The Importance of the Virgin Gut

Peanut getting a poke test done for allergies. One huge red spot is the test spot, the other is for Peanuts.

I didn’t hear about the concept of the virgin gut until Peanut was a few months old. At the time, I dismissed it as a “holier than thou” ideal. By then, Peanut had already had something other than breast milk. Actually, by the time she was a day old, she had already had something other than breast milk.

We transferred with Peanut to the hospital after her accidental home birth. We had trusted our midwife to help us decide whether or not the vitamin K shot would be necessary, but since we didn’t go to the same hospital, our midwives weren’t there. Honestly, they may have recommended it anyway given the length of labor and the position of Peanut during most of it. I’m not sure. Regardless, she was given the vitamin K shot when we transferred to the hospital. I honestly don’t even remember it happening, but (obviously without a medical degree or anything that gives me valid proof) I’m sure that it’s the reason for what happened next.

They tested Peanut’s blood, without my consent I may add, and told me that her blood was “too thick.” They said that I needed to give her Pedialyte to counteract this and that they’d test it again in a few hours. I knew the risks of nipple confusion, so I made sure we wouldn’t do it in a bottle. That’s all I knew to do. I felt totally lost and confused. I felt like they were working against me and my gut told me not to do it, but I did it anyway. Her blood was fine at the next test even with the fact that I’m certain she spit up most of what I gave her in the syringe. This made me wonder if it was even necessary.

So when I was introduced to the concept of the virgin gut, the feelings of betrayal from the hospital staff convincing me to give Pedialyte to my baby were still raw. I felt offended at the idea of my child not having a virgin gut. Like they were trying to say something was wrong with her. Like I had done that thing wrong.

It wasn’t until later that I really looked at the idea of the virgin gut.

There is a reason for the virgin gut, especially within the first few weeks. When a baby is born, their gut is sterile. Babies given supplementation develop different gut flora. Even one bottle changes the flora and, if given in the first week of life, the flora may not ever reach the pH that it would have been otherwise. The pH level of the gut is one of the methods the body uses to fight bad bacteria, then the formula itself often introduces bad bacteria.

Even beyond the first weeks, it’s best to delay introducing anything besides breast milk for the first 6 months, if not longer. Not the first 4-6 months, as baby food labels and possibly even your pediatrician may tell you. Between 4 and 6 months, a baby’s gut will “close.”  The “open” gut of a baby allows larger molecules to pass through the intestine, straight into the blood stream. This is so that the antibodies from the mother’s breast milk are able to get to the baby’s bloodstream straight away, which is a great thing. If formula or other foods are introduced to the baby before it’s fully closed, it becomes a very bad thing. This allows pathogens to get straight to your baby, along with large molecules from the food. What’s the problem with food molecules in the bloodstream? Allergies.

I remember being thoroughly unalarmed by the idea of allergies when Peanut was a baby. We had very few allergies in our family and none were life threatening, so I figured her risk of developing them was pretty low. Then I had a child with a life-threatening food allergy. I kept myself awake at night worrying about someone giving her food without knowing or a label being wrong. I lived in fear of having to use the Epi-pen that we carried with us 24 hours a day and even bigger fear of not having it when we needed it. I still well up at the thought of her allergy and I am beyond grateful that she outgrew it. Now though, I wonder if we would have dealt with it at all if she would have had a virgin gut. May we would have, but I’ll forever wonder if those few little supplements of Pedialyte in the hospital gave us 6 months of hell.

Of course there are situations where a baby just can’t have a virgin gut. A friend of mine almost died during birth and was in a coma for weeks afterwards. During that time, her newborn daughter was obviously given formula. Afterwards, she was able to exclusively breastfeed. Really, an amazing accomplishment. For her daughter though, that formula allowed her to live when her mother couldn’t give her milk. There are many medical reasons for a baby needing something other than their mother’s milk. Even if your baby has been given formula or other food (beyond the first week), the gut can restore itself to the correct pH with exclusive breast milk for a couple of weeks.

So how important is the virgin gut? It depends. Only you can decide if it’s something important to you. If there is a medical necessity for your baby to receive formula or medication, then that can outweigh the risks of a non-virgin gut. Maybe though, if you’re just thinking of supplementing with formula while you go on a date, you can pump instead. Or maybe if you’re already giving your baby formula or other food regularly, you might decide restore your baby’s virgin gut status by going back to breast milk only. Maybe even if there’s not a medical reason, you still aren’t worried about a non-virgin gut.

This, along with all the other things I mention on this blog, are individual choices. I use this space to inform people of the decisions I’ve made. Often it’s because I think I may have made a different decision, or in this case, have made a different decision in the past, without this information. I hope that even if you don’t decide to do the things on this blog that it helps you to make educated decisions. Every one of you will make the decision that’s best for your family and your circumstances, just as I’ve made the decision that’s best for mine. 

Hello Again

Gasp! I am alive!

I know, I’ve been neglecting the blog for a while here. Heck, I’ve been neglecting the outside world for a bit. This last semester at school has been the most stressful period of my life… well… ever. Yes, there are other times where there were large events, but this has by far been the busiest I’ve ever been. I felt like I was constantly failing at at least one facet of my life and that’s just not right. We (which has mostly been me, but my husband has offered opinions also with “but it’s your decision” tacked on the end) have decided that I’m going to start doing school part-time again.

It’s just simply not worth my sanity to finish school faster. This means that our whole plan of waiting until I graduate to give Peanut a little brother or sister is now off the table. Having her be 4.5+ years old before we had another child was really pushing it for us anyway, so I’m definitely not going to wait even longer. As for when we’re going to have the next one, we’ve decided on a tentative time period, but you all will just have to wait and see. :-P

We also put down our dog Kerrigan. We went in and talked to the vet and she said that with her cleft palate (which is a genetic disorder) that she likely had more genetic disorders and likely one in her brain that caused her to be aggressive. She said that we had done everything that we could have and she recommended euthanasia. It was an awful decision, but it was the right one. I knew it was the right decision before we did it, but the fact was cemented in my mind when even after she was gone, I still felt like she might suddenly bite me. I felt guilty at how much relief I felt leaving that vet office.

We had decided before we put her down that we wouldn’t get another dog for a long time. Within a few days though, I was out of my mind missing having a dog in my house. I’m a big animal lover and it took years for me to get my husband to agree to get a dog even though he loves them too. Yes, there were many, many bad things about our dog, but there’s just something about having someone curled up at your feet while you read a book and I couldn’t stand not having. After (lots of) arguing, we finally decided to get another. I researched breeds that are best with kids and found a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that was for sale. She was only 11 weeks old and the girl selling her had bought her from a breeder, but then afterwards decided that she couldn’t keep her. I did all of the tests that I didn’t know to do when we got Kerri and she passed them all with flying colors.

Meet Curie

You’d think that getting a puppy would add to my stress, but it’s actually been great. Even with all of the potty training, extra responsibility, and training, she’s been a doll. Yeah, she sometimes gets too rambunctious, but it’s great having her around. Other than classes, she’s gone with us everywhere. We even sneaked her into see Tangled! It’s so amazing to have a dog who loves everyone. I carried her around the Festival of Trees and probably about 100 people pet her (people love that dog!) and she was ecstatic each and every time. Peanut loves her too and she’s great with Peanut.

Peanut is now sleeping through the night and in her own bed. I didn’t really do anything to make it that way. We bought Peanut the mattress and started putting her in it for naps and before we go to bed. When I would go to bed and she would still be sleeping, I would just let her continue to sleep in there. By this point, she’s going to bed at 8:30, and most nights not waking up until 5:30 am to nurse. I generally go in her room and fall asleep on her bed with her while she’s nursing. Then we wake up at 6:30 (which I swear will kill me one of these days). Peanut is also a talking machine. I know I missed the last newsletter, but I’ll make up for it with the next one. It’s amazing how quickly things change.