Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Paying More Attention to Nutrition - for Now and Later

During my first trimester, I worried frequently about my nutrition - or lack thereof. Because of morning sickness that pretty much lasted all day, the only foods I could keep down with any regularity were Whataburger chicken strips, Subway sandwiches and Arby's roast beef. Not exactly the stuff of healthy building blocks. But once the second trimester hit and the nausea subsided, I began (to my happiness and my husband's complete and utter joy) craving fresh fruit and vegetables.

It was at that point that I decided to work more on eating even more healthy than I had before getting pregnant. Lots of fruit and vegetables. Whole grains. More chicken and turkey, less red meat. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be to incorporate these things into our already healthy and favorite recipes, and I have found myself with - relatively - more energy, too.

But I knew there was room for improvement - or at least validation that we were on the right track. Plus, I was interested on how to carry these new good habits over after the baby was born, and even when the baby began eating solid food. Which is why I found myself attending a nutrition discussion held by a local group called MetroMoms a few weeks ago.

The speaker, Dr. Alan Greene, has written two books: Raising Baby Green, and Feeding Baby Green. He's a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine, an Attending Pediatrician at Packard Children's Hospital, and a Senior Fellow at the University California San Francisco Center for the Health Professions.

According to Greene, it's not as hard to acclimate babies and toddlers to healthy food as you'd think. Offering it frequently and being persistent seem to be the keys. But after the discussion, I began thinking more about one point he briefly made - that a mother can influence a baby's desire to taste and desire a variety of foods while the baby is still in the womb.

And then another story came out, reiterating this. According to Science Daily, a study by the University of Colorado School of Medicine, a pregnant woman's diet not only sensitizes a fetus to certain tastes and smells, but also can "wire" the child to prefer certain things later in life.

But I wanted more information. So I put a call in to Dr. Greene, to discuss how what I eat now can chart a path for this new baby Erickson even before I meet him or her.

"Babies have more taste buds before they're born than any other time," Dr. Greene said. This means that they can taste what their mother has been eating and drinking. Right now, the baby is learning to swallow, and its digestive system is learning as well, by taking in amniotic fluid. Greene said what many don't realize is that not all the baby's protein comes from the umbilical cord.

"About 20% of the baby's protein comes from the amniotic fluid," Greene said. Babies, he added, drink the equivalent of two cans of soda in amniotic fluid a day. "They're getting all the flavors of the food Mom is eating while they're in the womb," he said.

Greene added that in his book, Feeding Baby Green, a chart lists 21 different foods that have been eaten for thousands of years. He said that typically, it takes 12 times of a mother eating a certain item for that "imprint" - or preference - to be truly introduced to the developing fetus. "If you eat each one of these items 12 times, you can give your baby the gift of all these flavors," he enthused.

And that taste sensation can carry over to breast feeding, too, he added, meaning that a mother could continue to introduce new flavors and healthy preferences even after birth, and before solid food is introduced.

Greene's latest crusade is picking up steam as well - a campaign to end the use of white rice cereal as the first solid introduced to babies. The "White Out Campaign" has taken Greene all over the country, and has led to appearances on Good Morning America, and a story in USA Today. For the record, Greene recommends a multigrain cereal, mashed sweet potatoes, mashed bananas or even mashed avocado as a good first taste of solid food. He also recommends mixing or thinning them with breast milk or formula, not juice.

Greene said that in his engagements discussing the campaign, he stresses that he's not trying to make anyone feel guilty about having fed their children rice cereal. "I point out that I didn't know either," he said, adding that his kids even got it. "But there is really no good reason to feed our children something that is basically processed sugar. It's not necessary."

Having discussed nutrition - both for now and later - with Dr. Greene, I've found a good jumping off point for discussions with my own doctor, and the baby's future pediatrician - which to me is the point of reading up now - to ultimately arrive at a common sense approach that works well for my family. Between all of us, I'm pretty confident that a happy, healthy mom and a happy, healthy baby are completely doable.

Bethany Erickson is 21 weeks pregnant and the wife of Texas Health Resources web editor Tom Erickson.

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