Some of the most important questions often asked by parents in the consulting room include: “How can I help my child to stay healthy?”, “How can I avoid my child developing allergies?, and “What can I give my child to boost her immunity?”. The answers to these questions lie in following the beautifully designed principles in nature.
Research over the last decade has also endeavored to find answers to these issues, and overwhelming evidence points back to a few principles: delivery near or at full term, prolonged breastfeeding and introduction of a variety of whole foods from the age of four months.
Only from the 36th week of pregnancy does protective antibodies start crossing the placenta from the mother to the unborn baby. The wide spread practice of conveniently scheduled deliveries of babies at 37 or 38 weeks of pregnancy robs the infant of precious time to accumulate the antibodies that should play an important role in immune protection for the first six months of life. Similarly does iron storage in the foetus only commence at the 36th week of pregnancy; and this accumulated iron needs to support the new baby until his 6th month of life. These near (but not quite) full-term infants often also have feeding difficulties with a lower success rate of breastfeeding than their full term peers.
We also now know that the benefit of breastfeeding reaches far beyond optimum growth, nutrition, immunity, allergy prevention and brain development. It also has a unique impact on the newborn’s metabolism and effectively “programs” it for health into adulthood. By breastfeeding an infant until 4 months, the risk of lifestyle diseases like high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes, is reduced by a staggering 20 percent; and a further risk decrease of 1,4 percent can be achieved by every additional month of breastfeeding.
It has also emerged that the ideal time to introduce babies to a wide variety of fresh whole foods is between four and six months. During this time the infant’s immune system readily accepts new foods with a reduced risk of developing allergies thereto. This reduced allergy risk can be further lowered by continued breastfeeding during this time. Breast milk has a modulatory effect on the reaction of the body to new foods.
By adhering to these simple principles you give your infant a head start to a healthier life.
Dr. Adele Bekker