How to Optimize You and Your Baby’s Health during the First Year

Parent feeding baby with a spoon

I gave birth to a baby boy for the first time 10 months ago and what a whirlwind experience it has been since then!

Like many moms, my pregnancy experience was not what I expected. I went from drinking green juice, being vegan, and avoiding sweets to downing a beef pot roast in the first trimester, gagging at the sight of lentils and spitting green juice out. I even craved candy, which I never crave otherwise.

Since his delivery, my goal is to provide him with the best, most nutritious intake to optimize his growth and development. Luckily, I have been able to breastfeed successfully and my diet has mostly returned to its normal style without all the pregnancy hormones affecting my taste buds!

While my pregnancy diet wasn’t my ideal, it is important to realize that from conception, babies’ palates are a completely blank canvas. Everything that mom eats in utero is adding to their experience and the flavor profiles that they become accustomed to. Here is a recent study that examines this: “Flavor Sensing in Utero…” [journals.sagepub.com]. I say this not for women to feel guilty about their cravings during pregnancy because most women I meet already give themselves enough to feel guilty about! I say it only to bring awareness that choices even before birth already give baby a landscape for what their taste buds are used to.

This is also true for breastfed babies. They are experiencing food and food flavors through the breast milk alone until they are introduced to solids. Check out this research study for more details: “Influence of maternal diet on flavor transfer to amniotic fluid and breast milk and children’s responses: a systematic review” [pubmed]. This means that when you’re breastfeeding it is an opportunity to share foods and flavors with your baby before they can eat on their own.

Once your baby is developmentally ready to start solids (“When to introduce solid foods” [cdc.gov]) one of my typical recommendations for parents is to encourage intake of veggies over fruits. You can still include fruits, of course, in their diet, however because fruit is easier to prefer since it is sweet it’s important to provide your baby with tons of veggies so their palate develops to enjoy them.

Consider how food preferences develop. Spicy foods, sour foods, fermented foods, certain veggies, fruits and grains. Depending on where you grow up you are exposed to different foods which determine food preferences.  When babies are born in different countries with different types of food offered, whatever they get exposed to becomes part of the flavors they enjoy and are used to. These all become the norm depending on where you live. Sushi, plantains, quinoa, veggie mite, hot peppers and curries are all normal parts of diets around the world. So, the more you consistently expose your baby to different food profiles the more diverse their palate will develop to be. And that’s healthy for both you and baby!

Why does it really matter to provide a variety of food? What’s wrong with having a more limited diet as long as it is healthy? Beyond encouraging baby to grow up to be an adult with a varied palate the diversity of plant-based foods one eats impacts your microbiome, or the mix of bacteria and yeasts that are in and around your body. Yes, that’s right! Eating many different types of grains, fruits, veggies, beans and nuts can increase you gut flora diversity.  And the more diverse the microbiome diversity the better health you provide to the gut as well as your entire body and immune system. Yes, a healthy microbiome supports a healthy immune system and makes you more resilient to infections (“A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependent on dietary diversity” [pubmed central]).

Knowing all this, my goal has been to introduce all types of flavors and foods into my baby’s palate. He has tried arugula pieces, seaweed, olive paste, fresh green veggie juice, fonio (a grain grown in Africa) and even beets, which I personally don’t like. It’s my job to give him opportunities to explore all types of flavors and foods, even the ones that I don’t enjoy and break out of the stereotype of what he will enjoy or not. He is still open to the influences I provide him, so who knows what he might like to eat? The more I try offering him different foods, the more I am surprised at how easily he accepts these different foods and flavors. And the more I provide them to him, the more I also keep them in my diet.

Besides supporting health and gut health through the diversity in the diet there are two other ways that I use to support the health of myself and my baby:

One product I particularly love is ION* Gut Support. This product is a game changer for gut health! It has a unique mechanism that strengthens the gut lining which then leads to a more diverse gut microbiome. It is great for kids and adults both! Children under 3 years old can take ¼ tsp 3x/day.

ION Gut Support can be purchased through here: https://us.fullscript.com/welcome/westholisticmedicine

In addition, I give my baby high quality Cod liver oil. This cod liver oil delivers omega fatty acids, Vitamins A & D and antioxidants. These are all very important to the development of a healthy brain and nervous system. 

Here is a source for very high quality cod liver oil: https://www.greenpasture.org/product/fermented-cod-liver-oil-liquid/

You can also find other different omega-3 supplements here: https://us.fullscript.com/welcome/westholisticmedicine

Using both diet diversity and key supplements I feel confident knowing I am building and supporting my child’s health for now and the rest of his life.

If you’re looking for a more holistic and natural approach to you and your child’s health come schedule a new patient visit. I am now seeing patients of all ages in person and virtually!

Take care, 

Julia


More about Dr. Julia Afridi

Julia Afridi, DO, ABIHM. Integrative Family Medicine Physician

Integrative Family Medicine Physician

Dr. Afridi was born and raised in the Western Chicago Suburbs. She has been interested in natural and holistic approaches to health since childhood when she saw firsthand the limitations of more conventional treatment approaches to health.

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