It's no accident. Healthy babies don't just happen. Many birth defects can be prevented with simple planning. And the result will make child rearing easier.
ONE of the most important factors in successful child rearing is producing an alert, healthy child to begin with. Many factors are involved in whether the outcome of a pregnancy is favorable or not — genetic, biological, social and psychological. No one has control over all the elements necessary to ensure a successful pregnancy and an alert, healthy baby. But in one vitally important area the majority of pregnant women do have control. That area is nutrition.
Think Before You Act
There is overwhelming evidence that women who smoke or who consume alcohol regularly and poorly nourished women with poor diets during pregnancy have more complications than do well-nourished women with good, well-balanced diets. Low birth weight is the major cause of infant mortality in the world. Even the well-fed United States is ranked 13th in infant mortality rates, according to 1981 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Tragically, it has also been demonstrated that mental deficiency in newborns is related to low birth weight and prematurely rates. "Cell division is most rapid and, therefore, most vulnerable from one month before birth until five months after. Never again will the baby's brain experience such an incredible proliferation of new cells. All of the eleven billion neurons, the cells which process and analyze information, are formed before birth. Inadequate nutrition during gestation results in permanent, irreversible deficits in the number of cells which make up the baby's brain" (What Every Pregnant Woman Should Know/The Truth About Diets and Drugs in Pregnancy by Gail Sforza Brewer, page 95). If you are a pregnant woman, you are responsible for the good nutrition that will enable your child to reach his or her maximum genetic potential. You can give your baby a head start that no one else can. Your baby is what you eat. Your baby is also what you drink, smoke and otherwise ingest into your system. "The [U.S.] Surgeon General reports that smoking during pregnancy also results in a significantly greater number of spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths." As well as the matter of smoking, the decision by a pregnant mother to drink alcoholic beverages should be arrived at by taking into consideration metabolic and other factors such as weight, diet and drugs used, illicit or otherwise. Alcohol flows easily from a mother's bloodstream through the placenta into her unborn child. The odds of damaging the fetus are even higher when drugs are combined with alcohol by the pregnant mother. What if your doctor recommends a low-salt, low-calorie diet sometime during your pregnancy? Weight or salt restriction in pregnancy is no longer routinely advised at the forefront of the obstetrics community, neither is routine use of diuretics (water pills). Some physicians are now referring their patients to registered dietitians whose training has prepared them to advise patients as to their nutritional needs. More and more we need to come to understand that pregnancy and childbirth are normal, natural processes and begin to treat them so, instead of like illnesses. God is the Master Designer of our bodies and bodily functions, including the reproductive processes. Remember, it's your responsibility to protect the health of your unborn child.
Human Milk for Human Babies
God also designed the human breast to produce and provide milk for the human infant. The perfect food for the newborn child, it follows, is its own mother's milk. No other food or liquid is necessary for the breast-fed infant until generally about six months of age. Few mothers are physically unable to breast-feed, their babies, and, indeed, breast-feeding is becoming more popular, especially in the more advanced countries. Even premature babies thrive better on the milk expressed by pump from their own mother's breasts. Recent studies show that pre-term mother's milk contains substantially higher concentrations of protein, sodium and chloride in amounts necessary for the well being of the premature infant. But for those who choose not to breast-feed, realize that human milk has yet to be successfully duplicated by formula, and whole cow's milk is even further removed. If at all possible, breast-feed your child for the first week or two so that it will benefit from the immunization properties of colostrum, a clear yellow liquid the nursing infant receives before the milk actually comes in. Colostrum not only gives the newborn a natural immunity against many diseases, it also is an important factor in preparing the young child's gastrointestinal tract to most efficiently assimilate the nutrients from the milk that will follow. This valuable gift to a baby — the future ability to thrive — can only be given by its mother. Solid foods can be introduced to an infant at about six months of age. Earlier introduction of solid foods increases your baby's chance of developing food allergies. There is also a tendency to overfeed the young infant, paving the way for tomorrow's overweight child and adult. Six months is not the time to change breast-fed or B formula bottle-fed babies to whole cow's milk. Most infants at this age are still not mature enough to tolerate cow's milk well. More and more mothers are preferring to prepare their own baby foods at home. This is fine if fresh food is used and proper precautions against contamination are taken. Pureed processed foods to which salt and sugar have been added are worse than using the commercial baby foods now on the market. In the last few years, under pressure from consumer agencies, commercial baby food companies in the United States have removed the added salt and sugar from the baby foods now being sold. After one year of age there is no need to continue feeding babies baby food. About this time most should be able to eat from the table. This is a good time for parents to consider their own dietary practices. If father or mother consumes too much sugar or salt, the child is sure to repeat the example. Great care should be taken not to encourage the infant to consume more baby food than it desires. There is a tendency among many parents to try to get the baby to eat all the food presented. This is also a problem many times with bottle-fed babies. Allow the babies to take only what they desire and need of formula or baby food. Again, you are establishing eating habits that can be valuable or detrimental for the lifetime of your child. The bottle-fed baby. should also be held while one of the parents holds the bottle for feeding. Babies should not be left in their cribs with propped-up bottles dribbling formula into their mouths. Not only is there danger of middle-ear infections, the erupting teeth of the older infant will be more prone to cavities. Bottle-fed babies should receive the same amount of cuddling and affection as the breast-fed baby. Even at night, the baby should be removed from the crib and held while feeding. Try to break the pattern that has been so prevalent in the Western world of denying infants the close contact they need with their fathers and mothers.
A Virtual Conspiracy Against Emotional Maturity
Even from birth the newborn infant is usually taken from its anesthetized mother, washed and weighed. Then, after a few brief minutes with mother, the infant is placed in a crib in the nursery, where it spends most of the first few days of life — alone. Yet it is in these first critical minutes and hours of life that we form our initial emotional attachment to another human being. The crucial importance of close contact between father and mother and their child right after birth, has been prevented or denied for more than a generation. Doctors, nurses and psychologists are only now becoming aware of this tragedy. When mothers are allowed direct skin-to-skin contact with their newborn children, they respond to this early, intimate contact with their babies differently from mothers denied such needed contact. A remarkable study reported that babies of early — contact mothers gained more weight, cried less and smiled and laughed more than the other infants. It was also found that premature babies, who are separated from their mothers for long periods after birth, are more likely to be abused than full-term babies. In our "enlightened" modern society where only 20 percent of mothers experience natural childbirth, babies generally are taken from their mothers just at the time when they most desperately need to be together. And studies today show a father's relationship with infant children is much more important than previously believed. Even the younger infant benefits from the physical stimulation of father's more rousing play. Unfortunately, no matter the benefits, this early separation of parents and child is many times only the beginning of a pattern that carries on into later life. In many families, parents allow their children to mature without those all-important physical expressions of life — the warm hugs and caresses that show them they are appreciated and cared for. Children of such families grow up feeling insecure, inhibited, afraid of being hurt, and therefore afraid of seeking intimacy with others. They may have a hard time in their dating and marriage relationships. They may feel cold and emotionally flat, without knowing why. Later, as parents, they will have hang-ups about expressing love to their own offspring. This is not to say that there is no love in such nontouching families — the love is there, usually, but it seems somehow stunted, repressed or hidden. And hidden love is not much better than no love at all. Humans who are deprived in infancy and childhood suffer drastically from it. From surveys of prisoners and of 49 different primitive cultures it has been concluded that deprivation of physical affection "is the principal overriding factor... in the development of alienation, psychopathy, violence and aggression, and... drug abuse and alcoholism." The study is frightening: By depriving infants and children of physical love, parents will produce adults who are gravely limited in their ability to relate to others — or who are even predisposed to violent or criminal behavior! Lack of love and affection in the earliest years has long-range negative effects. Perhaps you yourself come from a family background that was cold, unemotional and lacking in displays of physical affection. Perhaps you were ignored or even abused as a young child. Therefore, you may find in yourself certain fears or inhibitions that you have found difficult to overcome. If you or your mate have experienced these or other difficulties that have caused a lack of outward affection in you, talk it out, be understanding and patient with each other. Prepare yourselves mentally, physically and spiritually before you decide to have a baby. Then, when the infant does arrive, by cuddling, embracing and loving your baby, you are giving him or her the foundation that you may have lacked — the knowledge that he or she is loved, accepted, secure. You can give your children inner resources that will make them more confident, more properly assertive, more affectionate and outgoing as adults. Our next installment, "The Five Basics," reveals how and when to begin teaching your child.