This may be the one question I’m asked most often: How can I change my child’s appetite? Picky appetites in kids are common, but not necessarily normal or healthy. If your child has been eating fewer than ten foods for more than a year, something is amiss. Your child is probably not getting all the nutrients needed for optimal growth, learning, mood, and functioning. While a whole industry has evolved around foods just for that limited kid palate, consider what is done in other countries with healthier populations: There is no kid food. There’s just food.
That was the US, not all that long ago. Other than breakfast cereals, which were just getting steam as marketing vehicles for kids when I was growing up, we just ate food. Nobody blinked. It wasn’t because my mom was a particularly fearsome presence at the dinner table, demanding compliance. We liked the food. So we ate it, pretty much.
But times have changed. I know of many kids who are legendary-picky – kids who eat only noodles or pasta with butter, and chocolate milk, day after day, year after year. Or just coffee cake, and milk – literally. Some kids venture into as many as four foods – pizza, mac and cheese, grilled cheese, and noodles with butter (which is really just two foods, wheat and dairy). I sigh a little each time I’m in a restaurant with a gorgeous farm to table menu, but pass by a table with the bowl of pasta, Parmesan, and butter for the eight year old, while everyone else enjoys the cornucopia we are so fortunate to have in the US.
There are myriad cookbooks full of tricks to slip vegetables and fruits into foods your child does like to eat. While you work on those, think about a longer term goal of seeing your child naturally gravitate to a variety of foods. Add these simple steps to trigger some innate curiosity in your child’s appetite. Allow at least two months for these tools to fully engage. It takes time for nutrients to be absorbed into spaces and places where they’ve been lacking for a long while, and get back on line doing their usual jobs.
Step 1 – Probiotics! You’ve no doubt heard about these friendly, helpful bacteria. Microflora, healthy gut bugs, probiotics – call them what you will – but make sure your child is hosting the right bacteria in his gut to support a healthy appetite. Eating a little yogurt every day – especially the squeezable fruity flavored kind – is not enough to do the trick. High daily doses of probiotics are needed to bust a picky appetite. These help digest food, produce nutrients we need, run interference on inflammation, maintain optimal pH for good digestion, and keep pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and mold species (yeast or Candida) under control. These gut microbes eat what we eat, and they eat first. They either leave behind toxins, or good stuff, depending on whether the intestine is harboring healthy or unhealthy microflora.
They also drive appetites. What I’ve observed for years in practice is just emerging in medical literature: Kids who have lost these good “bugs” tend to have either weak, picky appetites with reflux, or appetites that are ravenous but only for starchy foods or sweets. This is often a gut with Candida species (yeasts or molds) in control. Antibiotics kill bacteria but not yeasts or molds, so with each antibiotic dose, yeast microbes will flourish anew in the gut. As they crowd out the good bugs, they change gut pH over time so that digestion weakens, and can trigger reflux, constipation, or malabsorption. Yeast desperately needs simple carbs (as anyone who has baked with it will know), and this makes for fiercely rigid appetites in children whose guts are overly yeasty. Children may or may not show any other signs of yeast overgrowth besides that rigid appetite, so this often goes untreated. Confirmatory signs are large or painful-to-pass stools, constipation, ringworm patches, relentless red itchy diaper rash or rash at groin, urine or stool incontinence, bloating, a history of thrush in infancy… and, a penchant for bread, bread, sweets, pasta, bread, pizza, bagels, and bread.
What to do: Buy a high potency, high quality probiotic and have your child use it daily for at least three months. Look for a potency guarantee; a potency of 20 billion colony forming units (CFUs) per dose or more; mixed strains of Lactobacillus and Bifido species; and, no fillers. Many probiotics contain ingredients like inulin, which are added as food for the probiotic cultures – this is optional. Others have dairy ingredients, which are best avoided. There are many probiotic products out there – some of the best are only available on line or through health care providers. For more information about purchasing and administering these, see Special Needs Kids Go Pharm Free.
Sidebar: Kids whose guts are not colonized early in life with healthy microflora have more asthma, allergies, and problems with growth, feeding, and stooling. Besides taking antibiotics, kids can also lose these healthy microflora colonies if they were born via C-section delivery, if mom was given antibiotics while breastfeeding, or if they needed time in the NICU after birth.
Step 2 – Replenish zinc. This mineral has a big impact on appetite and power to improve a reluctant eater’s habits. Like most minerals, it is usually lacking in picky eaters’ food intakes. Most kids’ multivitamins don’t have enough zinc to overcome a poor eating pattern. Kids who have oral tactile sensitivity, who balk at varying food textures, who fall apart and stop eating if they encounter a novel texture, taste, or color in their food are often candidates for zinc replenishment. It’s a make-or-break nutrient for growth and onset of puberty too – so if your child seems later than expected in starting that pubertal boost, and has an appetite limited to starchy foods and milk, then there may be too little zinc in the mix. Besides a faint or mercurial appetite, other flags for low zinc are frequent infection, poor wound healing, skin that cracks near nails, white dots on nails, hypersensitivity to smells (and eventually, loss of sense of smell), or low taste acuity.
Zinc can be found aplenty in nuts, pork, dark meat poultry, cauliflower, eggs, some fruits and vegetables, and even pumpkin seeds. If this variety isn’t cpart of your child’s menu, add a chewable zinc lozenge or tablet (there are many on the market) that gives 15-20 mg zinc per lozenge; use it daily with food for 6-8 weeks, then check progress for appetite or other signs that describe low zinc. Your doctor can always check zinc status with a blood test too. 15-20 mg of zinc is a bit higher than the government’s dietary reference intake for healthy kids with good diets, but is workable because zinc has substantially lower toxicity than minerals like iron, and we’re talking about restoring a depleted status. I’ve dosed zinc to as high as 50 mg/day safely for children in my practice, but this is a path to take with professional guidance. Too much zinc can drive iron status downward, so don’t go overboard.
If a daily lozenge is a battle: Metagenics Zinc Drink (15 mg per teaspoon) is a tasteless colorless liquid that vanishes in juice, water, or any liquid. Available at many on line supplement sites or through health care providers. Other liquid preparations abound; many of these add magnesium and calcium too. Use these only at the lowest effective dose. Questions? Send me an e mail through my contact form at NutritionCare.net, or check with your doctor.
Step 3: Restore iron. This crucial nutrient is overlooked for kids, more than you might think. Iron deficiency anemia is not uncommon in American children; many more may have marginal iron status, a condition that precedes outright anemia that your pediatrician can discern with a blood test for ferritin, a protein that stores iron. Though pediatric reference ranges for ferritin drop as low as 10 (depending on the lab doing the test), a ferritin level below 30 usually coincides in my experience with some compromise in learning, attention, behavior, sleep – and appetite. Kids with weak iron status or anemia may put non-food items in their mouths often, to chew on or even try to eat: Ice, snow, dirt, dirty snow, sand, pebbles, wood, fabric, plastic toys, pencils, paper, or other objects are typical choices for a child in poor iron status. Other signals for poor iron status are pallor, irritability, insomnia, dark circles at eyes, outright lethargy and breathlessness with little exertion, or recurring infections. If this describes your child, tell your pediatrician so your child can be screened for iron status. The most informative testing includes ferritin, serum iron, hemoglobin and hematocrit, total iron binding capacity (“TIBC”) and perhaps a blood cell count (CBC).
Examples of some iron rich foods are lentils, kidney beans, chick peas (garbanzo beans) red meats, liver, sesame seeds or sesame butter (tahini), eggs, or dried prunes. Wheat breads and cereals (not the gluten-free versions) are often fortified, but I have encountered children with weak iron status who were eating these fortified items daily. Picky kids usually shun the other iron rich foods, or eat them too infrequently for them to keep up iron stores.
Restoring good iron status is easy to do with gentle, low doses of supplements or herbs (licorice, nettles, dandelion, thyme). Iron in good stead can help your child’s appetite broaden, and may trigger other benefits. If your child isn’t using an iron supplement, you can add one – but don’t give doses above 5-7 mg of iron daily, without your doctor’s guidance. You can also check if your child’s multivitamin has any iron in it. If it has only 5 mg per dose or less, your child may need more. Check with your doctor. Given to excess, iron is toxic and even fatally poisonous so don’t use iron supplements without guidance.
What to do: Two easy tools to supplement iron when necessary are VegLife chewable iron tablets (18 mg per tablet) for older children who weigh more or for children with very low ferritin, and Floradix Iron Plus Herbs liquid (10 mg in 2 teaspoons) for younger kids who need a daily reliable iron source. These are low dose and well tolerated by children in my experience. The Floradix liquid vanishes well in dark berry juices. I prefer food based forms or gentle supplemental forms like ferrous bis glycinate. Ferrous sulfate (the form usually prescribed by doctors for anemia) seems to trigger more stomach pain, constipation, and nausea than food-based forms or ferrous bis-glycinate.
Give these three steps three months to work for your child. Changes will be gradual, so consider a pre and post log book on what your child is eating. Check in with your doctor if you’re not certain for dosing supplements. If your child’s appetite hasn’t budged after these steps, I’d like to know about it!
I recently saw this: “25 Healthy Snacks for Kids” from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Not to be all sour grapes about it, but this seemed a tad out of touch. Millions of US children suffer from food allergies, which have skyrocketed in the last two decades. Every item on the ADA kid-snack list has wheat, gluten, dairy, peanut, or other nuts in it.
None of the kids in my practice can eat those snacks. Some have nut allergies ranging from life threatening (as in, even proximity to nuts may trigger hives or breathing problems) to annoying (stomach pain); others have gluten sensitivity, celiac, or allergies to myriad foods, from corn and soy to dairy and sesame seeds. Needless to say, this advice from the AND – which goes out to tens of thousands of dietitians in clinical practice – won’t do much for them, or the 8-10% of kids in the US with food allergies.
Part of my job is coming up with what kids can eat, and helping families transition to new options. It’s a challenge when a child has many disallowed foods at once. In my practice, I work to keep as many foods as possible in a child’s rotation. I also use gut health supports liberally, which may help a child tolerate more foods eventually, either without ill effects or with much-reduced ill effects. I pick probiotics that best suit a child’s situation (there are dozens of brands, blends, potencies, and strains to choose from), liposomal glutathione or glutathione boosters (a healthy intestinal wall is rich in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant; while an inflamed gut can be depleted of glutathione), and supplemental, non-inflammatory protein sources as medical foods. All these tools and more can enhance gut wall tissue repair. But kids still need to eat. So, in that spirit, here are some snack suggestions for kids with food allergies:
1. Hummus (chick pea, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt; add tahini if sesame is tolerated) to dip into with crisp bell pepper strips or cucumbers, rice crackers, celery, or carrot. Add extra olive oil for kids needing to boost calories from healthy fats/oils. Allow corn chips if tolerated too.
2. Other non-dairy dips: Babaganoush (baked eggplant dip, similar ingredients as above; available pre-made like hummus for busier families), white bean dip with crumbled bacon (recipe in Special Needs Kids Eat Right), healthy refried beans with minced olives and scallions. Use for dipping or roll in soft corn tortilla or soft rice flour tortilla.
3. This can be a meal, snack, or dessert: Gluten free crepes with cooked fruit fillings, or savory vegetable fillings, or scrambled egg and Daiya cheese with salsa. Gluten free crepes are easy to make as long as your child tolerates eggs. A hand blender tool makes this job simple. The Gluten-Free Italian CookBook by Mary Capone is my favorite source for this recipe – and many others! If you have time to peel and saute apple slices with ghee (clarified, casein free butter), cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little sugar, fill crepes with this for a delightful special treat. If not, look for high quality, organic juice-pack canned fruit, organic if possible; heat gently, spice to taste, and fill crepes. Savory items that kids often like in crepes are breakfast sausage (minced) with cheese (see Daiya cheese substitute above; or try goat milk cheese, which many children tolerate over cow’s milk varieties); zucchini sauteed with onion, tomato, oregano).
4. Stir honey, coconut yogurt (plain), dash of vanilla and a spoonful of tahini together to a smooth consistency for dipping. Add a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg. Dip in fresh fruit chunks of melon, banana, celery, or avocado.
5. Guacamole and gluten free bread for dipping. Bakeries like Udi’s, Rudi’s, and Outside-The-Bread-Box are just a few among newly emerging ones specializing in gluten-free sandwich breads, bagels, and pita breads. A local favorite for Boulder is Kim and Jakes baguettes – which are taking our restaurants here by storm. A panini press can help kids transition to GF sandwich bread. Make their regular favorites into panini’s, and they may like the new taste. Spray bread lightly with olive oil, stack with your child’s favorites, and press.
6. Gluten free oats make the same delicious oatmeal cookies as regular oats. Use a gluten free flour blend, hemp or rice milk, and Earth Balance margarine for kids with dairy and nut sensitivities. Add raisins, dates, sunflower seeds, or even dark chocolate chips.
7. Soften corn tortillas and fill with leftover baked chicken, minced and heated in garlic, olive oil, and lime juice. Add a dash of sugar if you like.
8. Pick up some fresh vegetable sushi from your local grocer. Many supermarkets now make their own. Avocado, carrot, cucumber or cooked crab roll are often kid favorites. Use wheat free tamari instead of the pouch of soy sauce that comes with it (this will contain wheat).
9. Power shake: Fresh or canned organic peaches (unsweetened), teaspoon Pharmax Finest Pure Fish oil or cod liver oil (orange flavor), a local organic egg (drop it in raw, from a source you know and trust), ripe cantaloupe melon chunks, 2 ounces whole coconut milk. With or without crushed ice.
10. Power shake 2: Half a ripe avocado, 2 scoops So Delicious chocolate ice cream (coconut based, dairy and soy free), vanilla almond milk 4 oz (hemp, coconut, or rice milk if necessary), 1/2 scoop Ultra Care For Kids powder (rice-based medical food for kids), dash gluten free vanilla. If you’re willing to make it a mocha, add 2 oz black decaf coffee. Skip sugar entirely by using unsweetened cocoa powder (2 TBSP) and a dash of stevia powder instead.
11. Blend 1 tablespoon Barlean’s Omega Swirl with 1 teaspoon coconut oil and 1/4 cup apple, orange, or pineapple juice. Toss over berries, cantaloupe, banana with shredded coconut, sunflower or sesame seeds, and chopped figs.
12. Gluten free toaster waffle (like Van’s) spread with sesame tahini, or any tolerated nut butter (cashew, almond, macadamia), and raw honey or fruit spread. Make it a sandwich and add banana slices in there too. Gluten free quick bread, like the pumpkin bread recipe in Special Needs Kids Eat Right, can be baked in 1-inch muffin tins for packing into lunch boxes. Corn bread, chocolate zucchini bread, or berry-filled muffins are other ways to sneak in calories, ground flax seed, or gluten free oats for added fiber.
13. What’s not to love about avocados? Cut soft ripe chunks into a bowl and toss with lime juice, olive oil, and salt. You’re done, eat it. Or make it more hearty: Add leftover salmon or tuna (if you eat these), sunflower seeds, and chopped cherry tomatoes. Toss with more olive oil, citrus, and salt to taste.
14. A more allergy friendly trail mix: Dark (dairy and gluten free such as Enjoy Life brand) chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, chopped dates, coconut shreds, dried pineapple, dried mango, raisins
15. Rice Crispie bars made with whole grain brown rice cereal. A good recipe for this can be found in the Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook, along with many other health promoting and delicious recipes that are free of gluten, dairy, and egg.
16. Last but not least: Sometimes pudding is just right. Rebecca Reilly’s Gluten Free Baking has a fast chocolate pudding recipe for kids who can manage soy but not dairy. It uses soft tofu, honey, fruit syrup, and cocoa powder. See the Silk Pie recipe on page 143, and just pour the pie filling into pudding cups, chill, and serve with fresh raspberry on top.
17. Visit two of my favorite recipe blogs for kids (or anyone) with food allergy and sensitivity: Renegade Kitchen and Food Sensitivity Journal. Both of these were created by professionals – one a chef, the other an attorney – with food allergy themselves, and both offer inspiring strategies for eating well. More favorite recipe hangouts for me are PaleoPlan.com and BalancedBites.com.
Growth data wasn’t part of the study
You may have seen the press often refer to a study from the University of Rochester that claims to debunk whether special diets help children with autism. This is one of those studies that gets legs and is off and running. Well, it got under my skin. Not only was this study on nutrition interventions for autism diagnoses poorly designed (in spite of the researchers calling it “the most controlled to date”) – turns out, I was born in the hospital where it was done! The challenge was on.
The study’s flaws are many. In fact, I couldn’t help but notice that it appeared designed to bury or defeat a beneficial effect from using a special diet measure for an autism diagnosis. The take-away from this work was essentially that “special diets don’t help children with autism” – when it should be “diets may help some kids with autism, but we can’t know which ones, unless they are screened for nutrition and GI problems.”
Don’t lose heart, and don’t believe this fail of a study. Here’s what went wrong:
It was too small – and its authors acknowledge that. Only 14 children were in the test group. By contrast, Dr. Andrew Wakefield got roundly criticized for noticing an effect in only 12 children, in his original Lancet piece on autism and gastrointestinal features. We can’t have it both ways: If it’s invalid to see an effect because you saw it in only 12 children, then it’s also invalid to say you saw no effect in only 14 children. The fact is, both findings deserve more study.
Children with gastrointestinal symptoms were excluded – meaning that the very children who might benefit from a nutrition intervention were purposely left out! Why? Again, lead author Susan Hyman MD acknowledges this flaw: “The study didn’t include children with significant gastrointestinal disease. It’s possible those children and other specific groups might see a benefit.” In fact, one child who was found to have celiac disease was excluded as well – an obvious candidate for improvement on a GF diet. Another was excluded for iron deficiency. Thank goodness these kids were initial candidates. How else would their parents have learned that their children had serious problems known to impair learning, growth, development, and immune function, treatable only with a nutrition intervention? It’s incredible that this study actually left out kids with the most to gain from a gluten / casein free diet!
Was soy allowed? Nobody knows – No mention is made of what protein sources replaced gluten and casein. If soy was allowed, this is a sure fail. It will confound progress, because soy protein forms the same opiate-like peptides in those who have maldigestion, can be constipating or cause bloating, and is often inflammatory. Using it as a daily protein replacement (soy milk, soy yogurt, tofu, edamame or other soy foods) will erase benefits of removing gluten and casein.
It was too short – Study duration was only four weeks – too short to notice a significant effect from removing gluten or casein. This is because it can take three to six months for antibodies to foods to drop, and several weeks for diet-sourced opiate peptides from foods to drop also. The authors cut the trial too short – but get this: The authors did notice a positive effect, but it did not reach statistical significance. With a more appropriate length trial, a statistically significant effect may well have been seen. Typically, in my clinical practice, benefits are just starting to emerge at about week three or four of a GF CF trial; I recommend a three to four month trial before drawing conclusions.
Nutrition assessment was partial and weak – A weak pre-trial nutrition assessment was done. It screened for iron status, vitamin D level, and IgE food allergy to wheat or dairy. It left out screening for IgG food reactions, bowel infections, other gut health concerns, other mineral or vitamin status, or growth impairments. There was no post-trial nutrition assessment, and there’s no mention of standards like body mass index or growth parameters. This means we have no idea what these kids’ nutrition diagnoses actually were at the start. We also never learn if their nutrition status improved during the trial, or if the GF CF diet was even indicated for them. Many nutrition problems are documented in children with autism, including low body mass index, growth failure, low ferritin, other vitamin and mineral deficiencies, low essential fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids, bowel infections, and so on. The authors had an opportunity to get a good work up on these kids pre and post trial, but passed on it.
Was the food truly “blinded”? – Though the authors made an effort to “blind” the food, it’s a stretch to think that food can indeed be blinded – especially for children with autism. These tend to be kids with extremely picky appetites and a fierce radar for ingredients and textures they either want, or hate. But we’re left in the dark on how successful that was for families in the study.
The study errs in its very premise – that we can test a single diet as a treatment for autism, which isn’t exactly possible. Kids with autism vary for their nutrition and GI concerns, and may need different treatment protocols for these.
It’s a fail. The study authors picked children with autism who were least likely to respond, tested them too briefly, and permitted confounders like soy, other nutrition deficits, or GI problems. This design is akin to randomly choosing a group of kids with autism with widely varying and unassessed differences in behavior or functional ability, giving all of them Ability for two weeks, and then, when results are lackluster, declaring all psychiatric medications to be of no value to children with autism.
Special diets treat nutrition problems. Autism is often accompanied by these. Call it what it is and do the job right. You can screen children with autism for nutrition problems beyond the sparse, low sensitivity tests these authors used. Work from there to help your child learn, grow, thrive, eat, sleep, and behave better. Help them to potential. Start with my E-Book Five Essential Lab Tests For Kids With Autism – this can define the workable pieces most likely to help your child, and help with how to get these tests done as cheaply as possible. Here’s to your kids’ health, wellness, and happiness!
Remember when Sarah Palin declared October 2007 “Breastfeeding Awareness Month”? I didn’t either. But Michelle Obama’s efforts to support it got me thinking on it again. How could anyone possibly have anything bad to say about it?
My breastfeeding days were much shorter than I’d hoped. I only lasted six months, after struggling to nurse my baby on a deeply restricted diet that left me depleted and exhausted. He had multiple food protein sensitivities, and was a slow suckler with poor oral tone, taking hours daily at my breast to get little sustenance. I actually sat on my couch for nine hours daily, with him sipping tepidly. Then there was night time. Yes, we had a lactation consultant; no, it didn’t help. I didn’t relish sitting on my couch all day month after month, and he wasn’t exactly thriving for all this effort. Neither of us was too happy, or feeling too well. I pumped milk to keep an adequate supply and froze the surplus, hoping to get it in him somehow later. But he sniffed at the frozen-then-thawed milk, and refused it. The sad day came when I tearfully filled two large black plastic garbage bags with 4 ounce vials of my frozen milk, and threw it all away.
As a public health nutritionist, former WIC counselor, La Leche League fan, and registered dietitian, there was more than the usual burden of shame and failure in this for me. I had been whipped into shape on breastfeeding by not one but two of my graduate advisors, both fierce advocates and published scientists for it. There isn’t much I can say about breast-feeding that isn’t already well said. The evidence is broad, strong, and consistent. Breast-feeding saves lives and reduces infections; it diminishes the likelihood of obesity, cancers, and diabetes in children later on. The list of diseases against which breast milk offers protection is long. Its capacity to transfer immunity against Haemophilus influenza meningitis (aka “Hib” on the vaccine schedule) measles, and even diphtheria has been widely published. La Leche Leauge International’s website notes its protective effects against ear and respiratory infections, pneumonia, allergies, urinary tract infections, and even SIDS, the third leading cause of death in infants. Breastfeeding saves money too: Pediatrics released a study earlier this year that calculated a thirteen billion dollar annual savings, if 90% of US mothers would comply with breastfeeding to age six months.
Besides protecting against diseases for which you carry immunity, your breast milk allows colonies of beneficial microflora to take root in your baby’s gut. These reduce odds for allergies and asthma later in life. Formula does a lesser job at this, and encourages disruptive microbial species. Formula manufacturers will do what they can to mimic a first food for our babies, but they simply will never get it right: Human milk has thousands of distinct components that support the immune system in some way, including antibodies, lactoferrin, and dozens of different prebiotic oligosaccharides – that is, carbohydrates specific to beneficial microbes in the baby’s gut. According to a 2007 UNICEF report, breastfeeding is the number one reason why child mortality has dropped worldwide…followed by vitamin A supplementation, and mosquito netting (Bill Gates, are you listening? The top three lifesavers for children worldwide do not include vaccines.).
With breast milk so successful at preventing death and disease in infants and toddlers, and at preventing long term health disasters that are incredibly costly burdens to society, why is so little said to moms about it, when it comes to that moment of meeting your newborn? Why are hospitals still putting formula samples in the newborn bassinette? Why not have a milk bank instead – expensive, but perhaps the benefits would outweigh the health care costs prevented. Lactation support staff is a great step, but with moms leaving the hospital in less than 72 hours after giving birth, little time is allowed to settle into a successful routine for anyone but the most motivated, or the easiest nursers – which my son was not.
I’m puzzled by the often neutral attitude many pediatricians have toward breastfeeding, compared to the, um, foaming-at-the-mouth attitude they have for vaccinating. Given the facts on safety and efficacy of breastfeeding versus vaccines, you might think it would be the other way around. Vaccines fail frequently (that is, kids who are vaccinated still get diseases they’re vaccinated against), and they injure often (the government has paid billions in claims for injuries and deaths caused by vaccines). Breastfeeding does neither. Over 80% of parents today have expressed worries for the safety of vaccines, which pediatricians push with a heavy hand. We all want our babies to avoid infections and build healthy immunity; why not push breastfeeding with the same urgency as vaccines? Pediatrics says it would save money; UNICEF shows it saves lives. Instead of kicking parents out of their practices, pediatricians can support families deferring or delaying shots by informing on alternate strategies to prevent infection – like breastfeeding, or naturopathic measures to control infection and boost immune function for babies (see Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free for more ideas in that regard).
Imagine if as much pressure was placed on moms to breast feed, as there is on moms to vaccinate their babies in the first six months. Imagine if we had a cohort of exclusively breast-fed, unvaccinated infants followed to age five years, versus a cohort of babies who were vaccinated and exclusively breastfed. For good measure, let’s throw in a cohort of babies who were formula fed and vaccinated on schedule. To my knowledge, these data haven’t been collected and reviewed (though there are populations available to study).
Twist: We have now got the added dilemma of weak, false or transient immunity in women of child bearing age, women born since 1980; these are women who were brought up on many more vaccines than the generation before them. They have not had many of the natural infections I had as a kid, or my mother had; this means that their breast milk may not be the immune powerhouse that my own mother’s was in 1960, after she passed through the usual childhood infections of measles, chickenpox, even scarlet fever (she is alive and well at 84, never gets flu shots – and rarely if ever gets flu). Natural infections strengthen and invigorate the immune system, but as a species, have we weakened this to an extreme by vaccinating so often, and so early?
Meanwhile, perhaps our health care system can step in with strategies to overcome the obstacles to breastfeeding. For me, this would have meant access to a milk bank, so I could have continued giving breast milk to my son. I also needed help with restoring my own health and nutrition, after a pregnancy that started for twins but yielded only one live birth (I grew for two, but only delivered one). If I could have slept, re-nourished and replenished myself, and gotten breaks, my baby’s health and my health could both have soared. The missing piece was support from my health care providers: My pediatrician told me to give up after just two weeks of nursing my son, and actually snickered at my insistence that we keep trying.
Obesity, diabetes, allergies, ear infections, meningitis, pneumonia, and flu are high on the radar for your pediatrician. Breast feeding is the very first thing, and perhaps the best thing, we can do to prevent these for our children. I would have gladly donated my surplus milk to a milk bank, and would have welcomed a tax deduction for it too. It’s a convenient sound byte to call supports like this “nanny state”, but that is all it is – a clever sound byte. We have a great resource in mom’s milk, and I hope pediatricians will crack their texts anew to learn why breastfeeding is so important. Hey, I still have two vials of that milk in the freezer. I wonder if it has chicken pox antibodies?