As parents, we want the absolute best for our kids. Fortunately, we can take steps to empower ourselves and support their health and happiness on so many levels all along the way—from the awe-inspiring months of pregnancy as we lovingly watch our bellies expand with life, to protecting their care-free childhood days as they grow and forge their own glorious paths in this world.
There’s so very much that goes into parenting, but I believe that one of the most important steps we can take for our children’s overall long-term well-being is to support the development of the groundwork of their health, the human microbiome.
This topic is really personal to me and, honestly, it lays the groundwork for why we do what we do at The Simple Folk.
After being diagnosed with a parasite and spending six long months in bed trying to find answers, I learned just how important the inner workings of the microbiome are for our well-being and for our planet (which is a gigantic microbiome in itself!).
On this journey to healing, I slowly began uncovering all of the ways our Western lifestyles can damage it through toxins, chemicals, additives, and other hidden nasties that are not only harmful to our children, they’re harmful to our environment as well. I read study after study about how so many of our microbes are mysteriously “missing,” and the invisible toll we’re experiencing as we become further removed from our natural, earth-centered lives.
I became invigorated with possibilities and it led me to reshape my entire life around non-toxic living, campaigning for others to do the same, especially if they’re expecting or have small children at home. I believe with all my heart that these unconventional shifts can truly change the world and health outcomes for our families.
It’s more than simply opting for clean, toxin-free fabrics (which you should absolutely do), it’s a complete lifestyle shift in favor of a healthy foundation for our children.
Why It Matters: The Human Microbiome
Let’s talk a little bit about the microbiome because it is an absolutely marvelous, diverse ecosystem teeming with trillions of microbes that live on your skin and in your body, mainly in your gut, and are the most impacted by artificial materials. The bacteria that live there work on your behalf to keep you well. It’s the residence of the majority of the immune system and develops throughout infancy and early childhood. If you aren’t already familiar with gut and microbial health, you can read all about it in this incredible library I’ve composed over the years.
As has been made quite clear lately, there’s a lot in life that we can’t control—but we can make choices during pregnancy and those first three precious years that can help support our child’s microbial development for an entire lifetime of health.
Go Toxin-Free: Pregnancy, Infancy, and Early Childhood
Pregnancy and childbirth is an incredibly special time and one of the best opportunities to become cognizant of toxins and rid them from your life for good. Your little one literally depends on you to inherit their good bacteria, that means you’ll need as many of the good guys as you can possibly get and why opting out of toxins is an important part of protecting and nurturing your child’s health. Here are a few ways you can retain as many beneficial strains of bacteria as possible during pregnancy:
- Eating a whole-foods diet with plenty of prebiotic-rich fruits and vegetables to feed all the good bacteria already in your gut.
- Taking a food-based prenatal vitamin and a high-quality probiotic formula designed for expecting mothers to keep the microbiome balanced and healthy.
- Staying away from sugar, processed foods, toxins, antibiotics, and medicines that can deplete friendly flora.
- Moving your body, laughing, and keeping managing your stress levels. Your cells are constantly listening to your thoughts and research shows that stress alone can impact the numbers of good bacteria in your body.
- Planning for a gentle, natural birth that enables your baby to pick up bacteria during delivery (babies born via C-section miss this crucial infusion of microbes).
After birth, opting to delay your baby’s first bath by at least 24 hours allows more time for skin-to-skin contact (and the resulting microbial share is a win-win!) while the white coating covering the baby’s skin at birth—called vernix—can do its job regulating temperature, supporting healthy blood sugar levels, and offering protection from inhospitable microbes.
This might all sound like a lot but it can make a vast difference for their long-term wellbeing. You can read my story about welcoming Benjamin into the world a whole three months early and everything I did to protect his itty bitty microbiome so that it could, in turn, keep him well.
Be sure to purchase organic, toxin-free newborn clothing and swaddle blankets made from natural fibers that are OEKO-Tex® and GOTS certified for that extra measure of safety and protection from harm.
As those first couple of magical days turn into weeks, and the joyous weeks turn into months and years, there’s still so much we can do to keep our precious babes on the right microbial path all along the way.
- Breastfeed. Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life creates the most perfect environment for colonization of the good bacteria that work hard to develop your baby’s immune system. The milk sugars (HMOs) in breast milk feed the beneficial microbes so they can thrive and grow—and there really isn’t any substitute when it comes to providing babies with the perfect fuel for healthy microbiome development. As long as you continue to breastfeed, continue with a mom-specific probiotic formula to keep your beneficial bacteria going strong.
- Eat for your (and your baby’s) microbes. Because breast milk is such an important part of the microbial equation, it’s important for moms to eat as many prebiotic-rich foods as possible to nourish their gut bugs. And once it’s time to start introducing solids to your baby’s diet, providing organic, whole food fruits and vegetables that are high in prebiotic fiber gives the good microbes everything they need to thrive for optimal immune system development. As your baby moves into toddlerhood, a probiotic supplement for kids—along with staying away from sugary or processed foods—keeps the microbiome in tip top shape.
- Relax and spread the love. Long-term stress takes its toll on the gut by reducing microbial diversity and lowering numbers of friendly flora, so it’s imperative to opt for healthy emotional management techniques and opt out of toxic, fear-based parenting as much as you can. Creating an environment of love, support, and connection, and playing with your children in a healthy home environment while allowing them to bask in the joy of play, will go a long way toward easing stress for the whole family.
Eating with our microbes in mind and proactively and continually replenishing with and exposing the microbiome to beneficial bacteria is the first half of the gut health equation, but we also have to be mindful of what not to include in our children’s lives—like toxins.
Create a Non-Toxic Household
A big part of supporting microbial wellness is nurturing and parenting our children in an environment that is as non-toxic as possible, so their little bodies can grow and thrive just as nature intended.
The problem is that toxins are everywhere, and they have a devastating impact on the microbiome.1 From heavy metals, pesticides, and nanoparticles, to dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls, and even non-caloric artificial sweeteners (and potentially many others), the toxic compounds that our children are potentially exposed to on a daily basis disrupt their microbial balance.2
While we may not be able to control the toxins we’re exposed to in the air, thankfully we can make a multitude of toxin-free choices when it comes to what we put in and on our kids’ (and our own) bodies, reducing their overall toxic load and the impact on their growing microbiomes.
Keeping toxins and exposure at bay begins with knowing exactly where to look for potential dark corners where chemicals often go unnoticed. For us, our focus is on keeping chemicals and additives away from children’s skin and out of the environment by sourcing only GOTS and OEKO-Tex® certified fabrics and non-toxic dyes. However, there are so many other avenues for chemicals to waltz into our lives through our food, hygiene products, mattresses, and other pockets of our homes.
Loni Brown, a pioneer in eco-friendly living and founder of Entirely Eco, a beautiful and toxin-free home decor shop, discovered her passion for healthy home goods while she was expecting her first child. As she began to shop for everything her new baby needed, she found that, “the common household items we all own and use are the cause of poor indoor air quality, which can have many adverse health effects.” She was determined to find a better way. No wonder her and I have been so close through the years.
Once you become aware of the world of the microbiome, non-toxic living simply feels right. When making sure our little ones are safe from toxin exposure, Loni explains that there are three important areas where we can focus our energies on detoxing our lives:
What goes in our bodies. This includes all our food, water, and supplements. Conventionally grown produce and non-organic or non-free range meat subjects us to all sorts of pesticides that make their way into our bodies to reduce microbial diversity, change the way microbes function, and interfere with energy metabolism. Perhaps not surprisingly, chemical-laden and processed foods and artificial sweeteners also negatively affect the microbiome. By empowering our families with whole, organic foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, we’re feeding—rather than depleting—their entire microbial ecosystem.
What goes directly on our bodies. Skincare and personal care products have a huge impact on wellness. That’s because the skin has a microbiome, too, and it plays a big role as one of the body’s first lines of defense. In constant communication with the immune system, the microbes on our skin are incredibly protective, but many toxins and antibacterial products threaten their existence. It’s amazing how many toxic chemicals are in the shampoos, lotions, sunscreens, and soaps on the market today—look at any ingredient list of a grocery store-bought product, and you’ll probably only recognize (or be able to pronounce!) a couple of ingredients. For me, this is the first sign of a toxin-laden product, and an indication that I need to keep searching for something better.
Proactively seek out companies who are committed to selling toxin-free options for parent and child, and look for personal care products with just a few natural ingredients that allow you to nourish your children’ skin in a clean, safe, yet luxuriously effective way.
- What surrounds our bodies. This area—often overlooked by even the most careful natural living enthusiasts, includes all the stuff we bring into our homes like furniture, lighting, wall/window treatments, towels, and clothing. These items may be loaded with nasty chemicals, which can contribute to health issues like allergies, respiratory ailments, and headaches. The World Health Organization’s finding that home air pollution is responsible for 3.8 million deaths every year is a sobering confirmation of how important it is to surround our little ones with only the safest things—especially since with every breath, resting infants take in significantly more oxygen per pound of body weight than adults.
Of all the things we surround our kids with, the most extended and intimate contact by far comes from textiles. Pesticide-heavy conventional farming leads to textiles that are rife with toxins. Whether it’s the clothing our kids wear or the fabrics and textiles they come into contact with on a daily basis—think towels, mattresses, sheets, and pillows—the toxins in these products have the potential for serious health issues down the line.
As you search for any textiles for your family or home, check labels, avoid GMO cotton and other altered fibers and demand transparency from the companies you solicit to make sure their processes are healthy for your kids and the environment. From the moment we found out we were expecting—and every single second since—we’ve been committed to making conscious, health-forward choices for our kids, always keeping their microbial health top of mind. We carry this philosophy into each garment we create at The Simple Folk, which is why we insist on using only OEKO-TEX® and GOTS certified natural fabrics and non-toxic dyes. But it’s not just for our own children—we value the health of all the world’s children, and we figure if we can make this planet even a slightly less toxic place for all its human and microbial inhabitants, we’ve made a difference.
1. Koontz, Jason M., et al. “The Role of the Human Microbiome in Chemical Toxicity.” International Journal of Toxicology, vol. 38, no. 4, 2019, pp. 251–264., doi:10.1177/1091581819849833.
2. Tsiaoussis, John, et al. “Effects of Single and Combined Toxic Exposures on the Gut Microbiome: Current Knowledge and Future Directions.” Toxicology Letters, vol. 312, 2019, pp. 72–97., doi:10.1016/j.toxlet.2019.04.014.