Preventing Allergies in Children: Things to consider even before conception
Both sides of our family have a history of allergies. My husband is allergic to all nuts, seeds, mold, pollen and other not-yet identified things. Other members of his immediate family have asthma, hayfever, and skin reactions to sunlight. While I have no obvious allergies, both of my sisters do, (I was the only one of us born in a drug free birth AND breast-fed) and one of my sister's children is allergic to a bunch of foods and had constant exzema his first few years of life until the offending foods (and there were a lot of them) were removed from his diet. I knew all this family history before I ever became pregnant and figured that my offspring would likely have a genetic susceptibility to allergies. I wondered if there was anything that I could do to reduce the likelihood of them developing allergies. I did quite a bit of research on this topic years ago and found out some interesting things. Unfortunately, at that time I had no thoughts about ever publishing any of the things that I found out, so I made no notes, and collected no references. I was merely trying to gather information to figure out what I might do to help my future children. Also some of what I am about to tell you I didn't actually read, but rather hypothesized based upon a collection of things that I read. In other words, I could be wrong on some of this. So please just consider what I am about to say my own well-thought out opinions, beliefs and/or hypothesis. However, with the possible exception of the vaccination issue, doing these things is not likely to carry any risk either -- so it won't hurt to try them. However my real intent in sharing all of this with you is simply to give you some ideas to further investigate and come up with your own plan. However know this....my children are now 2 and 6 years old and are allergy free!
Beginning before pregnancy, both parents can work to get their bodies as cleaned out as possible. We made an extra conscious effort starting about 3 months before conception. All substances which might depress immune function were avoided -- all drugs and cold medicines, artificial sweeteners, trans fatty acids, all animal derived foods -- especially fish which tends to be more chemically contaminated, and dairy products which contain cow hormones in addition to a host of contaminating chemicals. I avoided dental work and x-rays during this time too. It might even be worthwhile to try a diet designed to heal "leaky gut syndrome" ( http://www.vegsource.com/klaper/nutrition.htm ) prior to getting pregnant, which might reduce the chance that large protein molecules are passing through the mother's digestive system into her bloodstream where they could sensitize her baby.
Foods consumed during the first three months of pregnancy might set the stage for the baby to "tolerate" these foods, so I tried to eat a variety of whole foods at that time including various grains, nuts, seeds, tofu, beans and of course tons of fruits and vegetables. Naturally I continued to avoid all of the questionable things listed above. The last three months of pregnancy I read are a time when there may be an increase in the ability of foods to "sensitize" and set the stage for allergies. Therefore I tried not to eat too much of any particular food at this time, or at least to go a few days in between eating the same food again-- especially those which tend to be more allergenic like nuts, seeds, soy and many grains.
Think about ways to decrease your baby's exposure to chemicals during and right after birth as well -- this topic is covered extensively in Compassionate Souls -- Raising the Next Generation to Change the World.
Then after my baby was born, I did what I consider most important of all --WE NURSED. Beginning AS SOON AS POSSIBLE AFTER BIRTH, PUT YOUR BABY TO THE BREAST! This will release hormones in the mother's body which facilitate separation of the placenta from the uterine wall, and reduce the risk of hemorrhage. For the first couple of weeks (and especially the first three days) breast milk contains a high percentage of Colostrum. The more colostrum your baby gets the better. It has a laxative effect on the baby helping to quickly remove bilirubin from her system and reduces the chance of her developing jaundice. Colostrum is a magical substance and should be the very first thing to touch your baby's digestive tract. It will coat and "seal" the intestines allowing important immune boosting molecules through, but keeping undesirable proteins that may also be in the mother's milk (protein fragments from food she has eaten -- which could be allergenic) from passing directly into the baby's bloodstream, and priming the baby for allergies. Normally a baby's intestines are super permeable to large protein molecules for about the first 4-6 months -- so that immunoglobulins (which are large protein molecules) can pass directly into the baby's blood and protect him from infections. It is thought that in children who are genetically susceptible to allergies this period of permeability may last longer -- perhaps six months, maybe even twelve! Nursing exclusively (that is no formula, no sugar water no fruit juice and no solids of any kind for as long as possible is probably the best thing that you can do to reduce the likelihood of a child predisposed to allergies from ever actually developing them. I highly recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the entire first year! But if your baby is screaming for food when the rest of the family eats, then I would recommend giving some broccoli flowers steamed until they are very soft and cut into little pea-sized chunks that a baby can pick up with their fingers and eat on their own. After that add a new green or yellow vegetable cooked very soft every 3-4 days and watch for any reactions, exzema, circles under eyes, diaper rash etc. Then introduce non-citrus fruits -- peeled since skins can be a choking hazard. Very ripe banana's, apples cut into tiny chunks and then smashed with a fork to almost make a chunky apple sauce, avocado is good. Hold off on grains and beans until at least one year, since these are more likely to cause allergies. Nuts and seeds, (and all nutbutters too) which are even more likely to cause allergies should not be introduced until a child is at least three years of age when the immune system will be better developed.
There is a growing body of research that suggests that routine childhood immunizations play a role in the development of allergies and asthma. There are many reasons to NOT immunize, which I won't go into here (however there is a chapter on this in my book) I really encourage every parent to look into this issue thoroughly before making a decision as to whether you will or won't immunize. However, if after extensive research you still feel compelled to do so, then consider only doing those immunizations which do seem really and truly justified to you. Also consider whether you can hold off doing any of the immunizations while your baby's immune system matures-- this may decrease the chance of the immunization triggering allergies and asthma. Babies under one year of age are not very likely to step on rusty nails. There is not much chance of your child being exposed to polio inside of the US in the next couple of years.
One particular allergy that seems to be increasing in incidence is allergy to latex. Many researchers think this might be related to the use of steel-belted radial tires which secrete particles of latex into the atmosphere. Other's blame the increasing use rubber gloves by health-care professionals. I have a third hypothesis to add to this -- pacifiers and nipples on bottles, many of which are made of latex, and which too many babies are routinely exposed to at very young ages when their gut is still very permeable. Does this mean that I recommend silicone or plastic instead? NO I would predict problems there too. I recommend that you use what our species evolved to use -- mother's breast. You can also help your baby to put his fingers or thumb into his mouth. Then when your baby is old enough to grab something and put it into his mouth, give him unfinished, unpainted wooden toys -- these probably carry the least risk of introducing immune suppressing chemicals into your baby's body.
Ask any parent of grown children -- childhood passes by so fast, especially the first three years. Going to a little extra effort to shelter your baby from environmental hazards during this time, could make a huge difference in the quality of his entire life!
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