Nina Planck's Real Food is an excellent primer for ditching industrial crap and eating wholesome nourishing foods, so I was excited to read Real Food for Mother and Baby. No, i'm not planning on having a baby anytime soon, but if you are planning on having a baby ever, it's important to start planning when you are young. In this book she makes the point that when you are having a baby, it is drawing on fat stores laid many years before. What kinds of fats do you want going into your future children?
Nina Planck is of the Weston A. Price school of thought and is not a paleo dieter, but since there is no paleo baby book currently and WAPF has some intersection, lots of this advice might be useful for prospective paleo parents.
Her fertility chapter is particularly good. Her four fertility rules are: be an omnivore, eat good fats, eat seafood, and don't eat carbage. The most important nutrients for boosting and maintaining fertility are:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B 12
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K2
Isn't it nutritionism to reduce it to nutrients? No, because our modern diets are so deficient that to get these naturally has to be learned. Most Americans get their folate and iodine from enriched bread and salt. You have to be aware and willing to adjust your diet to get them on the paleo diet. She also emphasizes the importance of MEN getting these nutrients too and points out all the studies that show that the quality and quantity of most modern men's sperm has decreased. For men the most important nutrients are antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, iron, DHA, selenium, and zine. It's a good excuse for future moms and dads to go enjoy some oysters together and then...well, you get the picture. The missing part of this chapter is information on recovering your fertility after taking the pill FOREVER, as many modern women do.
The prenatal chapter is less useful, as it talks mostly about how much trouble she had complying with the WAPF prescriptions and how she drank alcohol because the risk isn't *that* high. Hmm. The information on morning sickness is interesting though. Apparently it's a universal thing from !Kung hunter-gatherer women to modern women and is an evolutionary adaptation. Even more useful is the information on iron. Boy I wish I had known this with I was in college and had IBS. Once I had anemia and I was given an iron supplement. My stomach practically exploded! Nina points out how excessive Iron can feed bad bacteria in the gut. Many doctors give pregnant women iron supplements, but there is strong evidence that the decline in iron concentration is a natural adaptation to protect women from infection.
Her childbirth chapter goes even less well. She really really wants to have a "natural" childbirth, but ends up needing a C-section because of the unusual position of her baby. I wish she had gone into more detail about why she wanted such a natural childbirth in the first place, since so many people think the concept is woo. But there are good reasons to not want a C-section and birth where your baby is immediately taken away to a ward, one of them is that it permanently alters the gut ecosystem and another is that it can affect the release of bonding hormones, which is discussed in detail in the Continuum Concept.
BTW I think the idea that life for paleolithic woman was HORRIBLE because of pregnancy is garbage. Clearly, many many many women, almost all of our ancestors, gave birth without a problem. It was painful and some women did die, but I'm personally sick of hearing paleo detractors go on and on about it. Paleo diet is a diet and a thought paradigm, not a reenactment club. The fact that so many women gave birth in harsh environments is a testament to their health. It can unfortunately take generations of eating better to fully recover that strength in the form of better-formed pelvic bones that many of us lack these days.
The breastfeeding chapter is very interesting. Nina is a former low-fat vegetarian and presents valuable information on why that is NOT a good choice for nursing mothers. The smoking gun is the level of DHA, the important omega-3 fat, are .10% in vegans and the desirable level is .35%. So many vegans have told me "well, if things like DHA are so important, how come vegans can have babies?" Possible vs. optimal. Reminds me of this article by prominent raw vegan Shazzie:
The truth is, though I'd love to see it, I have never once seen a 100% raw 100% vegan 100% unsupplemented child past breastfeeding age who has no tooth decay and is the correct weight and height for their age. Not one. Ever. On the other hand, I have, since 2001 seen countless raw vegan unsupplemented children spanning several countries with growth, teeth and mental disorders. Now, don't ask, because I will not name names, ever. I have cried at the child who was so retarded he barely moved (he since recovered on a cooked vegetarian diet, perhaps with some fish in the early stages). My heart has sank at the tiny girl on YouTube who has hardly any top teeth due to visible decay. My heart has wept when I've received letters from mothers who "just couldn't raise their children raw vegan", no matter how much they wanted to, even though they followed the advice of "experts" to the letter. And I've been puzzled as to why the raw food community covers these issues up time and time again. "Is it just me"? I've often wondered?
To my surprise I found that the Weston A. Price foundation does not endorse this book.
I understand why. This book is good, but it also highlights the extremely difficult struggle to have healthy children in a modern urban environment. After reading this book, I vowed that if I have children I would want to have a supportive community first.
Nina tries to feed her baby healthy, but doesn't seem to want the other moms to think she is a weirdo, so she lets her baby have crackers and bread. Soon enough, that's all baby Julian wants to eat.
There are good arguments for not turning children into pariahs with "weird" diets, but you should be able to feed a non-talking baby whatever you want. If anything, this exposes a flaw in WAPF. Adults know that fermented properly prepared grains are the only healthy grains, but a baby doesn't. It doesn't matter if you are feeding your baby the best bread ever, you are still giving it a taste for bread. It's too bad, because Nina recognizes that grains are unnecessary and even detrimental for young babies. With the culture against you, I think it's important to at least get in the best possible nutrition before kids realize the social status of cake. And this will happen.
I suspect a major problem is her friends, who she mentions don't think twice before feeding their kids white flour. I hope the paleo community is big enough when I have kids, so I don't have to worry about mothers in my playgroup who think not giving your kids cupcakes on their birthday is a human rights violation. I notice wealthy NYC children noshing on crackers and pretzels all the time. Most of them frankly look sickly- dark circles, crooked teeth, and pinched poorly forced facial features. Many of them have allergies. With all the obsession with fancy strollers and birthing classes, you'd think parents would figure out that dietary quality matters.
I also have to wonder about prenatal yoga. This is SO trendy in cities like NYC and Nina participates in it. Her quest for a natural childbirth is thwarted because her baby is in a strange position and has to have a C-section. Hmmm, maybe contorting our adult bodies into unnatural positions isn't good for us. I definitely wouldn't do prenatal yoga...or any other type of yoga.
Another New York problem rears its head. Nina has to work, so she has to hire a nanny. Early humans would have relied on family members to pick up the slack, but in today's sad isolated world, grandma lives 500 miles away and you have to pay someone who isn't related to you or a permanent part of your life...yet who will have a permanent influence. I remember when I worked at a camp and some children were picked up at 5 by nannies. They would look jealously at the children picked up by their mothers and grandmothers. Many would cry. Some of these nannied children had speech difficulties because their nannies didn't speak English well. There is also the inevitable loss of tradition as children are raised by strangers. I understand that some poor women have to send their children to daycare because their work feeds their family, but Nina Planck is not poor and later in the book they buy a second home. (The Two Income Trap is a great book about why you shouldn't depend on both incomes anyway.)
There is an evolutionary reason why women live so long- because long lived women increased the odds that their children's offspring would survive by caring for them and teaching them. The children benefited the elders too- providing them with interaction and mental stimulation. How many of us have grandparents languishing in far away nursing homes instead? It's an unfortunate cycle- grandma's bad diet makes her physically unable to help, so children are instead sent to daycare where they eat junk instead of grandma's homemade food. Of course plenty of grandmas are isolated from their families not because of health, but because of our culture of age stratification that sends them to Arizona or Florida instead of integrating them in a community.
The NY trap of high rents forces women to wait for decades to have their first child and to not be able to even raise it because they have to go back to work. Paleo-minded women are going to have to buck that trend. It's not romanticization- there are clear benefits to not waiting until you are 35 and to not farming out your child's care.
Overall I think this book is a good primer, but one of these days some paleo mama will come out with a book that's even better.