It’s February, Heart Health Month and the month of love. As a mom, you share your whole heart with your baby. At such a young age, much of the love you give your baby is through health and security as you take care of her basic needs and ensure she feels loved and comforted. And matters of the heart – whether it’s your heart or your baby’s – are essential for your baby’s health and wellbeing throughout childhood and beyond.
Setting a heart-healthy example for your baby is crucial during these early years of life. Babies learn health habits from their parents and all caregivers. Nutrition, exercise and lifestyle behaviors are some of the most critical aspects of good health that you can impart on your children when they are young. Being a role model and helping your kids learn to eat a balanced diet, get regular physical activity and make good choices will stay with them for a lifetime. Caring for your own heart along with your baby’s will benefit you both and continue to spread that natural love.
A heart-healthy life begins with breastfeeding. Breast milk provides babies with the perfect blend of nutrients for their growing bodies and continues to evolve as their developmental needs change too. Breast milk and the closeness of breastfeeding helps regulate a baby’s heart beat to sync with her mother. This calms many babies, creating a less fussy and more relaxed environment for the entire family. We all know there are many amazing health benefits of breastfeeding, and these include benefits for the heart. According to the American Heart Associate, breast milk helps decrease hypertension and high cholesterol as children get older, as well as reduce risk of diabetes, obesity and other serious conditions that affect overall health. For moms, breastfeeding reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, in addition to cancer, diabetes and depression.
Around the sixth month, you’ll be ready to introduce solids into your baby’s diet along side breast milk. Fortified baby cereals are a great place to start, followed by pureed fruits and vegetables. Introduce healthy solids one at a time to gauge how your baby will react to each food. Some babies take to solids immediately while others need some time to learn how to swallow a thicker substance. If your baby is averse to trying new foods, mix them with breast milk to offer a more familiar scent and flavor. Take this time to teach your baby about healthy food choices and having healthy eating habits. It may seem quite early, but exposing your baby to a range of healthy foods has many advantages including the tremendous benefits of variety of nutrients and learning to like different flavors, textures and colors of foods. Often, picky eaters develop because their parents permit it, which can lead to unhealthy food choices in the future. Additionally, establishing a habit of designated meal times when everyone sits down to eat together is important at this early stage.
Physical activity is another heart-healthy value you can instill in your baby. Start by incorporating your baby into your exercise, such as bringing her with you on power walks or jogs, or integrate her into your yoga or weight lifting routines. As your little one gets older, she’ll be much more mobile. Encourage physical activities at her level, which will strengthen muscles that she’ll eventually need to crawl, walk and run. At first this may mean placing objects out of grasp so she has to reach for them and eventually thrust or scoot her body towards them. As she begins to crawl, take her to a playground with soft turf where she can explore and begin to pull up on bars, slides and swings. Before you know it she’ll be running around the park. Make exercise fun for your tot by playing games, even if you make them up yourself. As motor skills develop, introduce balls, bikes and other outdoor equipment that will challenge your child through play.
Finally, lead by example by making smart heart-healthy lifestyle choices. Smoking is one of the riskiest behaviors for your own heart, but can also greatly damage your baby’s entire physical wellbeing through secondhand smoke. Don’t drink excessive alcohol. Eventually your baby will pick up on your drinking habits and realize that “mommy juice” is actually wine. It’s unreasonable to think that your children will have healthy lifestyle habits if you don’t set the expectation with your own behavior from the get-go. When they are grown, they will make their own choices and don’t you want them to be ones you taught them by example?
Heart health starts right now. Not because it’s February. Not because it’s Heart Health Month. Not because it’s almost Valentine’s Day. Do it because you love your baby. Protecting your baby’s heart health, and overall health, is one of the most important things you can do to show your love.
Happy Heart = Happiness & Love