The bad news is that babies get exposed to pesticides and other harmful chemicals during pregnancy and through their mothers’ milk. The good news is that all the research we have shows that mothers’ milk is best for babies despite this exposure. But I suspect most mothers would be happy to minimize that exposure if they could. The Environmental Working Group has a tool you can use to do that: The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides. You can look at their lists of most and least contaminated fruits and veggies and adjust what you buy. If you can’t afford to buy all your food organic, you can focus on the produce that is most likely to be heavily contaminated.
When we’re thinking about feeding babies the very best food – mother’s milk – we should also think about feeding the rest of the family well. One of my very favorite cookbook authors is Deborah Madison. She writes super tasty recipes for nutritious local foods. She also has written a book about eating alone — something that lots of new mothers are doing during the day if they’re at home with their babies. Here’s the video trailer (is that what you’d call it?) for the book. It’s shows a baby that I’d be willing to bet is breastfeeding!
According to an article in Pediatric News, it sounds like current research (and a soon to appear statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition) supports offering meat, fruits, and vegetables as nutritious first foods.
There is no good reason not to introduce meats, vegetables, and fruits as the first complementary foods, according to Dr. Frank R. Greer, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Committee on Nutrition.
Introducing these foods early and often promotes healthy eating habits and preferences for these naturally nutrient-rich foods, said Dr. Greer, who is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Just a note — for decades La Leche League has been recommending whole foods (not processed rice cereal) at around the middle of the first year of life when babies are showing signs that they’re ready. It looks like the time-tested recommendation from experienced mothers is holding up well.
Check out this Colbert Report with Michael Pollan, the author of In Defense of Food. (I’m sorry that I’m not techno savvy enough to embed this video.) The cool thing is this: Pollan says, “We have been trying to synthesize breast milk for 150 years, and we still don’t know how to do it. And babies on formula don’t do as well as babies on breastmilk, and we don’t know why.” Another interesting thing that Pollan says in his book applies to formula as well as lots of other things that we eat. He describes complex processed foods as “edible foodlike substances”. Whole food is what research shows is good for our bodies and eating whole food starts at birth with breastfeeding.
In our culture when we think of baby’s first food we often think of giving baby rice cereal on a spoon. Gil Rapley is an author advocating a different approach: waiting until baby is old enough (about 6 months) and letting baby feed himself. Her guidelines also talk about safety and special circumstances (like a baby that was born prematurely). She has a video explaining her “Baby Led Weaning” method. Here’s an excerpt:
This is from the La Leche League International press release last week:
(October 16, 2008) Schaumburg, IL – La Leche League International encourages all mothers to recognize the importance of vitamin D to the health of their children. Recent research shows that due to current lifestyles, breastfeeding mothers may not have enough vitamin D in their own bodies to pass to their infants through breastmilk.
In October 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that infants receive 400 IU a day of vitamin D, beginning in the first few days of life. Children who do not receive enough vitamin D are at risk for rickets and increased risk for infections, autoimmune diseases, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Vitamin D is mainly acquired through exposure to sunlight and secondarily through food. Research shows that the adoption of indoor lifestyles and the use of sunscreen have seriously depleted vitamin D in most women. The ability to acquire adequate amounts of vitamin D through sunlight depends on skin color and geographic location. Dark-skinned people can require up to six times the amount of sunlight as light-skinned people. People living near the equator can obtain vitamin D for 12 months of the year while those living in northern and southern climates may only absorb vitamin D for six or fewer months of the year.
For many years, La Leche League International has offered the research-based recommendation that exclusively breastfed babies received all the vitamin D necessary through mother’s milk. Health care professionals now have a better understanding of the function of vitamin D and the amounts required, and the newest research shows this is only true when mothers themselves have enough vitamin D. Statistics indicate that a large percentage of women do not have adequate amounts of vitamin D in their bodies.
La Leche League International acknowledges that breastfeeding mothers who have adequate amounts of vitamin D in their bodies can successfully provide enough vitamin D to their children through breastmilk. It is recommended that pregnant and nursing mothers obtain adequate vitamin D or supplement as necessary. Health care providers may recommend that women who are unsure of their vitamin D status undergo a simple blood test before choosing not to supplement.
There’s been lots of buzz about the virtues of buying local — particularly buying (and eating) local foods. It’s reminded me that all of the things that are good about local food are at their very best with breastfeeding. Think about it: freshness, superior flavor (if you doubt me, try tasting some formula), no transportation costs (breasts and baby are in the same house already!), a personal relationship with the producer (can it get more personal than a mother and baby?), and no mystery processing steps (other than the wonderful magic that happens when any plant or animal grows).
If you’re wanting tasty, nutritious, fresh, local food for family members that are too old for breastmilk, now is a good time of year to start looking into a 2009 CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share. The Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition (MACSAC) lists many local options.