For all of us keenly interested in what Dr Rhonda Patrick has to say about health, it’s also fascinating to hear her scientific take on pregnancy and raising an infant.
In this post we’re going to look at a number of things, including:
- Rhonda on the epigenetics of obesity (or how our physical health at the time of conception actually affects the babies genetics)
- Supplements Rhonda took whilst pregnant
- Substances Rhonda avoided during pregnancy
- Rhonda on breastfeeding
- Vaccines – how she’s handling them for herself (TDAP) and her child
- On exercise, and beating depression after pregnancy (often referred to as postpartum depression)
- Products Rhonda used, such as baby monitors, smart weighing scales, etc.
I’ve learnt a number of useful things from writing this post, and hope you will too.
- 1 1. Epigenetics of Obesity
- 2 2. Supplements Rhonda took whilst pregnant & breastfeeding
- 3 3. Substances Rhonda avoided during pregnancy
- 4 4. Rhonda on breastfeeding
- 5 5. Vaccines
- 6 6. Exercise & Postpartum depression
- 7 7. Baby Products Rhonda Used
- 8 Last Words
1. Epigenetics of Obesity
This is a particularly interesting subject for anyone who plans to have a child in the future. On JRE #1054 Rhonda discusses (video below) how parents’ lifestyle affects the genes that are passed on to their children.
Whilst our DNA remains the same throughout our lives, the DNA that gets “expressed” (becomes active), will vary based on our environmental conditions.
What we’re now learning is that parents pass on epigenetic changes to their offspring.
In a 2016 study, scientists compared 23 overweight men with 44 normal weight men. They found that the DNA in the overweight mens semen was uniformly affected in key places, compared to those at normal weight1.
If, like me, you want to know a bit more about what exactly this epigenetics thing is, I can recommend this youtube video for the basics. In a nutshells, epigenetic changes are changes in the DNA that gets used by your cells (Image that your cells have a lot of DNA code, and not all is being used (expressed) at any one time). Epigenetic changes, in practice, are two things. Firstly there is a kind of spool (histone) that DNA winds around. Tightening or loosening the spool results in an epigenetic change. Secondly, DNA molecules can be “methylated” (little methyl groups like CH3 getting added to the DNA). Methylation represses the expression of DNA function that it binds to – which is also an epigenetic change.
2. Supplements Rhonda took whilst pregnant & breastfeeding
I’ve previously discussed Rhonda’s pregnancy & breastfeeding supplements in this long post on her supplements. She changed things a lot compared to her usual supplement regime, so it’s worth taking note of.
First & Second Trimesters
Rhonda’s regular supplement regime contains products such as Lion’s Mane mushrooms and Nicotinamide Riboside that haven’t been tested in pregnancy women. Therefore to maintain absolute safety, Rhonda removed all these supplements from her diet whilst pregnant, and only used the following:
- Multivitamin – Thorne Research Prenatal – 3 capsules/day
- Fish Oil – Norwegian Pure-3 DHA – 5 capsules/day
- Vitamin D – Thorne Research – D3 1,000iu – 2 capsules/day (total of 3,000iu per day, including the 1,000iu of D3 from Thorne Prenatal)
- Rhonda continued using the products above, and added Visbiome probiotics – 1 sachet/day (Visbiome has the same formulation as VSL#3). She didn’t take probiotics first or second trimester.
- Her third trimester blood test results came back showing iron deficiency, so she added an extra iron supplement: Thorne Research – Iron Bisglycinate. This won’t be necessary unless your blood test results indicate low levels. The prenatal multivitamin already contains 45mg of iron bisglycinate.
Breastfeeding Supplement Regimen
- Multivitamin – Thorne Research – Prenatal – 3 capsule/day
- Fish Oil – Norwegian Pure-3 DHA – 5 capsules/day
- Probiotics – Visbiome Probiotic – 1 sachet/day
- Vitamin D – Thorne Research – D3 1,000iu – 5 capsules/day (6,000iu of vitamin D per day total, including the 1,000iu of D3 from Thorne Prenatal)
- PQQ (Pyrroloquinoline Quinone) – Life Extension – PQQ – 1 capsule/day
- Vitamin K2 – NOW K-2 MK7, 100mcg – 3 capsules/week
The source for details on Rhonda’s breastfeeding supplement regime is 1hr 38mins into her October crowdcast video for Patreon supporters.
Multivitamins During Pregnancy
(It’s worth noting with the above study, that it was performed on people in rural China. It’s possible they were already mildly deficient in micronutrients, thus the multivitamin supplement had a noticeable impact on their childrens IQ. That being said, we know that even in developed countries like the USA, segments of the population are mildly deficient in essential micronutrients, so the study still holds value. What has not been proven is that a multivitamin could improve IQ where no deficiency exists).
Research has shown that pregnant women need more of certain nutrients than they would otherwise. Rhonda opted to use a multivitamin by Thorne called Basic Prenatal. This has a number of key benefits:
- Supplementation of folic acid reduces the risk of having a child born with brain of spinal cord birth defect2. Basic Prenatal uses the methylated form of folate (5-MTHF), which is optimal even for those with an MTHFR mutation that makes them less efficient at utilizing folic acid. Actually, for those women with the aforementioned MTHFR mutation, neural tube defects are a bigger risk than normal3
- As well as using an optimal version of folic acid, Basic Prenatal also uses a well absorbed version of iron, iron bisglycinate, which meets a pregnant woman’s need for increased iron, whilst being easy on the stomach and non-constipating.
- It contains several of Basic Prenatal’s ingredients (including vitamin C, vitamin B6, and vitamin K) have been demonstrated to benefit “morning sickness”.
- Lastly, it doesn’t contain any additives like stearates, colorants or preservatives – unlike some mainstream prenatal supplements.
Rhonda began taking 1 sachet of Visbiome probiotic per day at the start of her third trimester, and continued taking it whilst breastfeeding (source via her Instagram).
A study found that mothers supplementing Visbiome during late pregnancy and, while breastfeeding, decreased inflammatory biomarkers in the breastmilk and improved symptoms of colic in their newborns.
Rhonda talks about how the bacteria in other probiotics are often dead by the time we consume them. Visbiome gets shipped in cold packs, to preserve the live cultures. It uses same formula as the highly studied VSL#3 probiotic, but costs less per sachet. Rhonda uses the sachets (450 billion bacteria per packet), rather than the pills (112.5 billion bacteria).
Vitamin D3 Supplement for Babies
The breast milk of healthy women contains relatively small amounts of vitamin D and is usually considered insufficient to prevent vitamin D deficiency in exclusively breastfed infants if sunlight exposure is limited. Therefore Rhonda opted to supplement her babies vitamin D intake with Carlson’s Super Daily D3, which comes in dropper form. See more via her Instagram post on Carlson’s Super Daily D3 for more info.
3. Substances Rhonda avoided during pregnancy
During pregnancy Rhonda took all the regular precautions women take. Such as avoiding caffeine, alcohol and smoking (not that she normally smokes). In addition Rhonda also avoided:
- Acetaminophen, which has been linked to ADHD when taken by pregnant mothers4 5
- Broccoli sprouts – Rhonda normally takes these each week for their sulforaphane content, but due to the risk of bacteria growing on the seeds whilst they are germinating, she completely stopped consuming them whilst pregnant
- Any supplements she was formerly taking that *may* be a risk to the developing child; such as lion’s mane mushroom, nicotinamide riboside, GPC choline.
- Lastly, if one is on *any* medications, it’s worth digging deep into whether or not that could have any effect on the pregnancy. For example, mothers who (unknowingly) took regular medication they were prescribed, that interfered with folic acid utilization, increased the risk of neural tube defects, cardiovascular defects, oral clefts and urinary track defects 6. Interestingly those who took these medications and who supplemented multivitamins containing folic acid reduced their risk of birth defects (except for antiepileptic drugs, where supplementation didn’t improve things). Some of the drugs that affect folic acid uptake were trimethoprim, triamterene, carbamazepine, phenytoin, phenobarbital, and primidone.
4. Rhonda on breastfeeding
After researching the benefits of it, Rhonda made sure to breastfeed. In her podcast discussion on JRE #1054, she mentions how her son had a bit of a tongue tie, making it difficult for him to latch on and breastfeed initially. She was close to giving up at that point, and it really drove home for her how difficult breastfeeding can be for new mothers. If she hadn’t known about all the scientific benefits of breastfeeding, she said she may have given up.
A couple of the amazing benefits of breastfeeding Rhonda points out are:
- Human breast milk contains special carbohydrates known as ogliosaccharides, which are largely indigestible by human infants7. Rather than being used for energy or growth, the carbohydrates pass through into the gut, and provide fuel (pre-biotics) for certain bacteria, including Bifidobacteria longum biovar infantis. One function of Bifidobacteria longum appears to be its ability to shorten the duration and minimize the severity of symptoms associated with the common cold8. So effectively humans and bacteria have co-evolved to make this possible
- In addition to the nutritional composition of breast milk, it also contains a range of stem cells. It’s not known in detail the benefits of these stem cells, but one possible role includes:
[stem cells] could be involved in the development of the enteric nervous system, which is one of the main parts of the nervous system. […] Non-breast-fed premature born infants show a significantly higher risk of developing diseases like infantile diarrhea and necrotizing enterocolitis.9
Crazy cool image above showing the wide-ranging constituents of human breast milk. It’s a great thing that babies can survive on “infant formula” (break milk replacement), as a last resort. But you’ve got to imagine the baby is missing out on all these cells and bacteria that human breast milk contains.
When it comes to vaccines, there are those a mother takes whilst pregnant, and those given to the young born baby. In this section we’ll cover Rhonda’s thoughts on both of these.
On Babies First Vaccines
During Rhonda’s JRE #1054 podcast with Joe Rogan they get on to the potentially controversial topic of vaccines. Both are pro vaccination, but with caveats. They express concern over the number of vaccinations that are given to children in a short space of time. Rhonda explains how it was expected her baby receive 5 vaccines in one visit to the doctors, and she had concern that this was a lot for the still developing babies immune system. Therefore, both Rhonda and Joe had opted to do their children’s vaccines in singles. Doing it that way is more time consuming, because it means more trips to the doctors and “wasted time”, however, they did it this way in order to reduce the burden on the childs developing immune system. Allowing the child to rest and recover after each vaccine.
Joe explains that the reason “the whole vaccine thing” isn’t black and white, is because people react to things differently. One person can eat a single Brazil nut, have a severe allergic reaction, and potentially die if they don’t get medical intervention. Whereas another could eat a whole bowl, and just get bored with them in the process. No adverse affects.
Rhonda then goes on to say that there is a new field of inquiry in trying to understand the interaction between genes, vaccines and the immune systems response.
On Vaccines Whilst Pregnant
In the JRE #1054, Rhonda discusses studies in non-human primates, which looked at what happens when they induce a strong immune response in pregnant monkeys. The result is that when their babies were born, they had autism like behaviours10.
Similarly, its been shown that mothers of autistic children are more likely to have antibodies floating around in their blood against fetal brain proteins11. In the study, there were two groups; mothers with, and mothers without autistic children. And it was only in the mothers with that these fetal brain antibodies were found. As you can imagine, there is no reason fetal brain antibodies should be found in a mothers blood.
So to summarise what this potentially means. It’s not that vaccines themselves are bad, but the immune system response they solicit, in a small number of humans, can cause the mother’s white blood cells to mistake the baby as a threat, and cause damage to it. Both how and why may happen is not clearly understood. It’s plausible that in the future we will be able to narrow down the genetic signature of those who may be at risk, but that’s some ways off.
Tdap is a vaccine for tetanus, diptheria and pertussis (aka whooping cough) that is given to women between 27 and 36 weeks of their pregnancy. The idea is that by vaccinating the mother, she will pass her immunity on to the unborn child, such that when they are born, they will already have immunity to the aforementioned illnesses.
Rhonda actually opted to get the Tdap vaccine 1 day postpartum (after chid birth), such that the antibodies would be passed on to her child via breast milk. This avoided the risk of the Tdap causing a strong immune response in her body, that could have affected her unborn child.
Rhonda opted out of the flu vaccine, in part because she rarely gets the flu, so it was an easy decision (YouTube video source).
6. Exercise & Postpartum depression
Postpartum depression (depression after giving birth) is a common issue for new mothers to contend with. Rhonda describes a number of factors that can come together to cause postpartum depression:
– Women’s estrogen levels go dramatically higher compared to baseline. Estrogen has been shown to increase the expression of a gene that codes for tryptophan hydroxylase 2 in the brain, which then produces serotonin from tryptophan. So whilst pregnant you’re making a lot of serotonin. And then, after you have the baby, that elevated serotonin goes away. So there’s a withdrawal to deal with.
– Secondly, after the pregnancy your circadian rhythm is off. Due to sleep disruption and potentially not getting enough bright light exposure during the day. Rhonda says she barely went outside in the first 2 weeks.
– Lastly, to add to all this, there are all the extra stresses of caring for a newborn baby.
To combat the above, Rhonda worked hard to make sure she was getting exercise as soon as she could. She explains that exercise, in this context, is good for a variety of reasons:
1) Exercise has been shown to get serotonin into the brain. Branch chain amino acids (found in proteins) can out compete tryptophan to get into the brain. So if you’re not exercising, you’re constantly getting the branch chain amino acids in the brain (which are serving other important roles), but you’re not getting the tryptophan, so you’re not getting the precursor that makes serotonin. Exercise alleviates that competition, branch chain amino acids get taken up in the muscle (where they’re used to help build muscle, which is good) and the tryptophan gets into the brain, so you’re making serotonin.
2) When you’re exercising you’re making endorphins. The word endorphin contains two parts; endo and orphin, short forms of the words endogenous and morphine – intended to mean “a morphine like substance, originating from within the body’. The main function of endorphins is to inhibit the communication of pain signals. This can result in a euphoric feeling, similar to that produced by opioids like morphine.
3) Exercise increases the production of new neurons, through serotonin, and through brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This process of making new neurons (neurogenesis) has been shown to alleviate depression (and stave off brain ageing).
Four weeks after giving birth, Rhonda attempted her first jog. Prior to giving birth, running was one of her favourite ways to exercise and relax. However, whilst she was jogging she felt the sensation of needing to go to the bathroom, and even after going, the feeling wouldn’t go away. She went to the doctor, and they explained that this is likely down to the childbirth, and given time + exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, it would fix itself. Not wanting to wait until then, Rhonda took up spinning classes. Which gave her an alternative high intensity form of exercise, without running (excuse the pun) into the same issues.
7. Baby Products Rhonda Used
Below we will take a look at some of the products Rhonda used for her new born baby. The source for many of these products came via a Patreon post which Rhonda sent to her subscribers (patreon link or image). Which is another great reason to support Rhonda on Patreon, so she can keep helping people like us.
Owlet Smart Sock
The Owlet Smart Sock a hypoallergenic cotton sock that sits on the babies foot and monitors its vitals. Linked to the owlet app on your phone, it will notify you if there is a problem with your babies heart rate or blood oxygen levels. There is also an alarm at the base station, so that if you’re not with your phone, but are in proximity, you’ll still hear the base stations alarm.
The manufacturers don’t advertise this as a method of guarding against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), in part because the exact causes of SIDS are still undefined, but you could imagine this might provide a potential window of opportunity if the childs vitals drop during sleep. And for new parents, who are tired and want to relax, the Owlet Smart Sock could be a method of gaining some peace of mind whilst resting.
✅ When it works (see cons), this is a smart system to monitor your babies vitals, and gain peace of mind
✅ Alarm on the base station, in case you’re not getting your phones notification
✅ Compatible with Android phones, as well as iPhones. 18 hour battery per 3hr charge on the sock
❌ Users have reported issues with false alarms. Although some of these were down to faulty units that then got replaced, or the sock not being correctly fastened.
❌ High price at $299 for the 3x socks, base station & app, arguably you’re paying a high price for peace of mind
❌ Amazon reviews suggest that the communication between smart sock and phone app goes through Owlet servers. The downside of this is that if the servers go down, which they have done in the past, you won’t get notifications
As I was researching this product I noticed there is another comparable product in the market; the Snuza Hero. It’s 1/3 the price ($100), and less technically sophisticated than the Owlet Smart Sock. Essentially you tuck it in to the babies nappy, and it monitors abdominal movement. If there’s no movement for 15 seconds it vibrates (presumably to “wake” the child), and if there’s no movement for 20 seconds, it sounds an alarm (adjustable in volume). Like with the Owlet, there are some reports of false alarms, but overall the Snuza Hero seems like a good, lower budget, device.
Nanit Smart Baby Monitor
Whilst a baby monitor like the Owlet Smart Sock is there for checking the babies vitals, the Nanit Smart Baby Monitor can be used to monitor your baby visually. It communicates wirelessly with your smart phone, so that you can see video and audio of your baby in its crib.
The design of the camera stand means that it stands above the crib, and thus you can see everything that’s going on. There are some monitors that don’t have a stand, and thus it may be hard to position them over the crib for an optimal view (although it may be possible, depending on the layout of your crib and other furniture).
Note: There are two different versions, one with a wall stand, and the other with a wall mount. The wall stand version needs a wall to lean against, but doesn’t require drilling into the wall. The wall mount version needs to be drilled into the wall to secure it.
✅ The camera comes on a stand with enough height to look down over the babies crib, giving you the optimal view.
✅ You can setup push notifications to your phone on sound or movement, so that you don’t have to keep watching the video to see if your baby wakes up
✅ If the internet goes down, the Nanit can switch to streaming on your internal wireless network
✅ App access can be shared with care givers, so they’re on the same page
✅ Clear and high quality video, even in darkness
❌ Reports of connection dropouts between the monitor and your phone. Likely some of this is down to user error or phone software… but still, not good in any capacity if you’re relying on this for child safety.
❌ A high price compared to some of the other video/audio monitors on the market, at around $280. However, it is of generally higher quality
Hatch Baby Grow Smart Scale
The Hatch Baby Grow Smart Scale is designed so that parents can track their babies growth and weight without relying on trips to the doctors. The Hatch was actually created because the founder had issues with breastfeeding, and was worried that her child wasn’t a healthy weight. She and her husband wanted a way to track this without having to go back and forth to their doctor for measurements.
As with smart devices, the Hatch Baby Grow Smart Scale is linked to your phone, so that as you use it, you will build up a history of your childs weight growth. The device measures down to 0.25 ounce, allowing you to track exactly how much milk your child is consuming.
✅ It provides reassurance in the early days of breastfeeding
✅ Automatically tracks your child’s weight change in the app
✅ Wipes clean when things get messy, no changing pads to wash
❌ Some units have had measurement reliability issues (according to Amazon reviews)
Ok, so all the above if a lot of information to take in. Hopefully you’ve found some of it useful. In case they’re of value, here are some further posts I’ve written on Dr Rhonda Patrick related content:
- A long post on Rhonda’s diet – including examples of her breakfast, lunch and dinner (link)
- A relatively comprehensive list of supplements that Rhonda has discussed taking, some daily, some for specific use-cases (link)
- Rhonda on Cancer – Things she would DO & things she would AVOID if she had cancer (link)
- Rhonda on Curcumin – discussing the potential medicinal benefits of the plant (link)
- Obesity-related DNA methylation at imprinted genes in human sperm: Results from the TIEGER study – Soubry et al. 2016 – https://clinicalepigeneticsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13148-016-0217-2
- Multivitamin/Folic Acid Supplementation in Early Pregnancy Reduces the Prevalence of Neural Tube Defects – https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/379576
- Association between MTHFR C677T polymorphism and neural tube defect risks: A comprehensive evaluation in three groups of NTD patients, mothers, and fathers – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23056169
- Associations between Acetaminophen Use during Pregnancy and ADHD Symptoms Measured at Ages 7 and 11 Years – Thompson et al. 2014 – http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0108210
- Acetaminophen in pregnancy and future risk of ADHD in offspring – Blaser et al. 2014 – http://www.cfp.ca/content/60/7/642.short
- Folic Acid Antagonists during Pregnancy and the Risk of Birth Defects – https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200011303432204
- Human Milk Oligosaccharides: Evolution, Structures and Bioselectivity as Substrates for Intestinal Bacteria – German et al. 2010 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2861563/
- Effect of Lactobacillus gasseri PA 16/8, Bifidobacterium longum SP 07/3, B. bifidum MF 20/5 on common cold episodes: A double blind, randomized, controlled trial – Vrese et al. 2005 – https://www.clinicalnutritionjournal.com/article/S0261-5614(05)00027-0/fulltext
- Cells of human breast milk – Witkowska-Zimny et al. 2017 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5508878/
- Maternal Immune Activation in Nonhuman Primates Alters Social Attention in Juvenile Offspring – https://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(14)00643-X/abstract
- Antibodies against fetal brain in sera of mothers with autistic children – https://www.jni-journal.com/article/S0165-5728(07)00424-9/abstract