How to Set Your Newborn Up For Lifelong Health (Part Two)
Last week, I wrote an article about how diet, antibiotics, and method of delivery (vaginal or C-section) play a vital role in establishing your baby’s gut microbiome. This is one of the most important steps towards setting your newborn up for lifelong health. In Part Two, we’ll look at what comes next: feeding your newborn!
In utero, your baby received her nutrients from whatever you ate. Likely, you did the very best you could to take care of yourself during pregnancy and to prepare your body for a healthy delivery. Now that your newborn is here (and hungry!), you may feel overwhelmed by the choices (breastmilk or formula? Homemade or store-bought?). Below are my recommendations on where to start to set your newborn on the path toward a strong, healthy immune system.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breast milk is the absolute perfect food for your newborn. Thousands of proteins, enzymes, and other components naturally contained in breast milk help to strengthen her immune system, build up an array of good gut bacteria, and support healthy organ development. Babies are born with a more permeable gut lining (aka leaky gut). Breast milk helps to ‘paint’ a layer over the gut lining to ‘seal’ this leaky gut.
What you eat and drink goes into your breast milk and into your baby’s body. Ideally, if you are eating a nutrient-dense diet filled with real whole foods, your breast milk should have everything your baby needs to develop properly and stay hydrated.
However, many of us are not eating nutrient-dense diets, and even if you are, it’s very easy to become nutrient deficient when much of the nutrient content of your food is going to your nursing newborn. It’s important to make sure that on top of a healthy diet you’re supplementing with a high quality multivitamin (most breastfeeding women will need one with iron), a probiotic with at least 25 billion mixed beneficial bacteria for gut and immune health, and Omega 3 fish oils for optimal brain development. Some women may need added B vitamins as well.
Ideally, you should breastfeed exclusively for the first year. If you are not producing enough breast milk, you may try these tips to help to increase your milk production:
Tips for Increasing Breast Milk Production
1. Keep Close Contact with Your Baby
Skin-to-skin contact with your baby, especially within the first hour of delivery, can stimulate breast milk production. Hold and touch your baby as much as possible. Sometimes it can be harder to breastfeed when you have had a C-section, so in that case, it is especially important to get lots of physical contact with your newborn.
2. Begin Breastfeeding As Soon As Possible
3. Stay Hydrated
Breast milk contains a high percentage of water and lots of water-soluble vitamins. Your water requirements will increase while breastfeeding.
4. Eat Gluten-Free Grains (if you tolerate them)
In many women, grains can stimulate milk flow. Only eat them if you don’t have a sensitivity to grains, as many people and especially those with autoimmune diseases do. I do not recommend that anyone eats grains that contain gluten.
5. Eat a Nutrient-Dense Diet
Everything your baby eats in the first year of life comes from what you put into your own body. You need to make sure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you both need from organic fruits and vegetables, and pasture-raised and grass-fed proteins. Non-organic produce and animal products contain a higher concentration of pesticides and heavy metals than organic foods,1 are frequently GMO, and are less nutrient-dense. Conventionally-raised livestock are given hormones and antibiotics, which can affect your baby’s development and kill off the beneficial bacteria that she needs in her body.
Breast milk is by far the best food you can give your baby, and partial breast milk is better than none at all. If you are completely unable to breastfeed, the next best option is breast milk from a donor. A friend or family member whom you trust, if they are breastfeeding, can be one great option. Try to find someone who has a baby close in age to your own–the composition of breast milk actually changes depending on how long a woman has been lactating.2
You can also try milk banks, which screen their donated milk for diseases and pasteurize it. Unfortunately, heating breast milk likely destroys some of the naturally present enzymes and beneficial bacteria.
Making your own formula requires more time and energy than store-bought formula, and given the problems with store-bought formula, it’s worth the extra effort. Homemade formula is made with ingredients that mimic the essential components of breast milk. Gelatin, for example, is often added to strengthen the gut lining.
If you decide that this is an option you’d like to try, you can find instructions on how to make a homemade formula here.
There are a lot of different pre-made formulas out there, and a wide spectrum when it comes to quality. Most of the pre-made formulas are dairy milk-based. Human babies were not designed to drink cow’s milk. It’s one of the most common food allergens in children3 and has been shown to be associated with chronic gastrointestinal distress and ear, nose, and throat infections in babies. Long term, consuming milk regularly can cause chronic inflammation in many people, which can lead to chronic disease.
Not only is nearly 90% of all soy GMO, but the phytoestrogens in soy can disrupt the fragile hormones of your growing newborn. Therefore I do not recommend soy-based formula.
Which formula works for you will depend on your baby’s individual needs. Experiment with different types under the guidance of a physician. If your baby has allergies to milk or soy, an elemental formula could be another option. Elemental formulas contain broken down amino acids, are hypoallergenic, and are easily digested and absorbed.
Opt for glass bottles instead of plastic.
Whether you are able to breastfeed or not, most mothers will need to feed their baby out of a bottle at some point. I never recommend using plastic baby bottles to feed your newborn formula or pumped breast milk. Plastic bottles (even those that don’t contain BPA or say “BPA-free”) contain chemicals that mimic estrogen and disrupt your developing baby’s hormones.4 These fat-soluble chemicals are easily absorbed into formulas and breast milk, which contain a lot of fat, especially if the bottle is warmed. Opt for glass baby bottles instead.
There’s No Substitute For Breast Milk
When choosing a food for your newborn, remember that there is no substitute for breast milk. Mother Nature designed breast milk to contain all of the nutrients, beneficial bacteria, and immune cells (immunoglobulins) that your baby needs to thrive.
Stay tuned for next week’s Part Three, where I explain the next step: ensuring a nontoxic home for your new baby.
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