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Dispelling Nutritional Health Myths for Mother & Baby

by | March 11, 2019

Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health and Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx and double board-certified physician in OB-GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine, Dr. Kecia Gaither takes some time out of her incredibly busy schedule trying to spread awareness by dispelling nutritional health myths for mothers and their babies.

Dispelling Nutritional Health Myths for Mother & Baby
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Dispelling Nutritional Health Myths for Mother & Baby

Expectant mothers face an overwhelming amount of information when it comes to what they should consume or avoid during pregnancy, and even after the baby is born. The contradicting health headlines and old wives tales surrounding pregnancy health make getting correct information seem like a daunting task. I find that whether you are a first-time mom or a third-time mom, navigating the unsaid rules of pregnancy can be difficult because the rules seem to change every month.

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As more information and studies are published, old theories on pregnancy practices are being discredited and giving way to new methods. I encourage moms to avoid confusing fact with fiction by looking past the misleading mommy mantras and commentary-filled social media feeds. Issues surrounding breastfeeding, alcohol, veganism, and wet-nurses are common subjects. Causing confusion due to the conflicting and outdated information on each topic.

Let’s get to dispelling nutritional health myths.

1. Veganism & Pregnancy

If veganism characterizes your lifestyle, you might be concerned about introducing your baby to a meat and dairy free diet. As long as you pay special attention to the baby’s diet to ensure adequate nutrient intake, a vegan diet can be healthy for both adults and children. Giving special attention to Vitamin D, B 12, iron, iodine, zinc, and calcium. In plants, these nutrients are not only restricted to certain sources, but are also harder for the body to absorb, as they are likely intricately bound to the plant fibers. Infants of vegan mothers may need to breastfeed a little longer than non-vegan mothers, as breast milk is a great source of nutrients—physicians generally advise over 1 year.

2. Formula – Is breast best?

We’ve all heard that “breast is best,” however it’s not the only nutritious option for baby, and new moms shouldn’t fret if they have to supplement with formula or use it exclusively. Vitamin fortified soy formula is an excellent alternative to breast milk for those who can’t breastfeed, or wish to introduce a vegan diet to their child. Nutrient suspension in these formularies is crucial, as the added vitamins, proteins, and nutrients are insoluble and would otherwise settle out, whichwould impact their acquisition and absorption by the baby’s gut.

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A scare-tactic used against mothers regarding formula is that it contains an ingredient called carrageenan, a naturally occurring ingredient extracted from edible red seaweed. Food-fear mongers claim it is not safe, however this could not be further from the truth. Carrageenan is used in infant formula to ensure those vital nutrients remain mixed throughout the fluid and prevent settling on the bottom, which is important for babies who might not finish a bottle in one feeding. Current human clinical trials have noted that it has other beneficial properties besides keeping ingredients mixed together — it reduces inflammation, cholesterol, and exhibits antiviral properties —particularly for those viruses which plague us during cold and flu season.The ingredient is present in many food products we eat daily, such as salad dressings, soy/almond milk, organic and plant based foods, and the FDA, Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have all confirmed that carrageenan is safe for human consumption.

3. Wet Nurses

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2018 Breastfeeding Report Card, 73.8 percent of infants born in 2015 were breastfed at some point. While all mothers aren’t necessarily able to produce their own milk or want to breastfeed, moms can choose to provide access-pasteurized donor human milk. There seems to be a stigma associated with sharing breast milk but for most of human history, the sharing of human milk has taken place in the form of one mother breastfeeding the baby of another. The World Health Organization lists “wet-nursing” and milk banks as being equal alternatives when mothers own milk is not available and they want to opt for breastmilk instead of infant formula. The Human Milk Banking Association of North America accredits nonprofit milk banks in the United States and Canada and sets international guidelines for pasteurized donor milk. Upon donation, it is screened, pooled, and tested, then dispensed to hospital and outpatient families for use. All donor mothers require screening and approval, and all donor milk is logged and monitored. Pasteurization eliminates harmful bacteria or other potential infecting organisms, and while a small number of nutritional elements are lost in the process, mothers can supplement with high-grade formula.

4. Alcohol Before and After Pregnancy

Alcohol should be avoided completely while pregnant, and mothers should be cautious about alcohol consumption while breastfeeding. During pregnancy, alcohol can move across the placenta and is toxic to the developing fetus. In large amounts it can cause serious damage. Prenatal exposure to alcohol is the leading preventable cause of birth defects in the United States and several negative effects of alcohol regarding babies are grouped together under the term fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). There is no type or amount of alcohol that is safe to consume when it comes FASDs, which can result in birth defects including low IQ, learning disabilities, delayed speech, clumsiness, visual or hearing defects, small head size, short stature, and heart, kidney or bone defects. When it comes to breastfeeding, the alcohol does not transfer straight into the breast milk, however it is best to be cautious and stay as alcohol free as possible while breastfeeding, as a baby’s brain is developing rapidly in the first year of life.

Knowing the facts on veganism, breastfeeding vs. formula, wet nurses and alcohol can help you confidently care for your baby and make the ‘rules’ of pregnancy seem a little less overwhelming. I recommend that babies and children routinely visit a health provider to monitor their health and developmental milestones!


Dispelling Nutritional Health Myths for Mother & Baby
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Dr. Kecia Gaither

Dr. Kecia Gaither, MD, is a double board-certified physician in OB-GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine. She is Director of Perinatal Services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx, New York. Since October 2015, Gaither has served as liaison to the Association of Black Cardiologists, in which she promotes critical perinatal initiatives and continues her work of ensuring exemplary prenatal care is available to all women. In 2011, she served as an appointee of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the HIV Planning Council of New York. For multiple years, Gaither has been named America’s Top Obstetrician and Gynecologist by the Consumer Research Council. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Barnard College and her medical degree from SUNY Health Science Center in Syracuse and her Masters of Public Health degree in Health Policy and Management from Columbia University. With more than 20 years of professional experience, driven by her mission to provide exemplary prenatal care to all women regardless of circumstance, Gaither positively impacts the lives of thousands of women by delivering valuable information on a spectrum of women’s health issues through media appearances, seminars and as a sought-after contributor to The Huffington Post, Thrive Global and U.S. News & World Report. Additionally, she has been published by multiple scientific journals and is a reviewer for WebMD. Gaither is based in New York and is a New York native.

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