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Mothers Set the Stage for Early and Lifelong Health

Some years ago, I heard a priest say, “I’ve been working with families for years, and there’s one thing I have consistently observed. It’s always the mother who sets the stage for spiritual growth of the family.” Hmmmm. I filed that in my brain under “H” for “Hmmmmm.” I pondered that for a long while. And one day, I asked myself, do mothers  set the stage for the other aspects of family growth and development?

I think so.

Mothers can grow the baby from a few cells to a few years — and beyond

Nutrition in the first 1,000 days is the foundation for overall growth, development and health. Dr. Sarah Cusick and Dr. Georgieff state, “the first 1,000 days of life — the time spanning roughly between conception and one’s second birthday — is a unique period of opportunity when the foundations of optimum health, growth, and neurodevelopment across the lifespan are established.” In short, optimal nutrition creates an optimal foundation.

In contrast, nutritional deficits have a life-long negative impact, especially on the brain. Cusick and Georgieff remind us, “The critical or sensitive periods of brain development susceptible to specific nutritional deficiencies are increasingly well defined, making prevention of long-term deficits with well-timed nutritional interventions during the fetal period and first years of life a true possibility.” Clearly, then, pregnant mothers set the stage for early and life-long health. They continue to do so during breastfeeding.

Mothers can give their milk to their babies

Archibald McLeish said, “The only thing about a man that is a man . . . is his mind. Everything else you can find in a pig or a horse.” This quote isn’t delicate — but it’s true. It highlights the importance of the human brain!

During those first 1000 days of brain development, the mother has the power to profoundly influence the development of her child’s brain. Many scientific studies show that over 60% of the baby’s brain size occurs before he is 3 years old. In short, the food the baby consumed from conception until nearly age 2 or 3.

During those first 1000 days, some mothers grow their kids’ brains with a food that is perfectly suited to growing a child’s brain — their own milk or, if necessary, donor human milk. Other mothers — by choice or by circumstance — grow their kids’ brains with an inferior food.

Mothers do most of the grocery shopping

According to a recent report, women are still the ones who do the vast majority of the grocery shopping.  Like you and tens of thousands of other American women, I pick out what goes in the refrigerator, in the pantry, and onto the table.

And, mothers who don’t buy junk food are less likely to have obese children. Science has clearly shown us that obese children grow up to be obese adults. Once again, we see that mothers set the stage for their family’s good health.

Mothers (and others!) can improve children’s immune function

Beloved pediatrician and author Dr. William Sears says that he prescribes the Five S diet: seafood, smoothies, salads, spices (turmeric, ginger, garlic) and supplements (omega-3 fish oil, fruit and vegetable extracts). All these foods are natural immune system boosters. If you’re a busy mom reviewing that list, maybe you’ve already realized that you need to cook only one of those items (the fish.) Sure, these are “foods” but they are more than food, because of how they affect immune function. Once again, we see that mothers set the stage for good health.

Our fathers have given us many gifts but, let’s face it — our mothers set the stage for our early growth and lifelong health. Similarly, we must realize that mothers set the stage for the growth and well-being during early childhood development as well as through adolescence and, most likely, the health of anyone living in the household.

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  1. Julie Flesher

    Hi – This is so powerful. I’ve been trying to include this focus more in my education and any time I can sneak it in. Do you have any nice articles that would be good for education to families and medical professionals regarding the effect of formula introduction and changes to the gut? We have used Marsha Walker’s article “Just one bottle.” This is a great article. I’d love to find one that really puts the focus on the gut changes and resulting inflammation, etc. from formula introduction that can increase lifelong health risks for cancer, etc. That has been my passion as I’ve seen the effects of cancer on close family members and it has fueled my passion to help this next generation reduce the occurrence of it. So any helpful education tools you have would be appreciated. Thanks for all you helpful articles, Marie!

    • Marie

      Julie, wow, thank you! That you felt it was “powerful” made my day! Of course I believe in breastfeeding, but on a broader level, I do believe that the choices mothers make early in their parenting affects their choices later.

      Effects of formula: Wow, I’d have to agree, Marsha Walker is the queen of “hazards of infant formula.” And I did a podcast on the topic of the epigenetics and another on the microbiome and all of that awhile ago. But I think you’re looking for a succinct thing that is just a handout…for people who aren’t necessarily willing to sit down and listen to a 1-hour podcast, but might be willing to read a quick “cheat-sheet” on the facts? I can’t say I’ve ever created such a thing, but maybe I should!

      Personally, I spend little or no time talking to parents about the “benefits” of breastfeeding. Pretty much, here in the U.S., the opposite of breastfeeding is formula feeding. So I hammer on the risks of formula-feeding. People like you and I have read these risks for years. (In 1991, Cunningham wrote a seminole article on the effects of formula over the past 50 years. And that was 27 years ago! We know even more now!) I truly believe, both from science and from personal observations that parents are more motivated to pay attention to risks (rather than benefits.) Okay, I can put this idea on an ever-growing to-do list! Meanwhile, thank you for the idea, and for your confirmation that my words were resonating with someone! (And I hope that, if you haven’t subscribed already, that you’d consider doing so!)

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