Even though I became a mom a long while ago (1996), and so much has changed since then, I still remember how it felt to go from independent young woman to faceless market niche. Not what I expected!
I was thirty five years old and pretty comfortable in my own skin. I had graduate and undergraduate degrees in my profession, enjoyed working, and was healthy, fit, and strong. But all of a sudden, it was as if I was no longer any of those things.
Now, I was a “pregnant woman”. And, I noticed, that meant that I no longer belonged to me. I belonged to the obstetrician/midwife, to that dreadful book “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” (at the time this featured a sad, lonely woman sitting in a rocking chair on its cover), to Graco (baby stuff maker de rigeur), to Hanna Andersson, to the pediatrician, and to any stranger, friend, or foe who felt it necessary to give me advice.
I felt palpable expectations for my behavior all around me, and everyone seemed to be quite uninhibited in letting me know how “pregnant women” behave or what they are supposed to do. The only word I can conjure here is “obedient”. Pregnant women are supposed to be obedient. Obey what society would like you to do, buy, wear, and say, regarding your pregnancy and children. I didn’t see that coming. I was taken aback by it, and tried to shake it off. But it lingered.
From the get go, I was not encouraged to cultivate my intuition as a mother, or listen to my own body. The idea that perhaps I might like to tap some innate wisdom deep in myself was an embarrassment at best. I was definitely supposed to listen to everybody else. Going inward toward my own knowing was regarded as quaint but unnecessary, or, just plain selfish, dumb, or stubborn. Don’t you know? The doctor will tell you everything you need to know. Besides, aren’t you exhausted from this birth business, breastfeeding, laundry, the sleep deprivation (yes)? Let the experts drive the bus.
Some harsh events at my son’s birth and infancy made me quickly understand how deeply rooted in our own knowing women must be, as we meet this moment in our lives. It’s crucial for your well being. It’s also crucial for your baby’s safety and health, from the moment you first cradle them to the moment you launch your young adult child toward their own lives. We women need that quiet, still, reassuring connection to our intuition. How else do you communicate with your baby, before or after they arrive in our world? No one else is more equipped than you to do this!
You’re the mom, you’re the vessel nurturing this new life, from conception into the first couple of years of your child’s life. Even after that, intuition doesn’t go away. And adoptive moms will know this too, in their own fashion. Honoring and cultivating that connection will help you be a happier mom and will help your child be healthier.
In my pediatric nutrition practice, I hear time and again about struggles mothers have with medical resources that they are tapping to help their children get better. I usually meet the infants, toddlers, kids and teens who have been failed by conventional medicine, who have been through the medical ringer. Their moms are at wits’ end, they are sad, they have tried everything, done everything their doctors told them to do. They have submitted their children for procedure after procedure, surgeries, all the recommended inoculations, exams, blood draws, endoscopies, barium swallows, rounds of strong drugs, and more. But their kids are still so sick, not able, not well. Life is a blur of specialist appointments, medications, pumps for feeding tubes, and so on.
At this point, I often discover that although these moms do everything they can for their children, the one thing they didn’t do is put their intuition in charge. They have let others decide what’s best for their babies. They weighed expert opinions carefully but left out their own heart. And by the time I meet them, they realize this oversight and express regret. They were trying hard to be rational, safe, obedient. They gave away their intuitive power, and question if keeping it would have meant their children would have suffered less.
Mine would have. I deeply regret allowing his vaccinations at age two and four months, after he had already been hospitalized for an adverse reaction from his newborn hepatitis B shot. The follow up shots nearly killed my son just as he began to settle down. They triggered violent seizures, tremors, and neuromotor problems that lasted for years. He has struggled with learning, vision, and sensory processing challenges as a result. I let the pediatrician bully me. My urge to swaddle up my son and just bolt from the office before the nurse arrived with her tray of needles? I squelched it. I stood stock still – obedient. I then watched my infant son’s face contort in pain as needles sunk into his thighs and I knew I had betrayed his trust, and betrayed myself as a knowing and intuitive mother.
Honor that direct line, that hot line, straight to your own intuition. It lets you call your highest knowingest self, any time day or night, and listen in. No interference. No self doubt. Just an accepting, neutral, no-judgment you on the other end of the line, with a sureness for your next steps, as a mom. What would that be like? What would it mean for your child? What would it mean for you, to unapologetically claim your own prowess and tap your own wisdom?
You have that voice. The more you pick up the line and listen, the more you’ll feel it. The harder it will be to ignore.
Finding our feet, cozy at home
Here’s to your intuition as a mom, and to all the times you honored it. Read these amazing accounts of moms who did. Your intuition is not just for emergencies. It will guide you to know your child better than anyone, and listen to their needs when they aren’t able to communicate them to you. No doctor in the land has that ability, but that voice will connect you to providers and helpers who are here to lift your child up on their journey to good health.
Another measles outbreak made the news this week as nearly fifty cases (so far) were counted after an outbreak began at Disneyland in California. Even though “patient zero” – the individual who was the source of the outbreak – has yet to be identified, the usual scare-mongering was in force with grim reminders of deaths from measles: 123 to be exact, in the US, over a three year period from 1989-1991. What we never learn is whether these deaths happened in vaccinated or unvaccinated children, or what background health problems or nutrition deficits they may have had to make them vulnerable. We don’t know if patient zero was vaccinated, but odds are strong that s/he was – see below. We are simply (mis)led to believe that because somebody wasn’t vaccinated, somebody died, or will die. The “anti-vaccine movement” is blamed, again.
But here are the facts, straight from the CDC’s mouth:
• Nearly 95% of US children are vaccinated against measles (2014 measles vaccine coverage data)
• Deaths from measles in the US dramatically dropped to fewer than 2 per 100,000 by 1945 (see page 93 here), nearly twenty years before a vaccine existed.
• Measles vaccine has been failing since the early 1980’s, with dramatic outbreaks spreading through fully vaccinated populations. Despite this investigation being published by the CDC itself, media outlets today keep telling us that this only happens because of people who don’t vaccinate. Earlier this year, even Science Magazine made this very gaff, with a headline so dramatically wrong it’s almost comical: “Measles Outbreak Traced To Vaccinated Person For First Time “.
Even though these periodic outbreaks continue despite nearly every child in the US getting MMR shots, the CDC, your pediatrician, school principal, neighbor, auntie, and everyone else will tell you it’s your fault there’s an outbreak, if your child didn’t get an MMR shot. Even if your child is well while all the vaccinated kids are getting sick with measles, they will still believe this to be true and will still blame you for it.
That’s when you might whip out this pearl: “This outbreak demonstrates that transmission of measles can occur within a school population with a documented immunization level of 100%” (see 1980’s link above). There you have it: Every kid in the school where this outbreak occurred had been fully immunized. Every. Single. One. And this is not an unusual scenario.
If that doesn’t seem crazy enough, here’s how the CDC explained this disconcerting fail of MMR vaccine, in the carefully investigated and documented 1983 outbreak: “…this outbreak may have resulted from chance clustering of otherwise randomly distributed vaccine failures in the community.” Of course, this missive wraps the topic by saying it’s important to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, acquiring measles infection from vaccination itself has been documented.
Obviously, MMR vaccination is not eradicating measles. It may even be spreading measles. And risks from this vaccine are real. Personally, I have worked with many families who are certain that the descent into autism that their children experienced was due to an MMR shot. Reviewing their medical charts carefully, I can’t disagree. What’s a parent to do?
This is a huge topic, and I can’t begin to tackle it in a single blog. For more on why measles vaccines may be failing us more than we know, start here.
Still, I would say this: Fear not. My siblings and I grew up in the era when your pediatrician was worried if you didn’t get measles, not the other way around. Measles, chickenpox, and mumps infections were regarded as beneficial childhood milestones that developed a vigorous, healthy immune system. Measles infection was so benign for healthy children that our lexicon created the word “measly” from it – meaning, insignificant, or “contemptibly small“. How times have changed! Pediatricians today who are under forty years old may never have seen a healthy child with measles in the flesh, and may be ill-prepared to nurture and nourish that child through it.
Food and nutrition support children in having an uncomplicated course of infection. While a well nourished child who gets measles is going to be sick for a week or two, complications from measles are what can be life threatening, more so than measles itself. These can include pneumonia or encephalitis. But these are extremely rare in children who are healthy and in strong nutrition status, before exposure. This doesn’t mean that sprinkling a poorly nourished child with supplements during fever and illness will do the trick (though certain ones may help). Here’s what that means:
– Measles infection and measles vaccination as MMR both present vigorous demands for the immune system. Your child’s nutrition status before, during, and after exposure can determine the severity of illness/reaction and whether or not there are complications. While sick with measles, your child probably won’t feel like eating, will have a fever, and may have diarrhea. Measles exposure (natural or injected) triggers changes in gut tissue and immune function, causing children to lose protein in stool during this illness, when the immune system most needs it. Replenish your child daily with good food during this infection. If they feel too nauseous to eat, feed organic beef broth or bone broths that are not low sodium – your child needs electrolytes here. Stir a half teaspoon of ghee or grass fed butter (a vitamin A source) into the broth. Give electrolyte drinks and any protein rich foods they will accept. Lactose intolerance is a documented effect for some children exposed to measles, so if dairy foods that your child usually loves suddenly feel awful during this illness, switch to non-dairy protein sources like egg, meats, chicken, homemade broths, or any tolerated legumes/beans/peas. Elemental amino acid formulas and supplements are available too. Contact me if you need more information on these products.
– Your child’s weight relative to his height should be in a healthy range. Body mass index should be above 10th percentile. Underweight children, especially those with a body mass index or weight-to-height ratio below the fifth percentile, are at higher risk for infection in general and for more complications from infections. Though we often hear about childhood obesity in the US, most children in my practice are struggling with gaining weight and growing – and these are kids who get sick more often, stay sick longer, and have more complications.
– Iron status should be robust. The best way to measure this is to check a child’s ferritin level. It should be at least 30, though reference ranges drop to 10. Signs of weak iron status include pallor, veins visible through skin, shiners at eyes, penchant for chewing ice or other non-food items (sticks, rocks, sand, pens, paperclips, fabric), fatigue, intermittent hyperactivity, depression or mood swings, or poor sleep. Teen girls may have heavier menses when iron deficient. Iron is the single most commonly deficient nutrient world wide, including in US children.
– Vitamins A and C should be strong in your child’s diet every day. These are specifically protective for measles virus and will be depleted by the demands made on the immune system if your child is exposed. Cod liver oil, whole milk or butter, brightly colored vegetables and fruits are all good sources, and can add omega 3 fats also, which help modulate immune function.
– Zinc status should be strong. Eat zinc rich foods daily – raw cashews, nut butters, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, pork, lamb, beef, mushrooms, or legumes and beans are good sources. You can also use a supplement to 15-30 mg daily for children in most cases.
– Give your child strong protein status so his immune system has the building blocks needed to make globulins and other immune molecules to mount a defense. Your child should be eating at least 35-60 grams protein daily depending on age, from varied sources (that is, not just milk, cheese, and yogurt – see my blog on dairy addiction if that is your kid).
The role of nutrition in preventing measles and lessening the impact of this infection is legendary in public health circles, and has filled volumes for decades – from vitamin A status as a predictor of measles deaths, to how fish oils modulate certain immune proteins in our bodies. Your child can have marginal status for any of these nutrition factors without your pediatrician’s notice – a scenario I routinely find in my pediatric nutrition practice. Pediatricians have little training in applied nutrition, and even less time to use it in clinic, where they must turn over dozens of patient visits per day. If you’re not sure what your child needs to build strong immunity, contact me for an appointment.
If you think it’s challenging to argue with a four year old about what they should eat, wait til that kid is sixteen.
Teens need strong nutrition as much if not more than four year olds. Entering puberty, kids are entering an explosive growth spurt second only to what is experienced in utero. Not only are pre-teens and teens hitting the steepest part of the growth curve (just look at a growth chart), they are building out organs, tissues, brain capacity, and muscle mass that will carry reproductive, physical, and cognitive capacities for them as adults. You’ve got the vagaries of hormone changes and growing so fast that it can literally hurt, at the same age that kids yearn for independence and lack foresight. One of the easiest ways to express that is through food.
Like never before, teens with some independence have unprecedented access to the emptiest foods. Processed fast food full of high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated or trans fats, simple starches, additives, colorings, and genetically modified dairy, meats, and grains are in everything they may grab. Think pizza dough, tomato sauce, burgers, fries, soda, frappucino’s… or not eating at all as they rush out the door.
Strike a happy medium. Don’t make food a battleground. Your teenager may have all the ferocity s/he did as a toddler for being stubborn and oppositional, but with the mobility and freedom of a young adult. Here’s how to make it work a little better:
1 – Cook real food meals at least twice a week, or as often as you can. Eat together. Make your son or daughter’s favorite meal. Make this a comfort zone. Don’t tackle heavy topics or bicker over homework. Your teen will come back to it, time and again. Though they may never express it, this will build nourishment as well as a sense of safety and security. It will also support their palates for better food than they can buy out with friends.
2 – Make sure breakfast is an option, and include protein. Many kids rush out of the house without any food, once in adolescence. But even a small amount of protein in the morning can help regulate thyroid function, adrenal function, and brain readiness for school (or driving to school, if your teen is doing that). Starchy starts will not prime these pumps as well, so have protein rich snacks or easy to make foods ready for them to grab and eat, or carry:
- Have a pot of hot cereal on the stove like whole grain brown rice, pumpkin with almond flour, or gluten free oatmeal. Add flax meal, ghee, butter, or coconut manna, plus ground cashews, raisins, or macadamia nuts. Cinnamon and stevia or a dash of maple syrup or honey can be plenty of sweetener. Avoid sugary, processed instant versions of hot cereal. For faster cooking, use the blade attachment on an immersion blender to grind whole oats or brown rice cereal to finer texture before cooking. Most of us can’t do this every day, but even once a week is a helpful measure.
- Eggs take seconds to prepare. If even this is too time consuming, hard boil eggs ahead of time so your teen can pack one walking out the door.
- Toast, bagels, or English muffins work best when eaten with some protein. Spread with any tolerated nut butter, add cream cheese and lox, or spread with butter and add cheese. Gluten free versions of all of these are available. To replace cheese, use raw goat milk cheddar or chevre (often tolerated when cow’s milk cheeses are not). Proscuitto slices or spreads with salads made from ham, salmon, turkey, or chicken will fuel the brain and endocrine system better than just grains alone.
- If power smoothies are appealing, you’re in luck. Have ingredients on hand to mix a shake of choice – for your liquid base, use any tolerated milks, including whole canned unsweetened coconut milk, unsweetened almond or cashew milk, or coconut water. Add a healthy fat with ripe avocado, any tolerated nut butter (sunflower, peanut butter, cashew, almond, sesame tahini), a high quality olive oil, coconut manna or oil, or BulletProof Brain Octane (purified MCT oil from coconut). And of course, include protein! My go-to protein powders are grass fed collagen (BulletProof, Zint, or Josh Axe to name a few), ImmunoPro organic grass fed whey protein (if dairy is okay), Apex Glycemovite, Thorne Medibolic, and Systemic Formulas Metabo-Shake or Orgain powder (vegan or dairy based – but this brand does have more sugar than all the others). The goal is to give a morning protein boost that is hypoallergenic, and easy to digest and absorb, with a strong amino acid profile to fuel focus and attention chemistry in the brain. I skip soy protein altogether in my practice; it is problematic for many kids. Fats give this staying power. Fruit-and-greens-only smoothies are less supportive, so always add a fat and a protein to these blends.
- Broths live on my stove at least once a week, when we have finished a roasted chicken or have a ham bone. You can buy bones to cook delicious stocks, or even buy high quality finished broth. Simmer for a day or more (see instructions here) and ladle out a soothing hot drink in the morning that will replenish minerals, some healthy fats, and even a little protein. Drop an egg into hot broth and cook for a minute or two, for an extra boost. Delicious with chopped scallion, cilantro, and a few fresh spinach leaves too. This is a fast food way to get strong minerals, protein and fats.
- There’s always leftovers. If last night’s dinner still sounds good, reheat and eat. No rules about what to eat when, as long as it nourishes and supports.
3 – Support sleep pattern with real food. In adolescence, sleep patterns shift (in case you haven’t noticed!), often in direct conflict with school schedules. “Sleep is food for the brain” – and your teenager’s brain needs food for sleep. You may not be able to get your teen to sleep before 10:30 PM, but you can have light snacks available in your home in the evening. This can support a good night’s sleep rather than fitful sleep, and can ease the brain toward better melatonin production.
- Avoid sugary treats near bedtime like processed breakfast cereal with low fat milk. These will spike blood sugar and disrupt cortisol rhythms during the night, and can trigger wakefulness.
- Hot cocoa may work fine if sweetened with stevia (not sugar), and if a rich milk blend is used instead of low fat milks. Try this recipe, and add a scoop of whey protein or collagen. If not, add a snack of raw almonds, cashews, or even pepperoni slices. Cocoa does have some caffeine!
- Build a sandwich with protein (nut butters, meats, hummus, pesto spread), or have a second (third?) helping of dinner, as long as it offers some protein and is more than just a bowl of noodles. Stir in some meat, egg, quinoa, or frozen peas.
Many supplements can support sleep, but if blood sugar is on a roller coaster during the night either from too little food or too much starchy-sugary food, the only answer may be to change what is eaten during the day and in the evening. Another sleep disruptor is food opiates. Yes, you can make opiates from food! These have many negative effects, from mood disorders to aphasia, insomnia, and constipation. A simple urine test can screen for this problem, and simple diet changes can solve it. See my e book on Milk Addicted Kids for more info.
Food has as big an impact on functioning, learning, sleep, mood and behavior in adolescence as it does for babies and toddlers. Engage interest by appealing to whatever is high on your teenager’s list. From clearing acne, to playing a better soccer game, to getting better grades, to improving anxiety, depression, or fatigue, nutrition can be dramatically supportive. As always, I’m here to help. Contact me to set up a plan for your budding young adult today.
So you flunked out of GAPS. Now what?
GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) is a diet strategy branded and popularized by a Natasha Campbell McBride, beginning in 2004 with the release of her first book. The strategy is what functional and integrative nutritionists, naturopaths, and MDs love: Repair the gut with real food. Skip grains and sugars. Eat beautiful fats from organic sources. Use potent probiotics especially from fermented foods. Simple, right?
It is simple, and I love how GAPS is aligned with most everything I do in my practice. But many families have trouble with GAPS, and tell me they just couldn’t keep up with the demands of this strategy. Their kids hate the food. Or it’s too hard to cook so much food from scratch. Or fermenting foods at home is too much trouble. Or it’s too much of a disappointment to have less than stellar results, after this diet purports to cure autism and other illnesses and so many rave about it.
Is there a happy medium? I think so. Here’s 7 Steps To GAPS Success.
1 – Don’t give up on gut health. GAPS didn’t put this idea on the map! It has been around for decades in many other circles, and there are other ways to get there. Gut health for brain health is part of what created the maelstrom of controversy around Andrew Wakefield back in 1998, the British gastroenterologist who wondered (in print) if autism could be linked to viral infection in the gut. It was then that he coined the phrase “gut-brain axis”. This questioning cost him his job and credentials. Now this phrase is a household word for integrative nutritionists like me. If GAPS failed your family, explore other angles for gut-brain health. It really is all about the gut, but GAPS may not be your path.
2 – Consider drugs. I know, I know – no one wants to use antibiotics. Or prescription antifungals. But I have encountered many infants and young children suffering needlessly with failure to thrive, dehydration, chronic malaise, muscle weakness, and seizures because of a refusal (either by parents or doctors) to allow a drug treatment for a found bowel infection. Yes, eventually, a good diet plus probiotics and enzymes in fermented foods may do the trick. But for infants and children, if underweight is a problem, it may take too long – and they may not have this time. If you are on your fourth visit to the ER with a distressed, failure-to-thrive infant or toddler, it’s time. When your four year old’s stool culture shows 4+ Candida parapsilosis, 4+ Staphylococcus aureus, and 3+ Klebsiella pneumoniae, they are refusing any food except fluid milk, and they are not growing or developing as expected… it’s time. Your child may experience immediate relief and improvement with a prescription drug strategy for quick destruction of these offenders. A child’s body can be too weak to fight these things on its own, especially when they are already underweight or at a body mass index below tenth percentile. Usually, drug treatment opens the floodgates for better appetite, better growth, better stools, and better gain and functioning. Your child just may start loving those luscious bone broths and fermented side dishes you toiled over, so you can begin immediately after a drug treatment to build that healthy gut terrain and flora.
3 – Consider strong antimicrobial herbs – for same reasons mentioned in (2) above. There is a cornucopia of beneficial herbal tools that have strong and broad antimicrobial activity. Most herbs also have some degree of immune modulating action too. This can be a double win – you can quickly eradicate a bug that is hanging around too long despite your best cooking efforts, and, you can directly reduce inflammatory immune components at the same time, depending on which herbs are used. You might even go this route before you go to a prescription medicine for bowel infections.
4 – Remember, a “leaky” gut wall often means a more leaky blood brain barrier as well. If your child is suffering from seizures or profound psychiatric symptoms (rage, anger, depression, OCD, anxiety, insomnia, mood swings), consider tools to directly support better functioning at those membranes. Restoring gut health will help the brain! Glutathione, glutamine, aloe juice, dglycerrhizinated licorice, ginger root, and turmeric root are excellent supplements for restoring these tissues and knocking down inflammation. Peel fresh raw turmeric or ginger root and put into a juicer with fresh cilantro, apples, celery, and half a whole lemon for a good soother. You can add a liquid liposomal glutathione (Like ReadiSorb) to this and enjoy.
5 – Review food reactions. Many foods included in GAPS are triggering for kids I meet, especially eggs, dairy, and nuts. I love those foods, but if your child’s body creates antibodies to them, then GAPS is going to be a fail for you. You will need other strategies to calm those reactions besides eating a lot of eggs and nuts! I love helping families sort this out so we can identify other strategies. Sometimes, organic and raw versions of these foods are less problematic.
6 – Slow down on fats. GAPS is big on lots of healthy animal fats, and usually, I am too. I rarely suggest cutting back, since kids need fats for health brains and many other tissues and functions too. And we have become a fat phobic culture to the point where many kids’ diets are low in beneficial fats and high in refined sugars. But if your child has any pancreatic dysfunction, this just may not work. We can find out by using a stool test that assesses fat digestion, something I do often in my practice.
7 – Don’t live GAPS forever. Once your child is doing well, ease up – not to go back onto lots of refined foods. But you may be able to let your child enjoy some wholesome home-made sweets (check NourishingMeals.com for recipes) and some grains (even without sprouting them first), potatoes, or a few other items that are generally verboten (forbidden) on GAPS. The idea is to feel well, grow well, and thrive. Don’t let the dogma become more than your child’s well being.
Still scratching your head? Especially if your child has autism and you have not made the progress you hoped for, some investigation may solve your child’s puzzle to how to use food and nutrition to its potential. Click here to buy my e book 5 Essential Lab Tests For Kids With Autism to learn what tests your doctor can do for you, to sort it out.