Growing up in Mexico I took for granted that nutrition was passed down from mother to daughter, and that products like corn and beans were staples of any healthy diet. When I came to the U.S. in 2007, I found myself separated from family and my long time family doctor. My husband on deployment in the middle- east and I was 5 months pregnant with my first child, living with my in-laws (which I had met only once before). This was not exactly my ideal support group for a first pregnancy.
A difficult and worrying pregnancy
I turned to doctors for guidance in my pregnancy, following the standard prenatal diet of mostly grains, some dairy, lean proteins, and little fat. But I rapidly began to notice problems for myself and the pregnancy. Problems such as constipation, repeated yeast infections, ongoing fatigue, low back problems and swelled joints among others. I was assured by doctors here in the states and by my family doctor back in Mexico that these were all normal symptoms of pregnancy.
At my first ultrasound doctors noticed that my baby was smaller than average for American babies. In Mexico the ideal weight is about 75% of what is called healthy in the U.S.A. Soon enough I had all kinds of expensive equipment wrapped around my belly day and night monitoring my child like some kind of alien experiment. Every possible scenario was put to me for the low weight. Specialists questioned me on everything I was doing. Did I smoke? (which I didn’t ), did I sleep well? (which I did), and all kinds of genetic problems were looked at as possible causes. Not one doctor (or I admit, myself until later) thought to ask what should be the most basic question when concerned with any health problem. WHAT WAS I EATING?
An unsettled, unwell baby
After the birth and our subsequent escape from the hospital, my daughter started having feeding problems. She was having a hard time latching and when she did latch my breast milk acted like a drug that will put her right to sleep within 5 min. She was obviously not eating enough so I started supplementing her with (milk base) formula. While on formula she started having intense projectile vomiting after feedings which, needless to say, lowered her caloric intake even more then when she was just falling asleep. After more tests the Doctors concluded that my daughter was lactose- intolerant and switched her to soy base formula.
The switch in formula didn’t seem to have any effect on her symptoms, but I was following the recommendations of my pediatrician so it had to be getting better… When it came the time to give her food, rice cereals were held up as the best food you can start your baby on. When the switch to cereals still didn’t seem to help my daughter’s retention of food, or her weight, I turned to my Grandma for some Mexican remedies. I was also told by my Grandma to give her something we call Atoles (corn flour mixed with water that results in a pudding like consistency) to help her stomach with heavier foods, and try to put some much needed calories into her system. If this was the path to fixing my daughters growth and development problems, all physical evidence was lacking.
A big scare from the doctors, and rigorous testing
In one of her regular well-child checkups the Doctor in residence was so concerned with my daughters weight and general lack of health (skin, hair, attention) that she told my husband and me that our daughter might have Turner Syndrome a rare but not unheard of genetic condition where the child (almost always a girl) lacks the second X chromosome. The Doctor recommended that have specialized testing. While she seemed to know enough to scare us with a diagnosis to an incurable and untreatable genetic disorder she did not seem to know anything else of the syndrome. When tests came back negative, the Doctor and Specialists all recommended (in a way the Catholic Church might have recommended a conversion in the 12th century to a heretic!!) that we submit our daughter to a battery of genetic testing so that they could find out the reason for her gut problems. After they described some of the testing as Minor Extraction of Organ Tissues, my husband and I drew the line. We felt that the best way to help our daughters gut problems did not start by allowing her guts to be harvested in some kind of witch hunt for a “Problem” which no one could find. The backlash we encountered from the medical community about this decision was severe, and only ended when we threatened legal action against some of the doctors. Well that and our loss of my husband’s Health Care Plan.
Maybe it has something to do with diet…
After speaking to Dave Werner (of Crossfit North Fame) he recommended that we talk to Robb Wolf. Robb gave us the ground breaking idea that “hey what you feed yourself matters! Is it any different for your kid?!” He proposed that our daughter was not stricken with some lurking syndrome and genetic disorder but was instead chronically misfed. We tried a strict month to month gluten-casein free diet (one of the most overlooked digestive problems.). I rapidly put together a diary and tracked everything she was eating including a weight and height chart every month to see if she was moving in the right direction.
Paleo principles gave my daughter a new life
After 6 months of a Paleo Diet my daughter’s skin color was starting to glow rather than looking jaundice and yellow. She went from weighting 16 pounds and 28 ½ inches at 17 months (less than the 3rd percentile for height and weight) to much healthier looking 23 pounds and 37 ½ inches at 31 months (still 3rd percentile for weight but in the upper 80 percentile for height)! Her hair started looking shinny and she was growing eyelashes, which before had been short and had the tendency to fall out often. This was particularly noticeable since my second daughter’s eyelashes are huge and full. Her motor skills improved surprisingly fast and she quickly reached all the developmental milestones that she had missed. She is now a healthy child who loves doing summer salts, running, interacting with people and her siblings, growling at her grandpa and would choose sautéed liver and onions over a cookie 9 times out of 10….no plan is perfect!
3 more kids later, things are very different
I never questioned nature’s plan for my gut again. This was a life changing experience that showed me and my family a better and healthier way to live. The Paleo Diet is not just a “diet” in the American sense of the word or a random selection of foods. It is a life style choice and has profound effects for not just the food you eat but helps to open the door to asking “is this the best way, just because it is done this way?” It is the best gift you could ever give to others and yourself. Even though none of my other children have ever shown any pronounced sign of malnutrition as did my eldest, my husband and I have steadfastly fed them all the same, with splendid results. Currently all my kids enjoy the benefits of the Paleo Diet, and have from an early stage (yes! they really eat meat and vegetables by 6 months). They rarely get sick and when I say rarely I mean never except a day of sniffles here and there. What is more, in the pregnancies following the first, I was conscious and attentive to the fact that what I feed myself, I feed my unborn child. And pregnancy far from being chronically painful and a hazard to all your hard earned fitness gains can actually be enjoyed for what it is…. the peace you get before the storm. Your health starts in your gut! So you might as well treat it like your most precious piece of equipment.
Consuelo Werner is mother of 4, freelance interpreter and translator/copy editor, food blogger, paleo philosopher, expert linguist and passionate about cooking! Check out her blog: Healthy Guts.net or follow her on twitter @ConsueloWerner.
Consuelo says, “For busy moms: How to avoid weird chemically processed foods on a budget and experimenting with YOUR CHILD’S taste of food. I will share with you simple techniques I have found to get your kids to eat adult food and the skills to allow even the novice cook to make healthy, hardy and nutritious meals that will help keep you and your family healthy and happy.”
Have you struggled through a difficult pregnancy and/or had a very sick baby? Have you ever changed your diet to make your pregnancies and/or kids healthier?
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