything in this period of rapid development. Everything you put into your own body–food, medications, beauty products–is absorbed into your bloodstream, makes its way into the placenta, and then passes on to your developing baby. Supply your body with vitamin-rich organic fruits and vegetables, organic grass-fed animal products, and healthy fats from foods such as avocado and coconut. Take a probiotic, and give your baby the healthy bacteria she’ll need for a strong immune system. Refrain from taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary–they will kill off the good bacteria in your body that your baby needs.
It is especially important to avoid exposing your baby to harmful chemicals like pesticides and heavy metals. Opt for organic foods. Organic foods are non-GMO, are raised without pesticides, and have a lower concentration of heavy metals than non-organic foods.
If you have food sensitivities, it’s especially important that you avoid those problem foods during pregnancy. If you aren’t pregnant now, but are thinking about having a baby in the future, it’s a great idea to get tested for food sensitivities beforehand. You can also determine whether or not you’re sensitive to a particular food, like gluten, by removing it from your diet for a few weeks and then reintroducing it, keeping track of any changes in how you feel along the way. For more guidance, check out my book, The Autoimmune Solution. It’s my 30-day program that will help you identify food sensitivities.
During pregnancy, you might crave foods to which you are sensitive. This is the worst time to give into those cravings! When you have a food sensitivity, your body produces antibodies that attack the aggravating substance, causing widespread inflammation and leading to autoimmunity. Antibodies can travel through the placenta to the developing baby. Once your baby has these antibodies in her system, she will also be sensitive to the food. If you have any known food sensitivities, avoid eating those foods while pregnant to keep from passing your sensitivity on to your child. If you’re craving a pizza and are sensitive to gluten, go for a gluten-free alternative, or if you have morning sickness and want bread or a cracker to calm your stomach, opt for a wheat-free version.
How Birth Determines Health
In utero, our digestive tracts are sterile. We haven’t eaten anything yet. As your baby travels down the birth canal, she will swallow the beneficial bacteria that live there. Those bacteria will then colonize her gut and begin to establish her gut microbiome. The microbiome is the balance of microorganisms, such as the good and the bad bacteria, parasites, and fungi, that live in the gut. The gut is the gateway to good health, and good health is synonymous with a healthy microbiome.
Babies that don’t travel down the birth canal, such as those who are born by C-section, miss out on this first and very crucial step in establishing a healthy gut microbiome. For this reason alone, I recommend that you avoid having a C-section unless absolutely medically necessary. I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed–sometimes you don’t get to make that choice. If you had a baby born by C-section, you can protect her gut health with a probiotic supplement designed for infants.
Mothers who have C-sections often have a harder time breastfeeding, which can compound the problem. Without breast milk, your baby misses out on immunoglobulins that are crucial in supporting a healthy gut and boosting the immune system. Because they miss out on all of this, babies born by C-section are more prone to chronic health problems like allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disease. 32% of all births in the US are C-sections, an increase of 60% since 1996. Also on the rise are the rates of autoimmune disease. Again, don’t feel like all is lost if you were born by C-section, if you had a baby by C-section, or if you were unable to breastfeed. These are all clues that I evaluate when I’m going through a patient’s history and determining a course of treatment.
If you are currently pregnant, keep your baby’s microbiome in mind. Remember, your baby gets that initial dose of bacteria from your body. Take a probiotic, and refrain from taking antibiotics if at all possible. Antibiotics kill off the beneficial bacteria in your body that your baby needs to take in while traveling down the birth canal.
If You Test Positive for Group B Strep?
Group B strep (GBS) is a type of bacteria that naturally live in the intestines and vagina. Babies are exposed to it during birth, and a small percentage of them wind up with GBS infections. It’s rare, but these infections can be fatal.
In the weeks leading up to delivery, pregnant women are screened for GBS. Carriers of the bacteria (an estimated 30% of women) are given intravenous antibiotics during childbirth to clear the infection. The antibiotics kill off other bacteria, and the baby is born without exposure to those microorganisms. Without that kickstart to their microbiome, babies exposed to antibiotics at birth are actually at a greater risk of developing much more serious infections in the first few weeks of life.
To avoid testing positive for GBS, make sure you’re taking a probiotic daily. Foods that have natural antibacterial properties, like garlic, apple cider vinegar, and coconut oil, can be either eaten or used vaginally.
A Healthy Start is the Best Prevention
Taking care of your own body is the first step in ensuring your newborn’s health. From you, she will receive the nutrients she needs along with a kickstart to her gut flora. In Part Two, I’ll explain how your newborn will continue the process of building her immune system in the first two years of life.
For More Information
I had the pleasure of chatting with Aviva Romm, a Yale-trained, board-certified family physician with a specialty in women’s health and obstetrics, about how chronic overwhelm – whether it be from environmental toxins, diet, even prescribed medications – can affect thyroid, hormone, fertility and pregnancy health.