“Feeding, Growth and The Brain”

This is Chapter 8 of “The Well Balanced Child:  Movement and Early Learning” by Sally Goddard Blythe.  This chapter is about diet and how diet affects the brain.

The beginning of the chapter discusses different theories about the role of diet in ancient mankind, and questions why human babies are born with so much subcutaneous fat.  The author also discusses research that has been found that for brain development, the ratio of Omega –3 and Omega-6 fats are about in a one to one balance.  “Omega-3 fatty acids are relatively scarce in the land food chain, but predominate in the marine food chain.  It is possible that at one time in our ancestral history, seafood formed a much larger proportion of the diet than in modern times.”   The stores of fat laid down before birth provides a storehouse of sorts for the first years of life when the brain is rapidly myelinating.  (Remember, myelination is the fatty sheaths that are laid around nerves to make nerve conduction faster).

The author discusses low birth weight babies, and how these babies are prone to more neurologic impairment and also at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and renal failure later in life.  Low-birth babies are actually more susceptible to diabetes and prone to obesity in adulthood due to the insulin producing cells of the pancreas being “over-worked”.  This information is nothing new to those of us in the medical field, but I do wonder how many parents know this.  I also find that this book spends so much time going through different things leading to a child having challenges and rarely seems to focus on what would help,(at least yet), so I worried that parents reading this would be upset and feel hopeless.  If you have had a low birth weight baby and this information is new to you, please don’t panic discuss this with your health care team!  Your health care provider will have more up-to-date information than what is in this book.

One of the best ways to protect all of our children, low birth weight or not, is to breastfeed.    Human milk is high in essential fatty acids,which helps in a number of ways, including such things as forming the membrane barriers around cells, determining the fluidity and chemical reactivity of membranes, serving as a starting point for hormone-like substances that help regulate blood pressure, platelet stickiness and renal function and more.

But a lack of vitamin and mineral co-factors, particularly zinc, magnesium, and vitamins B3, B6, and C, prevents synthesis of fatty acids.  This points to “the importance of a varied and healthy diet at all times of life, but particularly prior to and during pregnancy and breast-feeding – times when modern women are sometimes tempted to restrict their diet…”  The author also points out that a healthy gut bacteria and flora helps set the stage for the efficient absorption of nutrients.

In the next post, we will take a peek at some of the vitamins and minerals necessary for brain development and fatty acid absorption.

Many blessings,


7 thoughts on ““Feeding, Growth and The Brain”

  1. Thank you so much Carrie for posting this. As a doula and pseudo-nutritionist for my moms-to-be, and my own family, I’ve stated exactly this time and time again. I just wish we could ensure that in our society we could get this information to ALL moms so that it becomes the norm.

    As always-you are wonderful!

  2. I look forward to the next post! My 3.5 yr old had 2 knots in her cord and was only 6 lbs at birth. She nursed til 3 and is thankfully bright and healthy. I’m finishing a very queasy 1st trimester so your next post will be just what I need as my appetite starts to come back .
    Thank you for your wonderful blog!

  3. All my babies were low in birth weight and are still low in weight (although they are not babies anymore). I nursed them for a long time. We still struggle with weight gain. Interesting connections you mentioned.

    • Eva – were they under 5 pounds,11 ounces? That is the medical community’s idea of low birth weight in term babies, although from my medical background and experience I am guessing this section is actually talking about premature infants 1500 grams and under and those who were intrauterine growth retarded…

      Love to you! Happy Thanksgiving!
      Carrie 🙂

  4. No, only Jonathan was below that. The others were between 6 and 6 1/2 pounds. They are all off the weight charts, but are very healthy and active. Our pediatrician doesn’t mind as long as they are growing (and they are). He is happy to see slender children because many children he sees are overweight.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you as well!

  5. This is very interesting to me. My daughter was 5.8lbs at birth, she was 3.5 weeks early and I had a placenta previa. I took an omega 3 supplement during pregnancy but couldn’t eat any meat until I was 6 months pregnant. She never nursed enough, and I could never produce very much milk. She weaned herself from the breast at 11 months. I worked, so it wasn’t hard. Now her diet at 3 years consists of peanut butter and honey sandwiches, yogurt, pretzels, milk, cereals like cheerios and rice crispies, raisins, apple juice, Pizza and chicken soup. She stopped eating all vegetables and limits fruit to grapes. I buy all organic. I am very frustrated because she will not eat anything else. We offer everything we eat but she will not eat. We have a hard time getting her to eat meat too. She is tiny! 27lbs on a good day. Her immune system has balanced out this year for the first time since birth. She is hyper and moody. Her doc is not worried, but I am. Any suggestions? The posts are very helpful and I think I will be checking out supplements for her at the healthfood store. But what combos of supplements are healthy for toddlers?

    • Tina,
      My suggestion is to see if your doctor would help you get to see a pediatric nutritionist to really evaluate her nutrient intake. That would give you a starting place to know what to supplement. Was she intrauterine growth restricted? Are there issues with sensory things in eating? Do you keep offering a fruit or vegetable each time? Some children as they get a bit bigger can understand the idea of taking one bite as a “thank you” bite. Will she do smoothies – you can hide a lot of fruits and vegetables in smoothies and pasta sauces! I don’t know what type of eating you follow, but many of the nourishing traditions blogs have great ideas for getting really good fats into children – my favorite NT menu mailer is http://www.cookingtf.com and I know on that menu mailer’s forums there is a forum about feeding children.

      I hope that helps, keep us posted as to how things are going or feel free to email me at my email off my About page.
      Many blessings,

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