In every language the first words spoken by a woman after delivery are, “Is my baby healthy?” The first words spoken by a woman upon learning that she is pregnant should be, “Am I well nourished?”
—“Prenatal Nutrition and Birth Defects,” Mark R. Anderson
One of my biggest fears in life has always been, what if I don’t have a healthy baby? From the time I was a teenager and first started thinking about becoming a mother, I stressed about this. I would see news depicting children from third world countries with massive birth defects and shudder with fear.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m in no way belittling those children’s lives. Every child is a miracle and should be loved unconditionally. Yet, as I’m sure any expecting parent would agree, we want healthy children for their sake more than our own.
About five years ago, my husband and I learned we were expecting our first child. Of course we were elated, but after the euphoria wore off, the fear sunk in. What happens now? What should I do differently? How do I increase my chance of giving birth to a healthy baby?
I exercised a little. I ate semi-healthy foods—nothing near as bad as the Standard American Diet, but far from Selene River Press standards. I took prenatal vitamins and drank more water. I minimized my caffeine intake and made sure all my red meat was cooked well done. I avoided lunch meat and runny egg yolks. And I thought that was enough! I thought there was nothing more I could do, that I just had to hope for the best and pray my baby would be all right.
After learning more about nutrition, I realized how wrong I was to think I could do nothing more to ensure my baby would be born healthy. During my research, I stumbled upon the article by Mark R. Anderson that I quote above. After reading it, I really started kicking myself for not knowing these things when I was pregnant.
First off, my beautiful baby girl was born happy and healthy. But I’d spent years fretting far more than I needed to. I also spent nine months more miserable than I would have been if I’d educated myself on the benefits of nutrition and how it improves our health in countless ways.
In an effort to save others the woes I endured, I want to share this enlightening article with you!
Anderson cites the fascinating fact that evidence of birth defects goes back 3,000 years in archaeological literature. Infant deformities are depicted in Babylon ruins, Egyptian tombs, Peruvian pottery, and aboriginal cave drawings in Australia. This, to me, makes sense as diets would have been much more primitive at those times. What is less fascinating is that these deformities are still so prevalent today when diet and nutrition are much more advanced.
So why are birth defects still so common when we live in a modern world with plenty of access to the nutrient rich foods our bodies need? I’d imagine that a lot of research has gone into answering this question. (You can find articles that touch on this topic at the SRP Historical Archives. Look in particular for the work of Dr. Royal Lee.) Simply put, even though nutrient dense foods are available to us, most Americans still eat a diet primarily of processed foods, bleached white flours, pasteurized dairy, and lots of sugar.
As Anderson explains: “The term ‘birth defect’ refers only to structural or physiological abnormalities that develop at or before birth. However, defects in the developing fetus are most often revealed later in life. Evidence shows they often are caused by malnutrition in fetal development at a critical time when nutrients are needed to form organs. Half of all infant deaths in the United States are attributed to birth defects.”
In case you didn’t catch the true shocker in that last sentence, I’ll say it again: half of all infant deaths in the United States are attributed to birth defects. If this doesn’t shock you, it should. It both surprises and horrifies me!
Also, even if babies are born without a birth defect, that doesn’t mean they’re in the clear. Citing research by Dr. Royal Lee, Anderson notes that poor nutrition, especially a deficiency of trace minerals and vitamins, can lead to juvenile diabetes, tooth decay, brain malformation, behavioral issues, and so much more later in life
I highly recommend Anderson’s article. You’ll find an entire chart detailing how specific nutrient deficiencies can affect babies. No matter what stage of life you’re in, it’s worth taking the time to review. Even if this doesn’t affect you directly, this information could help someone you know. Read it, learn it, share it.
Even though I love my sweets—my cookies, cakes, chocolate, and pastry—I love my body and my babies more. And if we think of all the other things we do to keep our babies safe, changing our diet doesn’t seem so hard.
Image from iStock/BrianAJackson