Food Before One Should be Nourishing and Fun

Food before one should be nourishing and fun

by Erin Donley

Have you ever heard the term, “Food before one is just for fun?” I call that baloney. Have you ever thought of the most nutrient dense foods you eat? Some may say baked salmon, fruits, vegetables and coconut oil. Yes! All of those foods are very nutrient dense. They have awesome fats for the nervous system (helps the brain work well!), vitamins and minerals for beautiful skin and energy, and coconut oil is very satisfying and can even help your metabolism.

So, now think about those first foods infants are usually fed…rice cereal, packaged fruits & vegetables, infant cookies & crackers (puffs) and maybe some fresh fruits. Rice Cereal is not that nutrient dense compared to salmon or coconut oil. Children prior to the age of 18 months actually cannot digest grains such as wheat, barley, oats and rice. They don’t have the digestive enzymes and their systems have not matured enough to break them down.  So what is there to feed baby then?

Letting baby lead the process of starting solids is the best way to encourage healthy eating behaviors. Some babies will start as early as 5 months or so or up to 10 months for their first foods.

There are many soft and easy to mash up foods that are perfect for children up to age 2. For instance, the Weston A Price Foundation, a group that advocates nourishing traditional foods based on the work the dentist Weston A Price, suggests baby’s first foods should be egg yolks, liver, bone broth, butter, avocados, fish eggs, and fermented cod liver oil. These foods are easy to swallow and are chocked full of protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. These foods can be introduced at around 6 months old. Just lightly cook a whole egg in a skillet and grate some grass fed frozen liver into the egg yolk. Then just put some on a little baby spoon. You may be quite surprised how much your baby loves this food! Babies also love to eat mashed banana and avocado.

At around 10 months or so, babies can be fed a variety of meats, fish, fruits, fermented dairy (if tolerated) and vegetables. Don’t forget to include healthy fats such as grass fed butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and other grass fed fats when cooking for baby.

My son, now almost 3, had many digestive issues as an infant. After trying every commercial formula, we researched and found the infant formula recipe in the cookbook, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. We started giving it to him when he was about 5 months old. He loved it. Then at around 6 months we started with the liver and egg yolk. Some of his digestive issues started to return so we stopped the eggs in recommendations of his physician. However, we continued to feed him soft cooked sweet potatoes and other root vegetables blended with bone broth. He would practice feeding himself avocado, banana, soft pears, and even beef stew meat. His skin was beautiful and his sleep was finally settling out better at night. Honestly, I was surprised how easy it was to feed him a whole foods based diet. I saved a ton of time using my crockpot frequently to cook down many types of animal meats.

By feeding your baby nutrient dense foods prior to age 1, you will encourage him to enjoy nutrient dense foods and develop a palate for vegetables and fruits. Plus, the whole family benefits from eating a whole foods based diet together. Remember that the main source of baby’s nutrition should come from breastmilk or formula before 1.

Erin headshotErin Donley M.Ed NTP is a Nutritional Therapist in private practice in Mechanicsburg PA. She has a passion for working with young families transitioning to a whole foods based diet, working with couples trying to achieve pregnancy, and running the RESTART group program for those looking for solid nutrition education and a sugar detox. Find more information on Facebook @ Faithandhopewellnessassociates and at


Folate vs Folic Acid in Pregnancy

Pregnancy often makes us take a closer look at our nutrition. Even if we weren’t taking vitamins in the past, we’re likely to start. At the first appointment with our prenatal care provider, likely we discuss some of the recommended requirements or possibly for those of us that are Type A personalities, we’ve already thoroughly researched the topic because we want to be on top of everything by the time we meet our provider.  I recall hearing from a variety of sources that Folic Acid was one of the key important nutrients and to be sure to make sure you were getting enough.  But what is enough and is a multi-vitamin the best source of this important nutrient?  We’ll take a look at recent research to find out how much is enough, is there such a thing as too much of a good thing, and what are the best sources of folic acid or it’s more natural form, folate.

Folic acid and folate are members of the B vitamin family.  Their names come from folium, the Latin word for leaf. (1) It is not a surprise that leafy vegetables are by far the best sources of folate. This nutrient is found naturally in various leafy vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, turnip greens, collard greens, and romaine lettuce. (18) Often the terms folic acid and folate are used interchangeably as in this excerpt from the Baby Center, “If you’re pregnant or might become pregnant, it’s critically important to get enough folic acid, the synthetic form of vitamin B9, also known as folate.” (3)  But in fact, folate refers to various tetrahydrofolate derivatives naturally occurring in foods. (6) Folic acid, on the other hand, is the fully oxidized synthetic compound (pteroylmonoglutamic acid) used in dietary supplements and in food fortification. (6)

Human exposure to folic acid was non-existent until its chemical synthesis in 1943. (4) In January 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began requiring manufacturers to add folic acid to enriched breads, cereals, flours, cornmeals, pastas, rice, and other grain products. (13) The overwhelming evidence that folic acid supplementation before conception and during early pregnancy prevents neural tube defects (NTD) in newborns is what led to the FDA requirement. Food fortification rather than supplementation was deemed necessary because NTD’s could occur during early pregnancy, before a women knows she is pregnant.

The neural tube is the part of the embryo from which your baby’s spine and brain develop. If something goes wrong in their development, the result is called a neural tube defect. These are birth defects of the spinal cord (such as spina bifida) and the brain (such as anencephaly). (3) A baby’s neural tube is formed and closed in the first four to six weeks of pregnancy. (10) By the time most women know or suspect they are pregnant, the time for the developing fetus to benefit from extra folate has passed. NTDs affect about 3,000 pregnancies a year in the United States. (3) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that women who take the recommended daily dose of folic acid starting at least one month before conception and during the first trimester of pregnancy reduce their baby’s risk of neural tube defects by up to 70 percent. (3)

Beyond protecting against NTD, folate is a key player in essential cell functions. It helps make, protect, and repair DNA (15), aids the complete development of red blood cells that carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body (and to your baby) (14), and helps convert some amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) into others (15). During pregnancy, women’s requirements increase as baby grows in the womb.  The rapid cell growth that takes place in the placenta and as your baby grows makes getting additional amounts of folate important. Some research suggests that folate can also reduce your baby’s risk of cleft lip, cleft palate, congenital heart defects, reduces low infant birth weight, preterm delivery and fetal growth retardation. (3, 13) Not only can this  important nutrient protect your baby, there can be benefits for the mother also.  It may also reduce your risk of preeclampsia, a serious blood pressure disorder that affects about 5 percent of pregnant women. (3)

Folate is found naturally in a wide variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits and fruit juices, nuts, beans, peas , dairy products, poultry and meat, eggs, seafood and grains. (13) Spinach, liver, yeast, asparagus, and Brussel sprouts are among the foods with the highest levels of folate. (13) For a more detailed list, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Database Web site which lists the nutrient content of many foods and provides a comprehensive list of foods containing folate arranged by nutrient content and by food name.

The federal government’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes that “Nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods (13) and folate is no different. Folic acid was once thought to absorb better in the body than natural folate, but studies have found that a whole foods, folate-rich diet is just as effective. (18) Based on a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the aggregate bioavailability (the degree to which a substance becomes available to the target tissue) of folates from fruit, vegetables, and liver is approximately 80% of that of folic acid. (16) Therefore, it was decided that the consumption of a diet rich in folate from foods can actually improve the folate status of the population more efficiently that was assumed just a few years ago. In part, this may be because although the body may absorb folic acid faster than it absorbs folate, it must then convert it into folate before it can get to work. (15)

Another consideration is that when getting your folate intake through unfortified food, it comes with a whole host of other vitamins, minerals and as-yet undiscovered phytonutrients that work synergistically in the body.  In fortified foods and single supplements, it may be working alone.  Therefore, it’s best to get your nutrients from food. (15)

During pregnancy though, due to the increased demands of the fetus, it is difficult to obtain a therapeutic dose strictly through diet and may be best to supplement to ensure that you are getting appropriate amounts.   Fortified foods can help correct deficiencies, but they can overdo one nutrient. This may prove to be more detrimental that beneficial.  For example, some fortified breakfast cereals contain 100 percent of the recommended daily amount. (3) And some breakfast cereals, nutrition bars, and other fortified foods deliver up to 800 micrograms of folic acid, and that’s about double the recommended daily dose. Studies have more recently emerged which raise concern about the safety of chronic intake of high levels of folic acid from fortified foods, beverages and dietary supplements. It has been shown that many ready-to-eat foods are actually over-fortified with folic acid and that the projected daily folic acid intake from fortified food has been greatly exceeded. (2) In fact, the fortification program was projected to increase folic acid intakes by approximately 100 mcg/day, but the program actually increased mean folic acid intakes in the United States by about 190 mcg/day.(13) Considering this may be in conjunction with a daily prenatal vitamin in pregnancy which typically provides 400 mcg or more, we see how this may exceed the Recommended Daily Allowance.

Let’s take a look at what the recommendations actually are for folic acid.  The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is the average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%–98%) healthy individuals. (13)  The intake recommendations for folate and other nutrients are provided in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies.(13). It states that women of childbearing age should get 400 mcg of natural folate daily. It is recommended that women get 600 mcg during pregnancy, and lactating women get 500 mcg of folate each day. (18)  In table 1 below taken from the National Institute of Health, you’ll see that folate is listed as micrograms (mcg) of dietary folate equivalents (DFE’s). This term was developed to reflect the higher bioavailability (the amount of a nutrient that reaches the body’s tissues after it is eaten or the amount that your body absorbs)  of folic acid than that of food folate. This chart assumes that at least 85% of folic acid is estimated to be bioavailable when taken with food and that only about 50% of folate naturally present in food is bioavailable.

Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Folate*

Age Male Female Pregnant Lactating
Birth to 6 months* 65 mcg DFE* 65 mcg DFE*    
7–12 months* 80 mcg DFE* 80 mcg DFE*    
1–3 years 150 mcg DFE 150 mcg DFE    
4–8 years 200 mcg DFE 200 mcg DFE    
9–13 years 300 mcg DFE 300 mcg DFE    
14–18 years 400 mcg DFE 400 mcg DFE 600 mcg DFE 500 mcg DFE
19+ years 400 mcg DFE 400 mcg DFE 600 mcg DFE 500 mcg DFE

*chart from National Institutes of Health (13)

As discussed previously, while there is no agreement on the extent of difference between folic acid and folate bioavailability, folate bioavailability is more efficient than this chart assumes. So, the concern might be that you are consuming too much folate, but rest assured, you can’t get too much from foods that naturally contain folate. (12) It comes naturally packaged in balance with other micronutrients, and the body regulates its absorption. It is possible, however; to get too much folic acid from man-made products such as multivitamins and fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals.

While low levels of folate present many health concerns, new research is showing that excess levels may be a concern as well.  The Institute of Medicine advises not to take more than 1,000 mcg per day of folic acid unless advised by your healthcare provider. (15)  Certain situations that may require a higher dosage are:  (3)

  • Women who are obese appear to be more likely to have a baby with a nueral tube defect.
  • Previously pregnant with a baby with a neural tube defect (have a 3-5% chance of having another pregnancy complicated by an NTD.
  • Carrying twins
  • Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) mutation – that makes it more difficult to process folate and folic acid (about 50% of women in the U.S. are unable to methylate or fully convert folic acid to folate because of one of more defects in their MTHFR gene (19) )
  • Diabetic or taking certain antiseizure medications

Studies show that the body can’t properly process a high intake of folic acid into folate. It is possible that unconverted folic acid circulating in the bloodstream could elbow aside folate for spots inside binding enzymes, carrier proteins, and binding proteins. (16) In theory, this could decrease the amount of folate carried into brain and other tissues—like dying of starvation in a land of plenty. In practice, though, whether this is a real problem is not clear yet. (16)

Looking more specifically at MTHFR issues, this mutation makes it more difficult for the body to detoxify. During pregnancy this is especially concerning because the build up of unusable folic acid (from fortified food and certain prenatal vitamins) can cause toxicity and folate deficiency because it blocks absorption of naturally occurring folate. (20)

Multiple studies have been released in the past few years expressing health concerns about excess folic acid consumption. One of those studies presented preliminary findings in 2016 and suggests that excessive amounts of folate (vitamin B9) and vitamin B12 in a mother’s body might increase a baby’s risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder. (9) The researchers found that if a new mother has a very high level of folate right after giving birth – more than four times what is considered adequate – the risk that her child will develop an autism spectrum disorder doubles. (9)  Very high vitamin B12 levels in new moms are also potentially harmful, tripling the risk that her offspring will develop an autism spectrum disorder. If both levels are extremely high, the risk that a child develops the disorder increases 17.6 times. (9)

While this may spark concern in new mothers, it’s important to view the new findings with perspective.  M. Daniele Fallen, PhD, director of the Bloomberg School’s Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities and the study’s senior author urges us to remember that “Adequate supplementation is protective: That’s still the story with folic acid.” (9)  She feels that this study tells us “that excessive amounts (of folic acid) may also cause harm. We must aim for optimal levels of this important nutrient.” (9)  In other words, more research needs to be done.  It still needs determined just how much folic acid a woman should consume during pregnancy to provide optimal blood folate levels for the best outcome for her baby.

Additional studies point to other concerns of excess folic acid during pregnancy.  A 2015 Portugese study published in the Journal of Edocrinology expresses a concern that excessive amounts of folic acid during pregnancy may predispose their daughters to diabetes and obesity later in life. (11)  This study also calls for a need to establish a safe upper limit of folic acid intake for pregnant women.

A few studies have also suggested that excess folic acid may be associated with increased risk for colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers. (15)  While these studies are limited, they sound an additional warning about getting too much folic acid and confirms that this topic certainly deserves further investigation.

Despite mounting studies about the concerns of excess folic acid and statistics from the CDC that indicate on the other end of the spectrum that one in four women of reproductive age in the U.S. have insufficient folate levels (8), it’s surprising that levels are not routinely monitored during pregnancy. Likely testing was previously thought not to be needed once food fortification requirements were put into place to raise levels of folic acid in women of childbearing age. Since conventional belief is that B vitamins are water soluble it was thought that any excess would be flushed out. Until recently, there wasn’t a concern about high levels in the body.

As discussed previously, most folic acid cannot be converted into the active folate 5-MTHF, and instead it is converted in the liver, or other tissues in the body. (18) While both folate and folic acid need to be converted into the bioactive MTHF for the body to use, it’s easier to convert when it comes from food. (19)  The process of converting folic acid is very slow and has been shown to be even worse when fortified foods and folic acid supplements are consumed together. (18) When this happens, it can lead to unmetabolized folic acid in the bloodstream. (18) Possibly as more studies are done to find a safe upper limit of folic acid regular testing will be included in a future prenatal panel checklist to ensure optimum levels.  Keep in mind though that by the time you know you are pregnant, it may be too late, so it may be better to be proactive and get testing beforehand if you want to know for sure.

It’s clear that the science is not settled on this issue, so what’s an expecting mama to do regarding folate intake?  T.H. Chan of the Harvard School of Public Health recommends to continue taking your standard (prenatal) multivitamin, but to stay away from heavily fortified foods that deliver a full day’s dose – or sometimes more – of folic acid. (15) If eating fortified foods, Chan recommends avoiding foods fortified with more than 100-200 micrograms of folic acid (25% to 50% of the % Daily Value). (15) While no supplement can replace the synergistic effects of whole foods, it’s a great insurance policy, especially when trying to conceive, during pregnancy and lactation.  There are now high quality prenatals that contain folate – the natural methylated form, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) on the market.

Seeking Health, Optimal Prenatal


Thorne Research


Zahler Prenatal + DHA


You can get more info about nutrient profiles of prenatals in this blog post by Mama Natural.

Prenatal vitamins containing l-methylfolate have been compared with ones containing folic acid during pregnancy and the results are mixed.  Some experts say that new research will eventually change the guidelines for women, while others say there’s not a compelling case to do so. The choice is yours until more clear information is provided, but as always, be sure to check with your doctor or midwife before making any changes.  Let us know what you decide in the comments.



Holly Keich, LSW is the owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center in Camp Hill, PA.  When she became pregnant with her first child she began teaching prenatal yoga classes that impart not only the wisdom of poses for the childbearing year, but also knowledge of the spiritual and emotional process of becoming a parent. Holly has attended pre and postnatal yoga teacher trainings with Stephanie Keach and Mindful Mamas. She has also attended Baby Om Yoga training in NYC and is a Certified ChildLight Yoga Instructor, including Baby & Toddler Yoga as well as a Certified Infant Massage Instructor. She supports mother, child & family connections through the opening of Om Baby in 2008.

6 Easy Steps to Avoiding Illness

With the start of school, we see ourselves entering into the cold and flu season. What steps have you taken to ensure your health as well as your children’s? There’s a lot that you can do to improve the odds that you will stay healthy. Following these 6 easy steps will guide you.

Avoid Sugar

White sugar decreases the function of your immune system almost immediately, and as you likely know, a strong immune system is key to fighting off viruses and other illness. It is especially imperative to avoid sugar if you feel you are coming down with something, but keeping sugar out of your diet for the long haul will do wonders for your health and make your body stronger.

Eat Whole Foods

The immune system involves complex functions of the skin, intestines, mucus membranes, and specialized cells, so supporting your body’s defense mechanisms really means keeping the whole body healthy. To work properly, the immune system needs a variety of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and proteins in the correct amounts. Vitamins A, C, E, and B complex and the minerals selenium, zinc, iron, copper are some of the most important for immune health. Because these nutrients work in concert with each other, vitamin pills can’t take the place of fresh, whole foods. It’s not a matter of taking extra doses any one particular vitamin, but of including sufficient amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains in your diet.
Vitamin C, widely used for cold prevention, can be found not only in citrus fruits, but in chili and sweet peppers (particularly red bell peppers), parsley, broccoli, and cauliflower. Papaya is another good source. The B complex vitamins are also important for the immune system. Believe it or not, brewer’s yeast is an excellent source of B vitamins and many other valuable nutrients. A tablespoon sprinkled on food is a simple way to raise a meal’s nutritional value. Wheat germ, another great source of B complex vitamins as well as vitamin E, can be used in the same way as brewer’s yeast. Whole oats and barley, wheat bran, and avocados also supply B complex vitamins. For a healthy dose of vitamin A, the next time your in the mood for mashed potatoes, try using sweet potatoes. Other orange/yellow vegetables and fruits such as carrots, butternut squash, peaches, and cantaloupe are also rich in vitamin A. If you’re looking for an immune-boosting snack, try Brazil nuts. These nuts are one of the best sources of selenium and also contain vitamin E. Cold-pressed oil from wheat germ and sunflowers can be used in cooking or on salads for additional vitamin E. Dried apricots, rich in vitamin A, are another good snack choice.

Get Enough Rest

Just like it becomes harder for you to get your daily tasks done if you’re tired, if your body is overly fatigued it will be harder for it to fight illness. Not getting enough sleep can reduce the effectiveness of your immune system by half. If you aren’t able to get eight hours of sleep a night, try sneaking in fifteen minute naps when you can. Regular rest will keep you strong and ensure that your body has the strength to fight off any potential invaders.

Don’t Let Stress Become Overwhelming

We all face some stress everyday, but high levels of stress can weaken the components of the immune system. It has been estimated that up to 90 percent of illness and disease is stress-related. Under stress, the body releases epinephrine and norepinephrine, chemicals that, after a certain period, suppress the immune system. Psychological stress can literally make you “worried sick” with more than just a headache. Whether you watch a sit-com, work with pottery clay, or mediate, taking just an hour a day to relax can have a positive impact on your health.


When you exercise you increase your circulation and your blood flow throughout your body. The components of your immune system are also better circulated, which means your immune system has a better chance of finding an illness before it has a chance to spread. In a sense, exercising helps your immune system to be more efficient in weeding out and acting upon viruses and diseases. High-intensity exercise, however, increases the body’s level of stress hormones and can weaken certain components of the immune system.

Wash Your Hands

Washing your hands will decrease your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth or other people. If your immune system is strong, it should be able to fight off the virus if it does enter your body, but washing your hands provides a bit of extra protection. Be sure you don ‘t use antibacterial soap for this–antibacterial soaps are completely unnecessary, and they cause far more harm than good. Instead of antibacterial soap, identify a simple chemical-free soap that you can switch your family to. Local health food stores carry a variety of natural soaps for you to choose.

Compiled by Holly Keich from Six Ways to Avoid the Winter Flu – and a Flu Shot isn’t One of Them By Dr. Joseph Mercola
 with Rachael Droege

 and Keep Illness Away with These Diet and Lifestyle Tips by M. Langton 

5 Steps to a Greener Spring


Photo: Om Baby Center

Holly Keich

I’m so excited to be embarking on my first school project as a parent of an elementary school student.  Delving into research and learning more than I’d ever even cared to know about my son’s chosen topic, the poison dart frog.  Of course, I’m a little more overzealous than he and the teacher did remind us that this is just first grade and she just wants him to get the experience of being an “information finder”.  But as I read more about this endangered species (on my own time of course so as not to overwhelm my son who was already a little underwhelmed by my enthusiasm for the little critter), it brought me to a very chilling realization just how much all beings are effected by the actions of others.  I knew this already, but began to experience it in a new way.  As I became more knowledgeable, I wondered what I could do to help, to make a difference.
Then, I realized, it’s Spring.  Spring is a time of renewal.  We see tenacity and wisdom in the rhythms of the earth.  It allows us the opportunity to return anew ourselves and begin to work in rhythm with the natural world.  As stewards of the earth for generations to come, what are some tangible steps we can take as parents to make a difference? for our children, for their children, and for the poison dart frog that lives in the rainforests of Central and South America.

First, we to act locally:

1.  Cloth Diapering:  Disposables have become synonymous with diapers, but cloth is making a comeback!  Modern cloth diapers aren’t what they used to be and word is spreading as more parents find out just how easy it is to take the plunge.  Cloth diapers keep nearly 2 tons of disposables out of landfills and reduces the waste of packaging and production of diapers & diaper products.  It’s the natural choice.  When laundering, be sure to use eco-friendly detergents and save energy by line drying (plus it looks and even sun bleaches the diapers).  If you want to learn more, sign up for our Natural Baby Workshop which gives you all the details you need to get started with cloth diapers.  Or go completely Diaper Free and learn all about Elimination Communication in our new workshop with Rachael McCormack this month.

2. Breastfeeding:  Not only do you save money when you breastfeed, but you also reduce waste, less formula cans to throw away, and save energy, less bottles to wash.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months and breastfeeding for up to a year or longer.  If you choose not to breastfeed, then consider organic formula made without the use of certain pesticides and milk-based formulas from cows that aren’t given hormones, antibiotics or other chemicals.  Consider using glass bottles which are better for the environment.  Om Baby’s Breastfeeding Class offers more info to help you be successful with your nursing experience or be sure to stop in to our monthly La Leche League meetings as well!

3. Homemade Baby Food:  Making your own baby food is economical and good for the environment.  Better yet, try Baby Led Weaning and offer baby foods that are already part of what you’re making for dinner.  A well cooked broccoli stem makes a great exploratory experience and is easily held for simple eating by baby.  Make sure baby’s foods are organic as the acceptable toxic load of pesticides is based on adult consumption, not little ones.  If you can’t see spending the extra to buy all organic fruits and vegetables, you can lower your child’s pesticide consumption by nearly 80% by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated produce, according to the Environmental Working Group.  Check out the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides for more details.  Do you have more questions about how to make your own foods and what to introduce first? Om Baby’s got your back!  Sign-Up for our next Baby Food 101or Food Introduction Workshop to make an easy to transition to solids.

4. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:  It’s commonplace by now to recycle our cans and bottles, but what about all that baby stuff?  First, marketing has done a wonderful job making us think that we need all sorts of gadgets for baby, when really there is very little that is truly essential.  So throw away the baby registry guides that you’ve received and talk with a friend about what was truly useful and needed.  You’ll cut your list by more than 1/2 by doing this. If your friend’s wonder that they can get you, let them know a truly useful baby shower gift, a gift certificate to a postpartum doula!  Now, look at the remainder of your list and see what you can borrow from someone else or buy at the many second-hand stores or sales in the area.  Then, consider passing it on to others when your baby is done with it.  Babies rarely wear out any clothing, toys or accessories, so they will be in good shape for the next baby either in your family or someone else’s.

And then to act globally:

5.  Donate to a Charity:  With all the money you’ve saved from being more eco-conscious at home, you may consider donating to environmental programs such as the the World Wildlife Fund and The Rainforest Alliance who are working to fight deforestation and provide economically viable alternatives to forest destruction that will in turn help the health of the land which is inextricably connected to the wellbeing of those who depend on it for their livelihoods (as well as the life of the poison dart frog residing within it’s habitat).

Can Diet Reduce Postpartum Depression?

by Holly Keich

Everyone, will at some time in their life be affected by depression – their own or someone else’s.  Gender differences in depression have been widely documented, with women experiencing major depression about twice as often as men. Women are at the highest risk of depression during their childbearing years.  In fact, about 10%, with estimates up to 25%, of new mothers in the United States end up with postpartum depression triggered by the birth of a baby.

Most women experience some degree of depression in the days and weeks following childbirth. Mild mood swings, crying, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, and feelings of anxiety are typical, and will usually lessen within a couple of weeks following delivery. But if depression symptoms last for more than 2 weeks or get more intense, it may be postpartum depression. Depression is not only debilitating for the mother, but also has long-term consequences for the child, effecting development, health and maternal-child attachment so crucial for a newborns ability to grow and thrive.  So the earlier depression is treated, the better outcome for all.
There’s no single cause of postpartum depression. Physical, emotional and lifestyle factors may all play a role in its development.  There is a growing belief however that postpartum depression may be triggered by a low dietary intake of Omega-3 fatty acids. Researchers have found that PPD is more prevalent in countries, such as the United States where there is a lower consumption of foods high in Omega 3’s, such as oily fish (salmon, mackerel, striped bass, rainbow trout, halibut, tuna, sardines & herring), algae, egg yolks, nuts and seeds.

A myriad of studies suggest that Omega-3’s, polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, help with depression by enhancing the chemical reaction in the brain that enables serotonin, a mood regulator, to be released. At levels that are reasonably attained from foods, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) consumption during pregnancy has the potential to decrease symptoms of postpartum depression.   This is because fatty acids are the final breakdown product of fats in the diet – the part of the fats you eat that is either stored or used in the cells for energy. Fatty acids were once viewed as nothing more than a source of stored calories, but modern research has shown that the quality of fatty acids in the body has profound effects on human health. Diseases related to inflammation, hormone imbalances, the immune system, behavioral problems, and the heart can also be partially or completely resolved if essential fatty acid levels are balanced through dietary changes or supplementation.

You may already be familiar with Omega-3’s in your prenatal vitamin.  In the early 2000’s, companies began to add DHA to many prenatal vitamins because of the proven benefits to babies.  Omega 3’s, sometimes referred to as “brain food”, has been found to benefit brain development in babies, having long lasting effects on outcomes for things such as eye-hand coordination, visual acuity, IQ, cognitive outcomes, motor development, and attention span.  Studies even suggest that DHA consumption during pregnancy may have a small benefit in reducing the likelihood of repeat preterm birth among women who previously had preterm birth.

As an adult, we get DHA from food or supplements, but a baby in utero needs to get these fats from its mother. Newborns get DHA from breast milk or from baby formula supplemented with DHA. More than half of the nerve connections in baby’s brain form during the first year of life, and the integrity of these connections is dependent upon the fatty acid supply from the mother. Ideally, mother’s milk supplies DHA and AA (arachidonic acid) to her baby through nursing for at least a year. Once a baby reaches about six months of age, his or her body will be able to make DHA and AA from other fatty acids.  Until then, it’s so important that even if a mother doesn’t consume much DHA, her body will use its own reservoir of DHA to provide it to her growing baby during gestation and then through breast milk after birth.

Mother’s bodies innately know that babies need these nutrients to develop and thrive, sometimes even at the mother’s expense.  Studies have shown that maternal levels decrease during pregnancy and remain lowered for at least 6 weeks following birth.   New research suggests that this lower level may be associated with postpartum depression.

Many women do not consume sufficient amounts of Omega-3’s.  On average, pregnant and nursing women get less than 90mg of DHA from their diets. This falls short of the minimum daily intake level of 300mg recommended during pregnancy and lactation by the National Institutes of Health.  In a University of Arizona study, depression symptoms improved significantly over the course of the 8-weeks study with as little as .5 gram of omega-3 fatty acids per day.  Check with your doctor to find out if this is a suitable dose for you, as other factors, including your age and general health, may influence how much fish oil you need to take daily.

One of the reasons for low levels may be concerns about mercury, PCB’s and dioxins in fish that have pregnant women decreasing their consumption.  This is a valid concern.   Some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system.   The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish.  Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are advising women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.  You’ll want to avoid eating Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. You can eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Another commonly eaten fish, albacore (“white”) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.  The Natural Resources Defense Counsel provides a printable wallet-sized card covering the mercury levels in a variety of fish. The Environmental Defense Fund also offers a similar pocket guide to buying sustainable seafood.

You may choose to supplement Omega 3’s if you aren’t able to get enough through your diet.  There are some guidelines about what fish oils to purchase as well. Many of the fish oils on the market are contaminated with relatively large amounts of metals and toxic chemicals.  Fish oil made with smaller fish, such as herring, sardines, and anchovies fare better than larger fish since they don’t have time to bioaccumulate metals and other toxins in their tissues. Omega-3 fats are extremely fragile and are VERY easily damaged by oxygen. This is true for ALL omega-3 sources, whether animal-based or plant-based.  Ideally, fish oil should be stored in glass or PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles, identified with a recycle number 1, as they offer the best protection against oxygen.  Don’t ever buy fish oil in a clear plastic bottle, or the giant bottles like you see at some of the mall-type stores because the light goes right through them. It is certain to be UV damaged and rancid. Also, if you have a big bottle of it, it’s best to keep it in a refrigerator to prevent it from going rancid.  If you are taking fish oil supplements, you may also want to consider eating sufficient antioxidants to ensure that the fish oil doesn’t oxidize and become rancid inside your body, as oxidation leads to the formation of unhealthy free radicals. Also, be sure to use the Environmental Defense Fund Fish Oil Supplement Guide to help identify quality supplements that will be beneficial for you and your baby.   

Omega 3’s can also be found in plant products.  Plant based omega 3 precursor alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) can be added to the diet in place of fish oils. ALA is found in such sources as walnuts, ground flaxseed, hemp, chia, perilla and pumpkin seeds. Although plant sources of ALA may still offer some health benefits, it may not offer give the same degree of protection against disease as fish based omega-3’s. According to a new study, the plant based omega 3 precursor ALA may not be converted to EPA and DHA, at least not in quantities that offer any real health benefits.
What options do vegetarians have for getting omega-3’s in their diet? Fortunately, there is another way to get these healthy fats without the need to eat fish. The omega-3’s DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), another important fatty acid, are produced by ocean dwelling sea algae, making them a natural source of omega-3’s. In fact, this is where fatty fish get their omega-3’s – from eating microalgae growing in the ocean. There are now vegan omega-3 supplements available from some health food stores and online that are made from microalgae and contain DHA and EPA in a form the body can use.
Other research has shown that with each successive pregnancy, blood levels of DHA fall further, and that this dramatically increases a woman’s risk of pregnancy complications. This is why it is especially important to build up your reserves of these good oils if you are thinking of having another child. Pregnant mothers with the lowest levels of DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), another important fatty acid, in their red blood cells are nearly eight times more likely to develop preeclampsia, a complication of pregnancy characterized by elevated blood pressure, than are women with the highest levels of DHA and EPA.  And increasing your stores of these vital fatty acids may protect you from future bouts with postpartum or major depressive episodes.Be Aware of These Postpartum Depression Warning Signs
  • Feelings or thoughts about hurting your baby
  • Feelings or thoughts about hurting yourself
  • Disinterest in or detachment from your baby
  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid and/or frequent severe mood swings

Contact your obstetrician or pediatrician IMMEDIATELY if you experience any of these more severe postpartum depression symptoms. There is nothing weak or embarrassing about seeking help. Your baby is depending on you.

Postpartum Depression Resources

Local Support Groups
  • Camp Hill – Postpartum Depression Support Group, Om Baby, 2201 Market Street, meets the 1st Monday of every month from 9:30-11am
  • Hershey — PPD Support Group at Lois High Berstler Community Health Library at Penn State Milton Hershey Medical Center, meets every second Wednesday from 5:30-6:30pm, contact 717-531-3908
  • Lancaster Co. — PPD Support Group, contact 717-397-7461 or email 
  • Lemoyne – Mom’s Place PPD Support Group sponsored by Holy Spirit Hospital, meets Tuesdays from 6 to 7:30pm, contact 763-2200
  • Marysville — Pregnancy & PPD Support Group, meets Thursdays at 7:30pm at the Mental Health Association of the Capital Region Inc. Wellness Center, 115 Valley St. Extension, babies are welcome; free but need to register: 717-957-4263 or

Pregnancy Nutrients from A to Z

by Tanya McCausland

You’ve heard the old adage “you are what you eat.” It makes sense. Everything we put into our bodies is broken down into micronutrients used as the building blocks for new cells, tissue, bone, skin, hair and more. For new moms, however, that old adage could be something more like “your baby will become what youeat.”

Over the nine months of your pregnancy you will be building a 6 to 8 pound baby from your own flesh and blood. The foods you eat will be passed directly on to your growing child to create their DNA, brain, organs, eyes and fingernails. She is relying on you to get all the essential nutrients she needs.

Even before conception eating whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods will support a healthy placenta – your baby’s only means of oxygen and nutrients. 

Not surprisingly, the foods that are critical for conception also support a healthy pregnancy over the nine months. Continuing to eat well throughout your pregnancy ensures your baby is getting all the important vitamins, minerals and nutrients to develop properly, grow and gain weight. 

Over the last hundred years our diets have changed more than over the last 10,000. Along with this drastic change in how and what we eat our health has declined significantly and many couples are having a more difficult time conceiving or staying pregnant. This cannot be a coincidence. 

Perhaps it’s time to reassess the building blocks (i.e. foods) we are using to create new life. 

In many traditional cultures special foods were reserved for newlyweds. The idea being that those foods would help nourish moms through pregnancy and create a healthy, strong and vibrant baby. Makes sense that they would pay so much attention to creating healthy offspring – they needed the clan or tribe to survive! 

We have learned about these foods and preparation methods from Weston Price, a dentist who traveled the world studying traditional diets in the 1930’s and 40’s. While his initial interest was teeth, Price also studied overall health and was particularly struck by the attention these cultures paid to mothers. He wrote, “Many primitive people have understood the necessity for special foods before marriage, during gestation, during the nursing period and for rebuilding before the next pregnancy.” 

Price found that within these traditional cultures certain foods and nutrients played a constant role for women during their prime child bearing years. Here are three of these important nutrients and what foods contain them:

  • Vitamin A: You cannot make estrogen without vitamin A and a deficiency can lead to difficult periods, fibroids, and endometriosis. For your baby vitamin A becomes critical right away. It’s needed when the primitive heart, circulation and hindbrain begin to form. This happens around week two or three, sometimes before you even know you’re pregnant. Real vitamin A is found only in animal foods, including butter, eggs, and liver. The commonly known vitamin A in carrots is actually beta-carotene, a vitamin A precursor which must be converted to usable vitamin A. The conversion is sometimes uncertain so animal sources are best.
  • Folate: Folate belongs to the B vitamin family. Folate deficiency causes terrible brain and spinal cord defects before you even know you’re pregnant.  The synthetic form of folate, folic acid, has become famous amongst baby-related nutrients and is recommended to women trying to become pregnant. Trouble is, folic acid does not cross the placenta as folate does which is why it is best to get this nutrient from food, not a pill. Chicken liver is the most folate-rich food. But, if you eat beans, greens, nuts, seeds and chicken before and during pregnancy you should get plenty of folate. Folate works in tandem with choline and betaine, which you can get from egg yolks, grass fed beef, wheat germ, whole grains and fish.
  • Zinc: Zinc is well known for it’s immune boosting properties but it is also a very important baby food. Moms, dads and babies need zinc to make sex hormones, eggs and sperm. Like vitamin A, zinc is essential for cell division and organ formation. Men cannot make sperm without adequate zinc so increasing zinc can support male fertility. Interestingly, you need zinc to absorb folate. Oysters, liver, beef and pumpkin seeds are good food sources of zinc. Unrefined sea salt is also an excellent source because it can contain over 80 essential minerals – zinc included.  

If you are planning to get pregnant or already are it might seem like you should start keeping track of your nutrient intake down to the nearest milligram. That is a daunting and virtually impossible task. Instead, eat whole, unprocessed foods and focus on making every meal and snack rich in clean protein, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits. Steer clear of processed carbs (breads, muffins, cakes, crackers) and sugar, which can deplete your body of the important vitamins and minerals needed for pregnancy. 


Tanya McCausland is a nutrition and culinary coach and founder of Home Cooked Healing. She teaches new and growing families how to nourish themselves, prevent illness and thrive using real food, delicious recipes and time saving strategies. Learn more about her popular classes, workshops and 1:1 coaching at