Implementing a healthy diet has been a cornerstone discussion point for supporting our children’s health. In fact, dietary recommendations are a key tool used by many integrative health providers to help parents with raising more resilient children and mitigating the increasing number of young ones affected by our nation’s obesity epidemic. Recent studies have demonstrated that it’s important to start early and that the powerful health effects of nutrition on a child can begin in the womb. For example, many are familiar with how mom’s choices for her own nutrition and body prior and after birth can affect baby’s health. This is why many physicians recommend prenatal vitamins, which not only support healthy growth of the baby, but provided nutrients to prevent certain diseases at birth.
Furthermore, research supports that babies who have been breastfed have greater wellness outcomes than little ones who were bottle-fed. Studies also showed that mothers who breastfeed weren’t only helping their babies, but they were also receiving the benefit of lowered rates of breast and ovarian cancer (1). Still, it’s not all the mom’s responsibility. Dad’s role in nutrition is important too. In fact, evidence supports that what he eats affects his sperm quality and therefore affects baby’s health (2).
Although diet is essential to discuss in children’s health, just as important are the emotional impacts on children with unhappy parents. In the past, I wrote about how early childhood trauma and parenting styles affected addiction, stress, and emotional outcomes in children. Recently, a few more studies made headlines on the impact of the parents emotional health on their children and are important to consider when planning for a healthy baby.
The first was a rodent study published in Biological Psychiatry which demonstrated that stress vulnerability could be inherited. In this study, the researchers exposed adult female rats to chronic unpredictable stress and then measured the effects on their offspring. The researchers showed that chronic, unpredictable stress in the females could result in more heightened stress responses on the offspring as evidence by an increased amount of stress receptors in their pups’ brain (3).
The second study, also published in Biological Psychiatry, showed that the children of depressed parents displayed differing brain patterns in the amygdala, the brain region related to emotion and stress regulation. It was thought that these brain changes may be responsible for putting these children at greater risk for depression later in life (4-5).
The good news is that parents can learn from these studies and focus on positively impacting their children’s health outcomes later in life. This is called the science of epigenetics. It means that through various lifestyle modifications, we can change the body’s cellular environment and effect health outcomes. These areas of choice include:
- Food – as mentioned, this is an important cornerstone that starts early.
- Mitigating stress hormones & inflammatory thoughts
Prenatally, stress can impact mom’s thyroid which also effects baby’s growth and brain development. Therefore, pregnant women should have their thyroid hormonal levels checked (6-7).
- Proper, quality, individualized supplemental support
- Space for restoration and rest
- Capacity to remove harmful substances
- Including family dinners throughout the week
- Taking time to examine your behavior as parents.
I found an abstract of a comparative trial in Pediatrics that demonstrated that parent behavioral training had a greater effect on preschoolers at risk for ADHD than methylphenidate (Ritalin). This was reported as a result of a compilation of 55 studies sponsored by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (8).
- Consider a family pet. Children who are exposed to dogs tend to have less allergies and lung issues than those in no-dog households (9-10).
Another aspect on the importance of connection can be found on my saratoga.com blog.
I look forward to hearing your comments on this subject.
(1) Stuebe, Alison. The Risks of Not Breastfeeding for Mothers and Infants.Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Fall; 2(4): 222–231. PMCID: PMC2812877
(2) Science Daily. You Are What Your Father Eats: Father’s Diet Before Conception Plays Crucial Role in Offspring’s Health, Study Suggests. sciencedaily.com.December 10, 2013.
(3) Zaidan, H, Leshem, M, & Gaisler-Salomone I. Prereproductive Stress to Female Rats Alters Corticotropin Releasing Factor Type 1 Expression in Ova and Behavior and Brain Corticotropin Releasing Factor Type 1 Expression in Offspring. Biological Psychiatry, 74 (9): 680-687, November 1, 2013.
(4) Science Daily. Depression in Pregnant Mothers May Alter the Pattern of Brain Development in Their Babies. sciencedaily.com. December 4, 2013. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131204090956.htm
(5) Rifkin-Graboi, A, et al. Prenatal Maternal Depression Associates with Microstructure of Right Amygdala in Neonates at Birth (abstract). Biological Psychiatry. 74(11): 837-844; December 1, 2013. http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223%2813%2900622-7/abstract
(6) PR Web. Infographic Released by Toronto Naturopath on Crucial Role of Thyroid for Fertility. prweb.com. January 06, 2014. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/12/prweb11451433.htm
(7) Thyroid and Fertility, Thyroid and Pregnancy | Infographic. White Lotus Integrative Medicine. http://www.whitelotusclinic.ca/blog/dr-fiona-nd/thyroid-fertility-thyroid-pregnancy-infographic/
(8) Charach A, Carson P, Fox S, Ali MU; Beckett J, & Lim CG. Interventions for preschool children at high risk for ADHD: a comparative effectiveness review (abstract). Pediatrics. 2013; 131(5):e1584-604 (ISSN: 1098-4275)
(9) K.E. Fujimura et al. House dust exposure mediates gut microbiome enrichment of Lactobacillus johnsonii and immune defense against airway allergens and respiratory virus infection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published online December 16, 2013. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1310750111.
(10) Seppa, N. Dog dust may benefit infant immune systems: Microbes from pet-owning houses protected mice against allergy, infection. Science News. December 16, 2013, Magazine issue: January 25, 2014. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/dog-dust-may-benefit-infant-immune-systems