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Four Ways to Optimize Digestion For Your Baby

By Dr. Anjali Agrawal

We spend a lot of time thinking about what we’re eating, but we don’t spend very much time thinking about how we digest it. Even if you’re eating all the “right” foods, how you eat matters too. Especially while breastfeeding, your digestion impacts your baby’s health. Here’s how to optimize your digestion so that both mom and baby are getting an optimal level of nutrients, identify if your baby has food sensitivities, and properly address constipation issues. 

Questions to Consider

  • Does your baby appear to be fussy?
  • Does your baby grunt or strain when having a bowel movement?
  • Does your baby have reflux?
  • Does your baby have eczema or some type of skin issue?
  • Is your baby gassy?
  • Is it difficult for your baby to sleep easily in between nighttime feeds?

As is the case with adults, these signs can be indications that the baby is constipated, or at the very least, could benefit from having more optimized digestion. Once you have identified that your baby is constipated, it’s important to consider why. In many cases, a breastfeeding baby’s constipation has more to do with the mom’s digestion than the baby’s.

Tip One: Focus on Your Digestion First

As a young mom, you might be crammed to squeeze in a snack between meetings or are trying to finish your meal in the few minutes you have for yourself before one of your kids starts throwing a tantrum. But when we eat when we’re on the move or in a stressed state, our body is not properly digesting food. 

If you are not properly digesting your food, you are likely not absorbing all of the nutrients from the food you are eating. Think of it this way, if during the digestion process you only digest ½ of the nutrients available, then only roughly ¼ will be passed to your newborn during breastfeeding. Breast milk is the primary source of nutrients for your newborn, so you want to make sure that you are optimizing the nutrients you absorb through your own digestion.  

The first step to monitoring your digestion is to focus on the regularity of your bowel movements. A lot of young moms hyperfixate on the bowel movements of their newborn and toddlers, but it is also important to monitor your own movements as well. 

Track how many bowel movements you have a day. With optimal digestion you should expect one bowel movement per full meal. Especially when breastfeeding, monitoring your bowel movements can help indicate if you are experiencing stress or inflammation either from food sensitivities or unfocused eating. 

Tip Two: Chew Your Food and Stay Hydrated

As a mom you can probably list the number of times you’ve said to your kids, “chew your food. Sit still while you’re eating.” Of course your main concern is taking safety precautions so your children don’t get squirmy and choke on food, but chewing fully also has its merits for proper digestion. 

Why is chewing so important? The more your saliva is able to coat the food you are chewing, the more quickly the enzymes in the saliva can get to work to start digestion. This happens even before the food particles reach the stomach. When we take time to chew our food, we are sending signals to our stomach to prepare for the digestion process. This means that once the food does arrive to the stomach, our body is prepared to begin digestion. 

Staying hydrated is another important way to maintain proper digestion and ensure that optimal nutrients are passed off to your baby. The goal is to drink nutrient/mineral rich beverages throughout the day like teas, broths, infusions, raw milk, sun tea, etc. If you are drinking water, it needs to be remineralized water (RO contains on minerals and is taking steps backwards). In addition to this baseline, you should drink an additional ounce of water for every ounce of coffee, tea, soda or alcohol.

If you visit the restroom frequently to urinate, you could try adding a small pinch of himalayan (pink) salt to your tongue a couple of times a day before you drink water. The water follows the minerals of the salt into the tissues of your body before it is eliminated. Himalayan pink salt has the highest known mineral content available, helping you maximize your hydration efforts. However if you have sea salt in your kitchen, that will work as well!

If you are monitoring your bowel movements, staying hydrated, and chewing your food, but still notice that your newborn seems irritated or constipated, it may be time to look at the baby’s health more closely. 

Tip Three: Hair Saliva Analysis for Your Baby

Many parents are resistant to food sensitivity tests for their children for a number of reasons. Primarily, parents are concerned about stool samples and blood tests. Hair saliva analysis is an easy and painless way to identify food sensitivities that may be impacting your child’s digestion without having to prick or poop. 

Hair saliva analysis not only identifies food sensitivities, but also nutritional imbalances, toxins, environmental sensitivities, and more. It can offer a wide array of information regarding your child’s health and help direct your decision making going forward concerning the products you use, food you feed your child, and more. 

Identifying food sensitivities is a key component of limiting inflammation and ensuring that proper nutrients reach your growing baby. If food sensitivities are identified in a hair saliva test, it is important for the mom to also limit these specific foods while breastfeeding. If your child is sensitive to gluten, for example, you should seek to limit gluten intake during breastfeeding. 

Identifying inflammatory stressors for your baby such as food sensitivities, exposure to toxins, and more is a key way to learn how to best support healthy digestion for your baby. As a hassle free type of test, hair saliva is a great alternative for parents who seek to limit inflammation and support their child’s development.

Interested in learning more about hair saliva analysis for your baby? Let’s chat.

Tip Four: Have your Baby Adjusted

Yes, you heard that correctly! Gentle adjustments can help immensely with constipation and help jumpstart digestion for your baby. Birth trauma is incredibly common for newborns to experience, even if the birth went smoothly. 

Birth trauma can have a significant impact on the baby’s spinal alignment, and therefore I highly recommend having your baby’s spine checked by a trained pediatric chiropractor as early as possible after the baby is born. While the techniques have improved significantly, there is still a higher incidence of upper neck misalignments when the baby is born with vacuum, forceps, or c-section delivery. Readjustment following birth can help assure that the baby’s spinal cord develops properly, while also supporting proper digestion.

Just as the children’s song goes, “The foot bone is connected to the leg bone,” it’s important to remember that the whole body is connected. If we have spinal misalignments towards our low back, that can also impact the communication of the nerves to our lower digestive system. If your baby is experiencing excessive reflux or has other symptoms such as eczema, it may have to do with their alignment. 

ICPA is an excellent resource to find a pediatric chiropractor in your area. If you’re local to north idaho, I highly recommend Spoelstra chiropractic.

Optimize Everyone’s Digestion

For so many moms on their prenatal journey, the increased motivation to stay better hydrated, take their (prenatal) supplements, and get more exercise is to help optimize the baby’s health. So it seems only natural that after the baby arrives, that the mom’s primary focus continues to be on the newborn baby’s wellbeing. As a young mom, however, it is so important to prioritize your own hydration, digestion, and mental and physical wellbeing. 

Particularity while breastfeeding, what you eat and how you digest food also impacts your newborn. With these things in mind, focus on hydration and fully chewing your food as primary ways to support your own digestion. If you are concerned about your baby’s digestion, consider a hair saliva analysis or getting a gentle adjustment to help realign their spine and promote digestion. The connection between mother and child is a beautiful and strong bond, all the way down to digestion. 

A bit more about Dr. Anjali Agrawal:

Dr. Anjali Agrawal is a family chiropractor, functional nutritionist, founder, and speaker. Her practice emphasizes a holistic approach that is non-cracking and non-popping. Dr. Anjali helps families navigate their journey from conception to adulthood. As the founder of Back In Balance, Dr. Anjali integrates gentle chiropractic adjustments, functional nutrition, ergonomics, and a variety of unique diagnostic testing to identify the root cause of symptoms. She is passionate about helping strengthen the nervous systems of babies even before birth. Dr. Anjali’s expertise has been featured in a variety of national media outlets, including Well+ Good, Newsweek, HuffPost, The Daily Flash, Medium Magazine, and more.

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Pain-free cycles, peaceful pregnancy, healthy clear skin and actually feeling warm were far off dreams for me just 3 years ago. I couldn’t even imagine having a glass of raw milk or enjoying a bowl of garden salsa (it made me bloated just thinking about it!). Worst of all, I was unsure if I’d ever get to start a family. From being passed out on the bathroom floor from the pain of rupturing ovarian cysts to a vibrant and healthy mom.

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