Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Preparing the birth canal

(Rather than pictures of birth canals, I am including photos of my happy baby on this post. :)

Here is the opening paragraph from my article titled "Good Health Begins in the Gut:"

The human gut, which to the best of our knowledge is sterile until birth, is designed to be populated with its first colonies of indigenous (beneficial) bacteria in the infant's first 20 days of life outside the womb. The primary mechanisms for this to take place are vaginal birth, during which the infant swallows bacteria and other microorganisms from the birth canal, and breastfeeding, which confers the mother’s unique microflora (microorganisms that inhabit our bodies in tremendous variety, also known simply as flora) to the baby through breast milk and skin-to-mouth contact. Babies who are born by Cesarean section do not receive this first important benefit, and those who are fed formula develop entirely different indigenous flora. Infants that experience neither vaginal birth nor breastfeeding, or whose mothers pass unhealthy microflora on to them, are therefore at a great disadvantage. 

Why does microflora matter? Unhealthy microflora that persists and worsens over time can lead to very serious problems down the road, including food intolerances, behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, serious digestive problems, failure to thrive, functional malnutrition, anemia, self-limited diets and pickiness, eczema, autoimmune issues, mental health problems, tantrums, poor immune function (frequent illness), and strong cravings for high-carbohydrate foods...among other things.

I owe my knowledge of inner and outer microflora, limited as it is, to the work of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of the book Gut And Psychology Syndrome, and originator of the "GAPS" diet. She has some wonderful and enlightening information available at, including the section below on preparing for the act of giving birth. As you may know, microorganisms from the stool migrate to and populate the entire groin area in both men and women, which means the vagina (birth canal) is populated with countless microorganisms, some "good" and some "bad," which are supposed to stay in a harmonious balance, with "good" ones predominating. However, the prevalence of yeast infections and urinary tract infections that modern women now experience, as well as the fact that some 1/4-1/3 of women test positive for the Strep B bacterium during the third trimester, which is typically treated with antibiotics during labor (yikes!), indicates that the vaginal ecosystem of the average woman is anything but harmonious. For that reason it is extremely important to make preparation of the birth canal an integral part of your prenatal routine.

Here is what Dr. NCM writes (you may read the rest of the text which is mainly about diet, by clicking here):

"It is essential to prepare your birth canal for the baby, which is something women used to do in traditional societies. In order to prepare the birth canal you need to populate it with beneficial flora. To do that every day after your bath or shower apply a handful of your *homemade yoghurt or kefir all over your genital area, as well as all over your breasts and armpits. Let the kefir or yoghurt dry on you before dressing up. Once a week insert a capsule of a good quality probiotic into your vagina at bedtime (alternatively you can use a piece of cotton wool soaked in kefir or yoghurt as a tampon, inserted into the vagina for a few minutes). As those areas get populated by beneficial flora, they will be protected from anything pathogenic, and when your baby goes through the birth canal it will acquire beneficial flora from you. Populating your breasts and armpits with good bacteria will help to prevent mastitis and supplement your baby with probiotics, so carry on with this procedure after your baby is born." 

*I should mention here that you can use organic commercial yogurt (whole milk, plain), or even better, raw yogurt or kefir. It does not have to be homemade. The yogurt that is most easily digestible and lowest in lactose in homemade raw yogurt cultured for 24 hours.

In my opinion, this is by far some of the most brilliant advice I have read on the topic of preparing for birth. A baby with healthy flora in its digestive system will be a happy baby as he will have a happier, more settled stomach. I'm sure you've heard people talk despairingly of their baby's colic, acid reflux, profuse spitting up, gas, and more, all of which can cause babies to be unusually fussy if not downright inconsolable. I can attest to Weston's peaceful temperament as compared to Oliver's hard-to-soothe antics, and I attribute this to my improved health (achieved through traditional foods and the GAPS diet), the natural medication-free (and antibiotic-free!) birth, complete lack of vaccinations (Oliver had the Hep B in the hospital -- vaccinations interfere with gut flora), and also to my practice of applying yogurt a few times a week, and a probiotic suppository once a week, during my third trimester. (I also applied yogurt on my breasts and armpit areas several times, but found it difficult to do since it creates an abundance of tiny flakes after it dries. Nevertheless, it's a good practice as well.)

Weston rarely spits up at all, let alone anything more than about a teaspoon of milk (babies do spit up some to regulate the quantity of milk), he does not have gas or grunt while passing a stool, and he is a very peaceful and content baby, crying only when hungry or very tired. The ease of caring for him is what allowed me to return to work, voluntarily, when he was only 2 months old. Based on our experience with Oliver I doubted I would have it together enough to get back to work before 3 months at the earliest. I have been happily surprised, to say the least!

One last thing to make note of here: partners share their flora during this means that you (as the woman) could have great gut flora and an excellent vaginal flora profile, but if your spouse or partner isn't equally healthy he may be sharing some stuff with you that is really upsetting the balance -- and of course, you will in turn pass this along to your baby. I can think of many clients of mine for whom this has been the case; after all, it's really common for men to have gut dysbiosis, too! I can also think of many of my clients' husbands who are completely intractable when it comes to changing their guess what, ladies? This is putting you (and your baby) at a real disadvantage when it comes to the health of your vaginal flora. What to do about this problem, assuming you really want to do everything possible to have a healthy baby? I recommend the following:

1. Be extra diligent about applying raw kefir on a daily basis throughout your pregnancy (I would recommend kefir over yogurt since it's stronger and more probiotic, and has good yeasts as well as good bacteria)
2. Be sure you are using a high-quality probiotic suppository (vaginal) at least once a week, maybe more
3. Avoid the following: douching, spermicides, synthetic underwear, chlorine-bleached sanitary products, all tampons, strong soaps (use mild natural soap), deodorizing sprays, and tight-fitting clothes that don't allow the groin area to "breathe" (especially after working out or sweating a lot)
4. Abstain from intercourse for as long as you can in the days/weeks/months preceding delivery. If this is going to be problematic, hold off for your final month of pregnancy at least, but abstain longer if you can. This would allow your vaginal flora to really benefit from all the other steps you're taking.

Here are a few tips to knowing whether your partner's flora might be the culprit:

1. he has digestive issues (gas, belching, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pains, reflux/heartburn, serious digestive problems)
2. he flat-out refuses to (or is unable to) give up high-carb foods (starches, bread, sweets, sugar, cereals, beer, etc.)
3. he struggles with depression, ADHD, mental fog, or other mental health issues
4. you've noticed feeling slightly itchy or "yeasty" ever since you've been in a physical relationship with this person
5. you have a history of UTIs or yeast infections over the course of your physical relationship

If this sounds like you (and him) I would urge you to get this book and make it required childbirth preparation reading for both of you!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Two favorite muffin recipes

Gluten-avoiders, rejoice! Here are two delicious muffin recipes for you to enjoy, and you don't even have to be self-conscious about serving them to the wheat-eaters among us because they are really quite good.

I put one every day in Hugo's breakfast that he takes to work, which he eats cold, but they're of course even better warmed up and filled with butter, with a cup of herbal tea alongside.

So far I have only used Let's Do Organic coconut flour and have been very happy with it. I have heard Bob's Red Mill coconut floor recommended as well. One tip about using coconut oil in these recipes: it makes things easier if you first mix in the coconut oil and then add the eggs, especially in the winter. Otherwise the coldness of the eggs can make the coconut oil harden, which makes it difficult to blend.

Lemon Poppy Muffins
(makes 12)
From the Comfy Belly blog, adapted slightly.

First blend the dry ingredients:
3/4 cup of coconut flour
1/4 t of sea salt
1/2 t baking soda* (omit if following the GAPS diet)

Then add the following:
6 eggs
1/2 cup coconut oil
6 T of honey*

Mix in the rest:
1-2 T of vanilla
1.5 T of poppy seeds
Fresh-grated zest of 2 organic lemons (do NOT use conventional lemon zest--citrus is sprayed with neurotoxic pesticides)

Spoon into buttered (or oiled) muffin cups and bake at 350 degrees until the tops are done (no longer soft or mushy).

*Note added 3/26/12: was recently reminded that baking soda is not allowed on GAPS, and since I'm trying to do the diet correctly now I decided to make these without any. They were indeed flatter and smaller, but quite delicious and rather scone-like! I also reduced the honey to just 4 tbsp. per 12 muffins (which comes out to 1 tsp. per muffin). They are great straight from the fridge, or warmed and served with butter.

Carrot Raisin Muffins
(makes 12)
Adapted from the Well-Fed Homestead blog.

Blend the dry ingredients:
1/4 t salt
1/2 t baking soda (omit if doing the GAPS diet)
1/2 cup coconut flour
2 t cinnamon
Generous dashes nutmeg cloves ginger

Add the following:
6 eggs
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
1-2 T vanilla

Mix in:
2 cups shredded or grated organic carrots
1/2 cup raisins

Spoon into buttered (or oiled) muffin cups and bake at 350 degrees until the tops are done.

For both recipes, allow the muffins to cool completely, then store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for one week (we have kept them longer and they've been fine).


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Vitamin K: shot or not?

Tonight I gave Weston his third-to-last dosage of vitamin K. Over the next two weeks I will give him his final two doses, 2 drops of liquid (oral) vitamin K. The regimen required 2 drops daily for the first week, and 2 drops once a week for an additional 11 weeks.

Our midwife, Joan Bryson, emphasized the importance of not skipping vitamin K completely. I had read a lot of information about the K shot not being a good thing but was on the fence about whether we needed to administer vitamin K at all. I like to believe that a proper diet rich in all the fat-soluble vitamins (including K) will be all we need. I took vitamin K as a supplement while pregnant and drank nettle tea. I also ate lots of wonderful aged raw cheese from summertime grass-fed cows' milk--all important things to do to make sure as much vitamin K as possible passes through to the developing baby. (The food highest in K, natto, was not readily available to me and also seemed extremely unappetizing, but if you like it then the more power to you! It's very rich in vitamin K.)

It seems that Joan and the other NYC home birth midwives have encountered more than their fair share of cases where parents either skipped the K completely or didn't administer all the doses of the oral drops as they should have, and the baby developed infant hemorrhagic disease. According to international statistics these cases are extremely rare-one in 10,000 or so, but in her experience it happens MUCH more frequently than that (perhaps because our diets are poor in this important fat-soluble nutrient). Joan told me about seeing a baby who needed a brain shunt--his little head shaved from the operation. How horrible!

But since there is speculation that the K shot is associated with childhood leukemia I definitely didn't want to go that route. I settled on the oral K drops from Birth With Love. At $31.00 it is a much higher price than the $14.00 injectable K, but well worth the extra cost.

Aside from ensuring healthy blood clotting will take place if the baby is cut or bruised, vitamin K is crucial for developing a proper bone structure, including a handsomely broad face with high cheekbones--which in turn will ensure proper development of the jaw and plenty of room for all the teeth to come in straight. For a wealth of fascinating details on how proper nutrition can make our kids beautiful (and healthy!) see the book Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Foods.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cashew bread, I love you!

Last Saturday was quite thrilling.

I ate BREAD!

Gluten-free, grain-free, starch-free bread...but still the most bread-like thing I have eaten in a VERY long time. I'm still loving all the benefits of my regular-bread-free life (like clear skin and a stronger immune system), so no regrets there, but I've missed a few poached eggs on toast, and grilled cheese!

 But on Saturday I had BOTH, thanks to this cashew bread recipe from Comfy Belly.

Ollie was super excited about the "bread," too! He had his slice with lots of raw butter and raw honey.

I followed the recipe exactly, except I left out the apple juice (which was optional anyway), and used raw creme fraiche (homemade) in place of yogurt. My Cuisinart food processor made lovely flour out of the soaked and dehydrated cashews, which I always buy from Wilderness Family Naturals. I also used my tiny metal loaf pans, lined with parchment paper, rather than full-size pans. Tonight I made a double batch and have grass-fed goat cheese ready and waiting to go on top!

I should mention that even the tiny loaves took an incredibly long time to cook in my oven at 300 degrees, somewhere around 2 hours I believe. I have found that when baking with nut flours the cooking time can be extremely long in order to get the inside done. A steak knife or paring knife is my instrument of choice for testing the bread for doneness. You can easily see any wetness on the knife's blade.

Sunday update: this is what Oliver and I had for breakfast today as a treat. (Yes, that is cashew bread under all that egg and bacon!)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Brotherly similarities?

Weston is 2 months old today! Here are a few recent pictures:

While looking through some recent pictures I noticed some striking similarities in the expressions on my two cuties' faces! Are the boys already showing that they are related??