Just as the foundation of a healthy life can be laid down during infancy and childhood so, sadly, is the opposite true. All around us we see the rise in childhood obesity, skin issues and allergies as well as behavioral/learning problems and this doesn’t bode well for our future society. A broader appreciation of the need to encourage healthier lifestyle choices from birth and before is surely needed to stem this tide. Sadly it can’t be denied that economic circumstances are often partly to blame but I don’t think it’s scaremongering to suggest that the situation represents a ticking time bomb for society. However I feel we can stem the tide!
Supporting Nutritional Fundamentals
Diet is never as important as during pregnancy when a mother to be is literally eating for two and the quality of her diet is affecting more than her own health. The importance of maternal nutrition can’t be overestimated and a good prenatal multivitamin (Viridian’s Prenatal Multi is particularly good!) and an essential fatty acid supplement to support the growing baby’s needs for DHA for brain development can’t be overestimated. In addition mothers should consider a good probiotic for their own immune support. These are some other nutritional priorities during pregnancy – vitamins A, D, B12, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, zinc and iodine.
Pre-conceptual multivitamin use reduces the risk of low birth weight and preterm deliveries. Vitamin D intakes (4,000iu) increase likelihood of reaching full term pregnancy, producing a baby of a healthy weight. Vitamin A is essential for growth, immunity and development of vision. Zinc is necessary for DNA and RNA synthesis and is abundant in brain tissue. Iron is an essential component for blood health and oxygenation of tissue, including the brain and iodine levels can impact on childhood cognitive development.
B vitamins, especially vitamin B12 and folic acid help prevent pre-eclampsia, miscarriage and foetal abnormality. And folic acid can prevent 70% of cases of neural tube defects, such as spina bifuida, but also may be protective against Down Syndrome, cleft lip and palate, and reduce the risk of autism.
Essential fatty acids and their derivatives, including DHA are part of the structure of cells and of brain tissue. EPA and DHA support a wide array of key areas in development such as nervous system and vision.
Supporting Children with Allergy
Proper priming of a baby’s immune system from birth is of vital importance and when it doesn’t happen the child is open not only to the threat of infectious illness but also to the development of allergies which are really inappropriate immune responses from an unbalanced immune system. This priming happens naturally through exposure to the mother’s beneficial flora during birth, from breast milk and from contact with its mother’s skin. It follows that babies delivered by caesarean section and bottle fed babies are at a higher risk of poor immunity from birth with subsequent risk of developing allergies (the so called ‘allergic triad’ of eczema, hay fever (rhinitis) and asthma). The ‘Hygene Hypothesis’ is also interesting. This proposes that a lack of exposure of the developing immune system to microbes due to excessively clean environments and extensive use of disinfectants/antibiotics impairs immune development and results in inappropriate immune response to innocuous stimuli. Perhaps what’s needed is a little healthy exposure to some ‘good clean dirt’!
Infant probiotics for both breast fed and bottle fed babies exist and should be the first port of call to ensure healthy immune development (and mental development too now that we know the importance of the ‘gut brain axis’). The following can help in cases of infant and childhood allergy.
It is now known that the nature of the infant bacteria is predictive of allergy and that use of certain probiotic supplements might be helpful in driving immune tolerance and balancing the immune system. Furthermore probiotics have been shown to prevent atopic dermatitis and studies have shown that a specific combination called LAB4B given in pregnancy and breastfeeding reduced allergic eczema by 57% and common allergic reactions by 44%.
Vitamin D also exhibits immune-regulating properties with maternal vitamin D status linked to development of allergy and higher levels may protect against wheezing in young children.
Essentail fatty acid supplementation can also be useful, fish oil exert anti-inflammatory effects and supplementation directly improves respiratory health, reduces inflammatory markers and improves asthma symptoms in children when taken alongside zinc and vitamin C.
Antioxidants like vitamin C can prevent exercise induced asthma, Quercetin and other flavonoids also inhibit inflammation and zinc supports skin integrity and can reduce inflammation and encourage healing.
Magnesium intake is associated with better lung function and has been shown to dilate asthmatic airways.
Food reactions – eliminating dairy foods, eggs and gluten can be helpful and digestion of challenging foods can be improved with supplemental HCL and digestive enzymes.
Supporting Immune Function
The following can be helpful when infants and babies just need their immune systems boosted.
The gut bacteria health plays a key role in immune programming, and breastfeeding for the first 12 months is associated with a reduction in middle ear infections. Probiotics protect and support the gut and mucus surface which help block viral entry. They also reduce respiratory illnesses and help balance the immune system.
Zinc, vitamin D, antioxidants like vitamin A, C and E all play a role in immune health. Elderberry, a great antiviral, disarms viral spikes preventing them from penetrating cell membranes.
To promote healthy mental development essential fats are vital. Breast feeding mothers might like to consider taking a good quality fish oil or a vegetarian alternative such as Udos Choice Oil while a little of the oil perhaps along with an infants’ multivitamin in drop form and a good probiotic powder can be added to the formula of bottle fed babies over six months. If under six months the oil can be applied directly to the skin of the infant, say on their thigh, the oil is absorbed through the skin but bypasses the delicate digestive system. There are specialised multivitamins and probiotics suitable from birth which can be added to formula.
Don’t forget the therapeutic benefits of natural products on baby’s skin. Companies like Weleda have been making natural baby products for the past fifty years and we feel that their baby range based on the moisturizing and healing properties of Calendula (the common or garden Marigold) are second to none. Their Nappy Cream, which in fact can be applied to anywhere that baby’s skin needs soothing, really is an all time ‘hero product’ when it comes to baby skin.
Nor does ‘teething’ have to be something that baby just has to go through! Nelson’s Teetha granules and gel can bring great relief and the granules can help at any time that baby’s fractious or upset. Amber teething necklaces and anklets are also available which can relieve the pain of teething and decrease the dribbling that often accompanies it. They contain a substance called succinic acid which is thought to have a pain relieving effect when the Amber (and it must be Baltic Amber) is in contact with the skin. New Vistas make a homoeopathic product called Calm Child which is helpful when baby’s upset or just can’t get to sleep. Because of its gentle nature homoeopathy comes into its own for the treatment of infants and children (see our therapists page for some of the people we work with).
Music Therapy is an other safe and effective option for when baby is upset and can’t sleep. We stock a range of Alphamusic CDs by composer John Levine and think they’re well worth trying.
Cuidiú is a parent support group which is active all over the country including Wexford and they will be instore with us on Friday 7th August from 11am – 2pm, you can also find them on Facebook.
We’re passionate about natural health in Only Natural and, as I write this, it seems to me that this is never more important than at the start of life and that, if we make the effort to make that start a healthy and happy one we’re setting our children up for a healthier and happier life!
Don’t worry, if this all seems a little overwhelming – come instore and have a chat with any of our nutritional therapist’s who can help you decide what vitamins and supplements might be right for you.