Becoming a Mum is one of the most rewarding experiences life will throw at you. The happiness and intense over-whelming love that I have towards both my kids makes all that sleep deprivation and any temper-tantrums much of a blur. However, with all that I have learnt on our gut healing journey makes me so passionate to share and further educate parents, especially those mums to be, and mums of young children, about the importance of gut health and how to build a strong and robust digestive and immune system in the very early years of a child’s development with information that I wish I had known when I fell pregnant.
I get a lot of emails from worried mums (and dads) asking for advice on not only how and when to introduce fermented foods to their babies but also questions about food, as a whole and in general. So, I thought I would do my best to cover as much food and baby related questions in one blog to ease some of those worried parents out there. Grab a cuppa…this may be a long one!
Eating during Pregnancy…. Development of bubs gut microbiome and tastebuds starts here!
Like all things related to baby development, even food preferences and likes and dislikes of certain foods and their flavours begin in the womb.
Research indicates that we start being able to taste foods from as early as 14 weeks gestation. Although taste buds actually start developing from day 1 (just like all senses) they are unable to actually differentiate flavours until around the 14 week mark. My personal opinion is that this is mother nature’s way of allowing a sick, nauseated mother in her first trimester to eat what she can (potatoes anyone?) without influencing the taste development of her unborn child.
It is well known that the flavours of food a pregnant mother eats infuse the amniotic fluid that her unborn child gulps down on a daily basis. This amniotic fluid is exposed to a large number of taste compounds, including various sugars (e.g. glucose, fructose), fatty acids, amino acids, proteins and salts. So not only is it important to eat a well-balanced diet teaming with healthy food choices so you receive correct nutrition during pregnancy, a good diet will also help to establish the food preferences of your child as they grow, because when it comes to taste, familiarity breeds fondness. The flavours of all these healthy foods will bring a sense of security and normalcy as they will be familiar to your child when they begin their own food eating journey.
This is the same with breast milk; the flavours of the food the mother eats infuse breast milk also. So, if whilst pregnant (and breastfeeding) a wholesome, varied diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, good fats, protein and fibrous foods with limited sugar and processed foods was consumed, this will greatly help to encourage a child’s exploration processes with food when they start eating, as it will ensure that they have a wider ‘familiarity base’. What I mean is more flavours from healthy food choices, will be familiar to them so they are less likely to turn their nose up at them (or throw them on the floor- let’s be honest now!)
Sweetness, from an evolutionary stand point, is our ‘safety taste’. From our hunter-gather days it ensures quick, high energy with a very low risk of being poisonous. Even toxic berries have a more bitter/sour taste to them. So we have evolved wanting ‘sweet’. The food market knows this and this is why sugar is in everything because not only is it physically addictive (that’s a tangent for another day); we are programmed to want to eat it to stay alive. Studies of foetuses consuming amniotic fluid show that after the pregnant mother consumes sugary sweet foods, that sweet-tasting amniotic fluid is gulped up 2-3 times more than ‘regular’ amniotic fluid.
Sugar addiction starts in the womb.
If you’re reading this with a picky/fussy toddler at home and thinking ‘oh my gosh it’s all my fault?!’ This is by no means what I am trying to get across. It is not your fault at all.
We live in a society and culture today of excess, more of everything is good. More money, more things, more stuff, more, more, more, you catch my drift? Well what do you remember from being pregnant? I certainly remember “oh, one slice of cake for you, one for baby.” Or, “you must eat more; you’re eating for two remember?” Well, I wasn’t actually ‘eating for two’ I was eating to help my body grow a baby-which it did a fine job at-no extra cake required.
Pregnant women are constantly told to eat more, it’s almost embedded into women that during pregnancy it’s a free for all buffet and they can eat whenever and whatever they want and this couldn’t be further from the truth. Pregnancy is the time in a woman’s life that she should be most focused on her diet, for her own health, the health of her unborn baby and the future development of her baby’s food preferences.
During the third trimester of pregnancy, a woman only requires an extra 400-500 calories a day; this is not really that much. It may be beneficial to change how you eat and by this I mean it may be best to eat more small frequent meals to maintain blood sugar, help decrease nausea and to minimise reflux toward the end, however you’re more than allowed to say ‘no thank you’ to that slice of cake that basically gets shoved down your throat at the next family dinner.
Other Influencing Factors of a Child’s Palate- Dysboisis and Parasites
Obviously the foods eaten during pregnancy play a huge role in the development of our babies taste preferences, however it is not the only influencer.
Our gut bacteria have a huge role in the foods we crave. Our gut bacteria are predominately inherited, from our mother during our time in her womb and from our father when we were a sperm in his testicle (lovely thought hey?) Yes, that’s right our gut microbiome starts during sperm-hood.
However, although it is predominately inherited, it is incredibly susceptible to environmental influences and these can include, but are not limited to, antibiotic exposure as a foetus, caesarean or vaginal birth, antibiotic exposure through breast milk, formula feeding, antibiotic use as a child, early food choices, parasite infections and general everyday environmental surroundings. All of these things can alter our gut bugs.
If our gut bugs get out of balance, it can give rise to opportunistic gut bugs- such as Candida- when things like this occur, they generally bring with them cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates. If something like this occurs in the early years of our life it will certainly have an influence over the types of foods we do and do not want to eat. In this instance there may also be a lot of aggression around food choices, e.g. a toddler/child might get really angry and frustrated if they are not allowed to have a certain type of food.
To help maintain your baby’s gut flora and keep them in check, always, always give therapeutic grade Probiotics during antibiotic therapy (the rule is either 2 hours before or 4 hours after the antibiotic is consumed to allow the Probiotic to be effective) and feed fermented foods and also, introduce them to fermented foods as early as possible (I will discuss this more later). It is commonly incorrectly advised not to give Probiotics or fermented foods during antibiotic therapy as it is thought the antibiotic will void them anyway. It is actually extremely beneficial and should absolutely always be given. The yeast strain Saccharomyces boulardii actually prevents against antibiotic induced diarrhoea and the development of thrush from antibiotics.
Picky eaters and changing behaviours
Ok, so I suppose we have covered some of the societal and biochemical influences that can be behind fussy eating in toddlers and children. That’s all well and good, but I have a fussy toddler/child here…..and now! I here you say.
Firstly, let me tell you you’re not alone, nearly all children will go through a phase of wanting control of what they eat and that is totally fine, you just have to roll with the punches until it either passes or you meet your child somewhere in the middle. But I do know there is a difference between a ‘phase’ and fussy!
So here are my tips:
- Ensure a healthy gut
Of course this is going to be my number one tip; however I cannot stress the importance of this enough! The earlier you detect any possible imbalance of gut flora, parasites, allergies or inflammation, the quicker and easier they will be to treat and the happier and more content your child will be. Contact us if you would like more help in this area. A good indication of a healthy gut in babies is no colic, reflux, eczema or other inflammatory gut conditions. Breast fed babies can sometimes go days on end without making a bowel movement, however if they begin to experience bloating, very hard stools or pain on evacuation there may be a flora imbalance. Formula fed babies should go more regularly, at least every second or third day. Toddlers and older children, who are on solids should be ideally going 1-2 times a day and passing well formed stools. Younger toddlers who are mixed fed (breast/solids) may still have soft squishy stools. If there is any clear constipation, very loose stools or eczema/allergy problems I would suggest some gut intervention.
- Let them play with their food
For younger babies and toddlers this will get messy, but don’t stress about it (see next dot point)! Learning to eat and becoming fond of foods is not just a matter of bite, chew, and swallow, oh yum I like that. It’s exploring all aspects of the food, its feel, its colour, what does it do if I squish it, what sound does it make if I throw it at the wall etc etc. When you introduce new foods to your child let them play with it, poke it, smell it – it is all part of the learning process. If they don’t eat it, that’s fine just take the food away with nothing said.
- Don’t make meal times stressful
I know that’s easier said than done when you race through the door at 6pm you have to quickly find something to cook, bath the kids and get them in bed by 7. But I assure you-children pick up on energies, if you are stressed, I guarantee you they will be and stressed children don’t eat. So take a quiet moment to yourself, a few deep breaths, say ‘I got this’ and calmly power on.
- Let them be involved with the cooking
This cannot start early enough! Get babies involved! Let them play with the vegetable scraps as you prepare dinner, get older kids to wash or peel the veggies, they love it. Talk to them about all the ingredients you are using get them to tell you all about the colours, textures and smells of the different foods that are being used. This is great learning and if they have been a part of the cooking, they will want to taste the fruits of their labour.
- Let them feed you
Toddlers love shoving things in their parent’s mouth, yes it might be half chewed and spat out again, but you know what? You always eat it! And eat it with an enthusiastic look on your face to show them you really enjoyed that half chewed soggy piece of god knows what.
- Let them feed themselves
This is truer for babies 6 months plus, as toddlers always feed themselves. I would always encourage Baby Led Weaning, allowing your baby to feed themselves real food from the start, not purees. This activates sensory processing as well as that familiarisation and exploration of all this food related.
For older toddlers/children that are being fussy at meal times try preparing meals as a ‘banquet style’ or letting them serve themselves- having this small amount of control will encourage them to eat.
- Repetion is key
It can take 15, yep that’s 15, tries of a food before a child becomes familiar and actually likes it. So, just keep going. I know its deflating when you slave to cook a wonderfully healthy meal and it doesn’t get touched, but this doesn’t mean you’re child doesn’t like it; it means he’s not familiar with it yet.
So keep offering, offer it in different ways, talk about it, let it be explored, allow messy yet calm meal times and I assure you your child will begin taking the steps to explore and enjoy, new foods.
The introduction of fermented foods can (and should) be introduced in-utero, just like everything else! The exchange of gut micro-organisms between mother and baby starts from the very beginning of the pregnancy in the first trimester. Therefore, the more robust a mother’s gut before and during pregnancy, the more robust a baby’s gut will be. A baby with a robust and flourishing gut microbiome should have no problem digesting breast milk and is much less likely to develop colic, food allergies and reflux leading to a more calm and settled baby and, in turn, a more calm, settled and less stressed mum, especially around meal times as there is no worry about what will effect baby or what baby can or cannot eat.
Fermented foods bring a huge range of benefits to babies. We recently did a guest blog for My Paleo Baby about this, which you can read here.
Bifidobacterium are most important for babies to lay down first as these guys are responsible for immune system development and reducing the occurrence of colic and food allergies. Bifidobacterium are abundant in our coconut yoghurt and this makes a perfect first food for baby. It can be introduced from birth and can be by rubbing small amounts of our yoghurt onto baby’s gums or letting them suck a tiny bit off your finger.
As baby grows they can have a greater quantity; by 6 months of age, or ideally when they can sit unaided, our yoghurt can be introduced by a full teaspoon daily, working up to ½ cup by age 1 and a full cup by age 2.
Introduce our kefir after the age of one with ½ cup daily. This just helps those bifido strains take hold first.
Alcohol content in fermented foods
This is a cause for concern for many parents out there, they believe that by giving their children fermented foods and drinks, they are giving them alcoholic foods and drinks. This is actually the number one reason parents give for not wanting to give their babies/children fermented products and rightly so.
Yes, alcoholic drinks are fermented, but they are fermented for months (sometimes years) on end and they are continually fed more yeast and more sugar so the yeast can convert that sugar into ethanol. This ethanol becomes highly detectible and makes the Beveridge alcoholic.
Kultured Wellness fermented coconut kefir and coconut yoghurt can ferment in 12-24 hours and there is no added sugar, the alcohol that would be produced during the fermentation process would be so negligible it wouldn’t even need to be taken in as a concern. Even foods that are fermented for a longer period of time, such as sauerkraut, produce such miniscule amounts of alcohol it would not actually make it ‘alcoholic’. Keep in mind that most of the alcohol produced is actually re-metabolised by other bacteria and yeast. So yes, of course alcohol is a natural by product of fermentation however there is a difference between an ‘alcoholic ferment’ and ‘Probiotic ferments’. Alcoholic ferments are usually deliberately manipulated to create a high alcohol content, Probiotic ferments are fermented for a much shorter period of time, less or no sugar is added and the alcohol is also re-metabolised.
If you are planning on having a baby and wanting to fall pregnant soon, it’s so important to ensure your gut flora are diverse and flourishing by consuming plenty of fermented foods. This will help baby to also develop a diverse and flourishing microbiome which will ensure not only a healthy digestive system, but good health over all too. Also be very mindful of what you are eating during your pregnancy. Eat bitter greens, sour fruits, oily fish, tangy garlic and spicy chilli. This will introduce your baby to all of these flavours from very early on and will decrease the chance of them becoming fussy about food later in their lives as they are already familiar with a wide variety of flavours. Another way of minimising fussiness is to get your baby/child involved in all aspects of food preparation from very early on, encourage them to feel comfortable and confident around food, and don’t be put off if it takes your babe sometime to enjoy a new food, this is perfectly normal.
Introduce fermented foods as early as you wish, however I encourage no later than 6 months (or when they start solids). This again, will help your baby develop a robust and healthy gut which will set up your baby for a life time of health.