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How can Newborn Babies See At Birth?

I was at the birth of my nephew some years ago and the moment he came into the world is one that I will never forget.  There was hardly a whimper.  His mother gave birth with him on her hands and knees and he came out the back.  As soon as his head emerged, I saw his eyes scanning the room, turning his head to see.  It was as if he was saying, “So this is what it looks like out here!”  My initial thought was, “He is a wise soul.”

I’ve always taken it for granted that a baby at the moment of birth will be able to open his eyes and just automatically see anything there.  It never occurred to me to wonder how this actually happens. I believed that the optic nerve is developed in utero and then at birth it just starts working.  Though this is true, it is not the whole story. How is it that a baby’s eyes are able to see at the moment of birth? Is it with the sudden stimulation of light? Or is there some preparation while in the womb?

Since then, I have learned more about the science of how a baby sees.  The optic nerve doesn’t just automatically adjust to light on the outside – it has to have had preparation and practice while still in the womb.  But how can this happen when it is dark inside the womb?

After about four months of gestation, the human fetus has grown 200 billion never cells in the brain, twice as many as it needs. 1 We do know that when nervous systems are not properly stimulated during specific critical sensitive periods in development, they never function properly, even if they are stimulated later.2  We also know that a fetus in the womb is exposed to sounds, pressure on the skin, smells and even flavors in the amniotic fluid.  The fetal brain is actually shaped by these nerve signals that travel down nerve pathways.  Those that are used most often become stronger.  Those not used as often become weaker and may even be eliminated.  So it makes sense that the optic nerve for sight would have a stronger pathway to prepare the infant to see at birth.  But how?

The fetal brain uses artificial
stimulation to help its
visual system develop.

It was fascinating to read the answer to this question in “The Promise of Sleep” book by Dr. William Dement, MD.  It turns out that neurological research provides evidence about another wonder of the human body. It has been discovered that the fetal brain uses artificial stimulation to help its visual system develop.  He states, “Since the womb is dark, the eyes can’t send messages back to the visual area of the brain and give them the workout they need to develop. And yet, immediately after birth, the eyes and the visual areas of the brain work fine. This is possible because the eyes of fetuses create their own nerve signals, just as they would if activated by light. These signals then pass from the retina to the visual areas of the brain and give them the stimulation they need to form images later.  This allows the visual system to organize itself so it can make meaningful images from the first patterns of light that hit the eyes after birth.”

“REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep continues to be an important part of visual development after birth, hitting brain cells in ways that complement the stimulation from light.”3  It is interesting to note that REM sleep is dream sleep so perhaps visual images in utero provide self-stimulation laying the foundation for its own organization by creating proto-sensations that train the brain and prepare it for the real-world sensations to follow.4 When the nerve cells for the visual system are not stimulated by either light or REM sleep signals, the visual nerve cells atrophied (wasted away) even faster.  This suggests that REM sleep continues to be an important part of visual development after birth, exciting brain cells in a way that complements the stimulation from light.

At birth, babies cannot see very far, 8-15 inches but that is the perfect distance to see their mother’s faces.  In fact, they prefer faces rather than other shapes, and also shapes that have light and dark borders – just like their mother’s eyes.  A mother and her baby are primed to bond and connect with each other in fascinating ways such as this. They are several months old before they can see their first color – red.

What is important to know and believe, is that a baby at or near full gestation at the moment of birth is very competent.  His nervous system is very well developed from the neck, up.  The sucking reflex is primed for survival and is calming.  No wonder then that the body since ancient times has determined a creative way for us to see at the moment of birth.

(See our blog on the size of baby’s eyes)

  1. Dement, William MD, PhD. The Promise of Sleep, Random House Inc, NY. 1999, pages 254.
  2. Ibid p. 254
  3. Ibid p. 254
  4. Ibid p. 254
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Breastfeeding and Your Telomeres: Helping you and your baby to live longer

Do you want to increase the chances of you and your baby living longer?  Here is another wonderful benefit of breastfeeding and it has a lot to do with your Telomeres (tee-lo-meres)?  Telomeres are located on the tips of our chromosomes and correlate significantly with health and longevity. 

In fact, they may be considered the fountain of youth people historically have been searching for and yearned for.  But much of this is dependent on our lifestyles.

The research on telomeres is relatively new in science and presents a new way of thinking about human aging.  The question that is raised in the book “The Telomere Effect” by Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD and Elissa Epel, PhD, is “Why do people appear to age differently?”  

The DNA of every chromosome has DNA strands at their tips, which are coated by a protective sheath of proteins.  Even though they are very small, less than one-ten-thousandth of the total DNA of our cells, they are vitally important to our lives.  They are known to shorten with each cell division.  They help to determine how fast your cells age and when they die, depending on how quickly they wear down.  We didn’t use to believe that they could grow longer again, but now we do know that the ends of our chromosomes, our telomeres, can actually lengthen.  Though we will all become older, new evidence shows this is a dynamic process that can be accelerated or slowed, and even reversed.

Our telomeres actually listen to us by responding to the instructions we give them.  This happens through the foods we eat, how we respond to emotional challenges, how much exercise and sleep we get, and trust and faith in those surrounding us.  In this way, we have a degree of control about our cellular health.

We now know that a new mother can actually “feed” her baby’s telomeres by making sure she is exclusively breastfeeding in the first weeks of life. A study out of UCSF found that children who were only breastfed in the first six weeks of life (no formula or solid foods) had longer telomeres.1 Therefore, introducing solid food before six weeks of age is linked to shorter telomeres. And just as interesting is the fact that a mother who has shortened telomeres, actually passes on these shortened telomeres to her baby in the womb, not giving her baby a good start in life.  “If the mother’s telomeres are short throughout her body (including those in the egg) when she contributes the egg, the baby’s telomeres will be short, too.  They’ll be short from the moment the baby starts developing.” 2 Therefore, if the mother has been exposed to life factors that have shortened her telomeres, she can pass those shortened telomeres through direct transmission directly to her baby. Furthermore, It is now known that telomeres are transgenerational, affecting future generations.3   It appears this is true for the father of the baby as well, but to a lesser extent than the mother. 4  

Shortened telomeres increase risk to children as they grow. Young children with shorter telomeres, were found a few years later to be more likely to have a thickening of their arteries, placing them at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. 5 

Nutrition and oxidative stress are two aspects of lifestyle that significantly affect the length of our telomeres.  It was found that three year old children who drank four or more sodas a week had a greater rate of telomere shortening.6 Processed meats also appear to shorten our telomeres.  In fact the SAD American diet high in salt, sugar, and fat is associated with shorter telomeres whereas diets high in fiber, vegetables, nuts and legumes fruits and omega 3s are associated with longer telomeres.7  Mothers with inadequate folate in pregnancy have shorter telomeres.8 But one study showed that too much folate may decrease her baby’s telomere length. Therefore moderation and balance are essential.9

In terms of severe stress (as opposed to lower stresses of daily life), a mother’s psychological stress may affect the telomere length of her baby in the womb.  In other words, a baby’s telomeres can suffer from his mother’s prenatal stress.  It is the stress hormone cortisol that crosses into the placenta and affects the fetus.10

The conclusion of telomere research on pregnant women is that we must find ways to protect pregnant women from severe stress in life.  We must reach pregnant women with early childbirth preparation, have a birth doula, a kangaroula, and a postpartum doula with her so she can feel safe and produce hormones of joy. And most importantly, we need to encourage pregnant women to breastfeed their babies at least in the first six weeks of life, so they can lengthen their telomeres and give themselves, their babies, and future generations the best chances for a happy and long life.

  1. Wojcicki, J., et al. “Early Exclusive Breastfeeding I Associated with Longer Telomere in Latin Preschool Children,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (July 20, 2016, doi: 10:10.3945/ajcn.115.115428
  2. Blackburn, Elizabeth PhD, Epel, Elissa, PhD, The Telomere Effect, Grand Central Publishing, NY. 2017. P. 283
  3. Blackburn et al, The Telomere Effect, p. 282 (see #2 above)
  4. Blackburn et al, The Telomere Effect, p. 283-84 (see #2 above)
  5. Skilton, M.R., et all, “Telomere Length in Early Childhood: Early Life Risk Factors and Association with Carotid Intima-Media Thickness in Later Childhood,” European Journal of Preventive Cardiology 23, no. 10 (July 2016, 1086-92, doi: 10.1177/2047487315607075.
  6. Factor-Litvak, P., et al., “Leukocyte Telomere Length in Newborns: Implications for the Role of Telomeres in Human Disease,” Pediatrics 137, no.4 (April 2016): e20153927, doi:10.1542/peds.2015-3927.
  7. Blackburn, et al “The Telomere Effect” p. 238. (see #2 above)
  8. Paul, L., et al., “High Plasma Folate Is Negatively Associated with Leukocyte Telomere Length in Framingham Offspring Cohort,” European Journal of Nutrition 54, no. 2 (march 2015): 235-41, doi:10.1007/s00394-014-0704-1.
  9. Entringer,S., et al., “Influence of Prenatal Psychosocial Stress on Cytokine Production in Adult Women,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, no. 33 (August 16, 2011: E513-18, doi:10.1073/pnas.1107759108.
  10. Skilton et al. “The Telomere Effect” p. 296 (see #2 above)
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The Gift of Birth is Love Itself

Light and love are inherent in many holidays, especially this time of year.  We love to see light and we feel peace when we feel loved. One characteristic of love is attraction. Newborn babies are full of love – oxytocin is the hormone of love and what helps a woman’s uterus contract to birth her baby. Therefore, levels in the mother and baby are very high at the moment of birth. The gift of birth is love itself.

Newborn babies fill us with awe and wonder. We want to be near to hold and touch them. New parents wonder “Where did you come from?” when looking into their babies’ eyes. This remains a mystery. Did you know a baby’s eyes at birth are about the same size they will be as an adult?  One mother said, “I looked into my baby’s eyes and saw the universe!” Women’s lives are transformed when they become mothers. This is because of love’s transforming potential.

The holidays are also a time of giving.  What are the most special gifts to give our babies, children, parents and each other?  What if we have only positive thoughts and words, seeing what is good, hearing what is good, touching what is good, tasting what is good… so all newborn babies absorb those energies and feel safe. A mother and her newborn are a dyad – they are so connected that what mom feels is felt by her baby and vice versa. Parent/baby skin-to-skin contact sets off a cascade of hormones in both of them. These hormones help lay down pathways in the baby’s limbic brain which impact them for life. Respecting the primal period – from conception to the end of the first year of life – is essential for our health as an adult and it all begins at birth.

The practice of human values of love and giving is the foundation The BirthWorks Experience which is empowering and transforming. Birth in a holistic sense means that the more joy and love we feel for each other, the more the baby feels it in the womb and after birth. In BirthWorks, we establish a deeper awareness of key connections between babies and parents. We do this by holding parents in awe of the gift of birth and nature’s perfect design.  For example, the process of having the smell of amniotic fluid in the womb is similar to colostrum’s smell, which helps the baby find life-giving food at the breast at birth. Breastfeeding establishes an emotional language which later leads to speech – all so perfectly designed for our miraculous growth and development.  In The BirthWorks Experience, we encourage trusting how the universe put all this together, helping every baby have the most positive experience for a good start in life.

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Quick Vegan Fried Rice

Quick Vegan Fried Rice

1 cup raw brown rice, prepared and cooked
-1 medium onion
-1 cup chopped mushrooms
-1 clove chopped garlic
-1 cup peas
-1 cup chopped vegan “chicken”
-3 TBSP soy sauce (or more to taste)

Cook the brown rice in 3 cups of water and bring to a boil OR use an Instant Pot for faster results
-Saute the onion, garlic, and mushrooms in ¼ cup water in a scan pan or other frying pan
-Add the chopped vegan “chicken”
-Add the cooked rice and mix well.
-Sprinkle soy sauce and mix in.

Serving suggestions for extra nutrition:
-Add lightly steamed broccoli florets. Allow them to sit 15 minutes after cutting to greatly
increase their antioxidant power.
-Add 1/2 cup finely chopped kale
-Add small pieces of fresh or canned pineapple for a sweet touch
-Serve with steamed brussels sprouts, applesauce, and a green salad

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Fighting Viruses With Whole Plant Foods

heart shape made of red and green veggies overlaid with quote from hippocrates.“I’m so afraid of getting the Covid-19 virus!” “What can I do to protect myself?” These are the thoughts on the minds of so many people during these uncertain times of the pandemic. It doesn’t matter if we are rich, poor, famous, male, female or a child. We are all susceptible to this equalizer that can invade a human body regardless of race, color, status or creed. We feel helpless and wonder what more we can do to protect ourselves. We are told to wear masks, wash hands well, and social distance.
Well, there IS more we can do. We can eat foods known to strengthen our immunity and thus help
our bodies fight the virus.

What we know:

-The virus binds itself to cells using a protein on the surface of the cells called ACE-2. ACE-2 is an entry receptor for SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for coronavirus disease 19 (COVID 19). These ACE2 receptors are found throughout the body in blood vessels; on olfactory bulbs that provide a sense of smell; on kidneys in the gastrointestinal tract, and even in the brain.
-Covid-19 is a vascular disease because it affects the endothelium present in the lungs and organs of the body. Even if one recovers, it often leaves a “tail” of other symptoms that can go on for weeks and months causing various degrees of dysfunction.
-We know that people with underlying medical conditions are more susceptible to the severity of the disease. This means their immunity may already be compromised.
-The virus has an affinity for fat cells, making people with Diabetes Type 2 and obesity more likely to be more severely affected.
-When the virus infects a cell, it tricks it into replicating itself thus producing symptoms.

But we do know that:

The body is always working to heal itself. When a virus invades the body, our bodies normally work to fight them off with NK (Natural Killer) cells which are large granular lymphocytes (LGL) that help our bodies to provide a rapid response to virus-infected cells. They are known to play vital roles in controlling and eliminating both virally-infected and cancer cells. The more NK cells, the stronger is our immunity to fight a virus.

The Good News: Foods known to enhance our immunity
Here are foods that through randomized controlled trials have been found to enhance our NK cells thus giving us a better chance to fight off the virus? These foods are known to enhance our immunity.

Broccoli Sprouts: The University of North Carolina, University Children’s Hospital Basel, Stanford University, enrolled 29 healthy volunteers. They ate 2 cups of broccoli sprouts in a shake (or placebo) daily for 4 days. Sprout eaters had 22 times more NK T cells and more killing power. They had fewer flu virus in the nose.
(Müller L, Meyer M, Bauer RN, et al. Effect of broccoli sprouts and live attenuated influenza virus on peripheral blood natural killer cells: a randomized double-blind study. PLoS One. January 28, 2016;11(1):e0147742. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0147742.)

Blueberries: In a small randomized placebo controlled study of 25 well-trained runners to test the anti-oxidant anti-inflammatory, T-cells and natural killer (NK) cells after eating 250 mg. (1 cup) of blueberries daily for 6 weeks before a 2.5 hour run. The results showed significant increases in NK cells in the subjects consuming the blueberries relative to the controls who did not consume blueberries daily as well as acute ingestion significantly reducing markers of oxidative stress &; increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines. (McAnutty, Lisa et al, Effect of blueberry
ingestion natural killer cell counts, oxidative stress, and inflammation prior to and after 2.5 h of running.
Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 2011: 36: 976.)

Cranberries: Consumption of cranberry polyphenols enhances human gamma-delta T cell proliferation by 3.2 fold &; reduces the number of symptoms associated with colds and influenza by 16% in 54 healthy subjects in a randomized, placebo-controlled intervention study. (Nantz etal Nutrition Journal 2013. 12:161

Mushrooms: Dietary intake of white button mushroom (WBM) (Agaricus bisporus) accelerates salivary immunoglobulin A secretion in healthy volunteers. Secretory IgA acts as the first line of adaptive
humoral immune defense at mucosal surfaces when fighting infections including viruses, Be sure to eat the stems that are full of immune boosting power. (Sang Chul Jeong PhD, ( =journal homepage Nutrition 28 (2012 527-531) A small study (20 persons)showing that adding !/3 cup/day of WBM x 1 wk caused a 144% increase in salivary IgA which remained elevated x 2wk.)

There is ample evidence that there are a variety of whole natural unprocessed plant foods that can be helpful in improving your overall immune status as well as decreasing the chances of a severe infection from Covid-19 without any adverse effects. So why not eat them?

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Covid-19 and Childbirth


The Corona Virus pandemic is a new disease causing massive confusion, uncertainty, suffering,
and death. We all have questions, many of which cannot be answered at this early stage of the
pandemic. We do know that the virus is spread mostly through respiratory droplets produced
when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes. We do know that the virus can live up to a
week on plastic and metal and even up to 24 hours on cardboard, making wiping down
contaminated things like doorknobs very important. We are all still learning if it spreads in
other ways, but no matter what your questions, the primary and most effective precautions to
take whether pregnant or not remain:

1. Washing your hands with soap completely and for 20 seconds including between the
fingers and thumb under the nails

2. Respect social distancing. Stay at home with your families whenever possible. Avoid
people who are sick and treat other people wo do not appear sick as symptomatic
carriers of COVID-19 i.e. keep your distance at least six feet to help prevent the further
spread of the virus. We must all do our part to help prevent the further spread of the
virus. It is only when the world works together as a team, that we can fight this invisible

3. Cover your cough and sneeze and cough or sneeze into your elbow.

4. Wipe down any surfaces that could be contaminated with alcohol wipes of at least 65-
90% isopropyl alcohol. The good news is that even though the viruses are easily
transmitted, they are also easily eradicated upon contact with alcohol.

5. Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) if you are a health care worker, and follow
all the protocols and instructions for when and how to use and change PPE, to ensure
your own safety.

These recommendations hold true for most questions surrounding pregnancy, labor, birth, and
the postpartum period. This is an invisible disease that must be taken seriously. Here are
questions you may have concerning Covid 19 and birth:

Mothers testing positive for COVID-19 who have tested positive at birth for the virus: There
have been no babies born to mothers testing positive for COVID-19, who have tested positive at
birth for the virus.

If I test positive, will it spread to my baby when I’m pregnant? We still do not know at this
time but precautions must be taken like coughing into the elbow and following other
recommendations above to prevent transmission to others at birth. So far, no infants born to  mothers with COVID- 19 have tested positive for the Covid 19 virus at birth. The virus was not
found in samples of the placenta, amniotic fluid, or breastmilk.

Are my young children more or less likely to get COVID-19: At this time, it seems from the
data that very young children are much less likely to get the disease, however, since little is
known about COVID-19 all precautions above are strongly recommended. Thus far, only one
infant less than one year of age has tested positive for COVID-19.

Will pregnant women be more ill with the disease than non-pregnant women? It has always
been important for pregnant women to protect themselves as much as possible as they have a
higher risk of developing severe illnesses in general, including from influenza viruses. COVID-
19 is no exception. It is especially important for them to follow the recommendations above.

What should I do if I’m pregnant and test positive for COVID-19? Pregnant women with
confirmed COVID-19 or who are PUIs (Pregnant persons under investigation) should notify the
obstetric unit prior to arrival so infection control preparations can be anticipated.

When I’m in labor, can my partner and doula be with me? Many, but not all hospitals are
allowing only one person with a woman in labor and some even allow nobody else in the room
except caretakers. Social isolation is seen as one of the most effective ways to prevent the
spread of COVID-19 and unfortunately this includes women in labor. It is best to call your
hospital to find out what policies they have regarding these questions and they can change
quickly or sometime be negotiated separately with your care provider for special

Can I stay with my baby after birth if I test positive for COVID-19? Infants born to mothers
with confirmed COVID-19 should be considered PUIs. As such, infants should be isolated
according to the Infection Prevention and Control Guidance for PUIs. However, it is
recommended that separation of the mother from her baby should be made on a case-by-case

If I test positive for COVID-19, can I breastfeed my baby? “Breastmilk provides protection
against many illnesses and is the best source of nutrition for most infants. The CDC has no
specific guidance for breastfeeding during infection with similar viruses like SARS-CoV or
Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV). However, much is unknown about
COVID-19. Whether and how to start or continue breastfeeding should be determined by the
mother, in coordination with her family and healthcare providers. A mother with confirmed
COVID-19 or who is a symptomatic PUI should take all possible precautions to avoid spreading
the virus to her infant, including washing her hands before touching the infant and wearing a face
mask, if possible, while feeding at the breast. If expressing breast milk with a manual or electric
breast pump, the mother should wash her hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and  follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use. If possible, consider having
someone who is well feed the expressed breast milk to the infant.” 2

For more information visit
1. Prevention for 2019 Novel Coronavirus.
2. Interim Guidance on Breastfeeding for a Mother Confirmed or Under Investigation for
3. Interim Considerations for Infection Prevention and Control of 2019 Coronavirus Disease
2019 (COVID-19) in Inpatient Obstetric Healthcare Settings.