Magic, Nutrition and Mindfulness: An Interview with Health and Wellness Expert Megan Garcia
baby health and wellness megan garcia

I have a new hero, and her name is Megan Garcia. As a fellow mama who can't get enough of the research and discoveries regarding pregnancy, motherhood and baby wellness, stumbling upon Megan Garcia's website was a true heart-eyes-emoji moment for me. I immediately signed up to receive access to her baby wellness library, and reading through all of her incredible resources was a true joy.

Megan is a mother and educator who has been teaching others about the immune system and gut health for over six years. She is also an incredible writer who has an inspiring way of translating scientific information into parent-friendly blog posts. I walk away from her pieces feeling well-equipped to keep my family healthy, and I felt called to spread the word about her multitude of awesome resources by interviewing Megan about how she became interested in health, and what she has learned about the topic in regards to our children {and ourselves} thus far.

The interview follows below and contains wonderful insights, including evidence-based information you may never have heard before on popular topics like baby-led weaning and rice cereal. Enjoy!


baby health and wellness megan garcia

KC: Let’s start at the very beginning. Tell me a little bit about your background in health and wellness. I know you’ve been teaching for over six years, are you still teaching today?
MG: My interest in health began as an interest in healing – what I saw as the mystical arts of the African Diaspora, which I learned about while an undergraduate at UCLA. This includes spiritual practices that are a direct product of slavery as Europeans made their way to the Americas. Specifically santeria, candomble and vodou. I was fascinated by practices that came (largely) from West Africa but also incorporated Catholic saints, belief systems belonging to the native peoples of America, and the superstitions of the time. The religions of the African Diaspora are so eclectic – pulled from here and there – yet bring so much relief to practitioners.  If you’ve ever walked into a botanica (there are many here in Los Angeles) you might see a statue of native American man in full headdress, candles with pictures of Catholic saints, charms, scented aerosols and colored beads corresponding to the “new world” version of African gods. For many people, healing came and still comes by way of prayer and ritual. As an undergrad, I was drawn to this world and the stories it held, many of which involved struggle and oppression. Of course, every culture has its own medicine that involves some form of prayer and ritual.

Transitioning over to Chinese medicine was very natural – while there are now plenty of studies confirming the efficacy of acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas, the roots of Chinese medicine are what some would call “magic.” And this is something that I’ve been drawn to for a long time – the intersection between magic and medicine…what science says about the body, the emotions and the mind alongside very old, ancient practices that are concerned with these same things – what you might call folk medicine.

In the world of Chinese medicine – or TCM – you have something very unique. You have a lineage of medicine that was once folk medicine, practiced in the home by grandmothers. You have a medicine that is literally based on the unseen – energy. You have a medicine that has been painstakingly recorded over the centuries – nowhere else has medicine been so thoroughly organized and categorized as it has been in China. There are so many documents – incredibly old documents – that trace where the medicine came from and how to use it. Herbs, massage, acupuncture, even incantations. It’s all there. And then, in addition to all that, you have a medicine that defies logic and is the focus of academic study, because it works.

Four years ago, I became a mother. So my attention naturally went toward motherhood, transitions, growth and the care of babies. During the new-mama phase, when all you do is nurse your baby and wish for more sleep, I didn’t have much of a community around me. And I became very thoughtful about my own journey. Part of my story is that I was often sick as a baby. Some of my current health challenges began then and I think this might be another reason why I feel particularly passionate about giving our babies the best start possible – from our challenges come great lessons or opportunities. The physical and mental well being of our children are the future – it’s pretty incredible watching children and young adults. They have their own magic!! I feel a deep desire to support mothers and their babies in whatever way I can.  
 

KC: How did you go about learning more about baby health and wellness after you became pregnant with your first child?
MG: I like to go straight to the source! There are many wonderful blogs and books out there – although, I have to admit, I don’t spend much time reading them. I get a deep sense of fulfillment and understanding when I read papers written by scientists and researchers. Sometimes, it’s a lot to trudge through but I have found that research has this lovely way of saying, “Here’s what we found. We don’t have all the answers. More research is needed.” Ha! Of course, this isn’t true all the time. But it’s a breath of fresh air when so much information on the web has an agenda. When you read the science, it’s about discovery and more questions. So, this is what I try to communicate when I share information – here’s what we know, this is what the science says…while leaving my personal agenda or whatever at the door. What I share isn’t about me. It’s about improving health, and I know that as science evolves the information will too.
 

KC: What is the most intriguing or shocking discovery you’ve made about baby health and wellness since you began your studies/research?
MG: That dietary guidelines tend to focus on children (beginning at age two) and adults. The guidelines in the US are currently being revised to include infant and toddler nutrition – which is exciting, because there’s a lot of new science around allergies, breast milk and the baby microbiome. I began to focus on baby nutrition when I realized that there weren’t a lot of general nutrition guidelines for feeding babies – I remember emailing a doula who is also a friend and asking for resources…sort of marveling at how the information was so difficult to find. That was a couple years ago and since then, more resources have become available and online communities that promote baby nutrition have grown -- which is great! When you look at baby-led weaning and the movement we see with that, it’s just a matter of time before mainstream, public information catches up with science.  In the United States, we should see new guidelines that include babies from birth to 24 months in 2020.
 

KC: What issues do you find yourself feeling most passionate about?
MG: Nutrition. And not just the food we eat – the movements we make throughout the day. The thoughts we think. What nourishes us on every level. Katy Bowman, creator of Nutritious Movement, inspired me to think beyond food when it comes to the small ways that we “feed” ourselves and our babies. For example – every bite we eat, either feeds the body or drains it. In the same way, how you walk, sit, or hold your baby…this information impacts your overall physical alignment, which in some cases can signal stress or relaxation to the mind. And then your thoughts – are you thinking the same self-negating thoughts over and over again? How hard are you on yourself? How many times a day? Over time, these small things that we do every day, they add up, and they are all related to one another.
 

KC: Tell me about your course, First Foods & Beyond. What propelled you to create it, and why is it a worthwhile investment for parents? (Disclaimer: I recommend this to all of my clients because I think it’s a super valuable and important course that everyone could benefit from.)
MG: Thank you!! Well, one of the best ways to truly know something is to teach others about it. You’ll encounter questions you never had – and you’ll need to figure out the answer, if you don’t already have one. You’ll find out what others really care about. And you put yourself in the sometimes tough spot of explaining a concept, idea or value. So, my motivations were partially personal – here’s something I care about. Let me gather information and organize it so that it makes sense to myself and others. I’m also motivated by the subject itself – essentially, real food. Getting back to the basics. How we evolved eating, and what processed versions of these foods mean for our overall health today.

I also created the course because, like I mentioned earlier, I saw that there was a lot of misinformation or missing information around nutrition for babies. And it’s so useful to have something comprehensive, a full package of facts and tips that work together. That makes it usable – there’s a lot of information out there. But it’s scattered and in pieces, this can make it hard to use. So, I do my best to share what I have learned about nutrition and a baby’s first two years. My overall goal is to help give babies the best start possible and if First Foods & Beyond makes that doable for others, that’s definitely a win!
 

KC: How do you go about creating all of these incredible resources for parents while also being a parent yourself?
MG: For me, it’s about discipline while also remaining flexible. I mostly work when the house is quiet and my family sleeps or when my husband can be with my son. That’s where the discipline comes in – because I want to spend time with them too! And sometimes, life happens – it’s important for me to work with my family’s needs and gauge what I can realistically accomplish in a day.
 

KC: What are your thoughts on the movement against feeding oatmeal and rice cereal to babies when they are initially embarking upon their first foods journey?
MG: I’m not against grains. When it comes to food, there are better options. They’re an inexpensive way to get calories or energy – they’re fortified because they need to be – they take up valuable real estate in the gut when another more nutrient-rich food could be there instead. But avoiding cereals because of the gluten-free movement or because you’re told that babies cannot digest grains – this is potentially dangerous because usually, nothing takes the place of these fortified cereals. They’re left out because they’re “bad” and babies are given banana, avocado, squash and egg yolk. What’s missing from this picture? The very nutrients in fortified cereals – namely iron and zinc. The best place to find these nutrients is in meat. Currently, the cultural norm of first foods isn’t meat. Parents gravitate towards plant-based first foods. If you’re not supplementing, giving your baby formula or offering fortified cereal – this is when problems begin to show up. And there’s some new science that supports this. {Megan wrote a blog post all about this topic after our interview; click here to read more about the research behind her answer.}  
 

KC: What do parents seem to have the most difficult time understanding or accepting about their baby’s nutrition? Or, in other words, what do you get the most questions about, and why do you think that is?
MG: How to prepare food. Food preparation can be intimidating and confusing – when you throw nutrition into the mix, it’s enough to drive any parent to canned or boxed baby foods for the sake of sanity! Meat is especially intimidating. So, this is something that I would love to help parents work through.
 

KC: What, in your opinion, is the most outdated advice that almost every parent is given when it comes to feeding their baby? What is today’s interpretation of that advice?
MG: “Food before one is just for fun.” You might hear this from a family member, a friend, even your pediatrician. And, from all the science I have seen, this is very far from the truth. It’s something that formula-fed babies might be able to get away with, since formula is designed to contain nutrients that babies need, but breastfed babies need food beyond breast milk at around six months.
 

KC: Do you have a go-to baby food recipe that you enjoy making for your own child?
MG: I really love liver pate and my son does too. We don’t make it often these days, but when he was younger, liver was definitely something that we both relished – I sometimes crave it and was thrilled to find that he loved as much as I do. I have a baby-friendly pate recipe on my website that is super easy to make. It uses liver with apples, instead of onion – you need something sweet to balance the flavor of liver.
 

KC: Regarding mindfulness and mental well-being, what action on the part of parents in this realm has the most positive impact on their babies?
MG: Being in the present moment with their babies. And really, our kids show us this over and over again. It’s a deep teaching that you can learn through meditation. Or you can learn it by just being with your kids. Share their interest. Their joy. Their wonder. Their ability to be unrushed by time. Do this, and you both get something profound.
 

KC: What is your favorite way to implement mindfulness within your own daily routine?
MG: It’s ridiculously simple: just stop and take a deep belly breath. I’ve had a regular meditation practice for nearly 10 years and, like any muscle that you use often, it’s strong. I’m able to quickly drop into a still place and notice when things are a little awry. Years ago, this wasn’t the case. My advice to anyone – whether they just started a mindfulness practice or have been doing it for some time – is to get into the present moment and breathe deeply, watch your belly button move in and out. Physiologically, this sends a message to your stress hormones. And on the mental-emotional level, it’s a small reminder to be gentle with yourself.
 

KC: How has your second pregnancy been compared to your first? Have you employed any of your new health and wellness findings more so this time around?
MG: During my first pregnancy, I slept a lot and meditated often – several times a day! Of course, with a four-year-old, that’s no longer my reality. I do my best to get enough sleep, but often don’t. And I meditate when I can, which might be a couple of times a week – 10 minutes in the morning when everyone is still asleep and maybe a few minutes while my son is playing. So, it’s very different in that way, and also a lot more fun. My son is constantly talking to the baby in my belly, telling him about what we just did, kissing my belly, putting his head there and laughing when he kicks or moves around.
 

KC: What has been the most challenging aspect of parenthood for you?
MG: It’s a balancing act. The choices you make always affect others, although as a parent, responsibility lies squarely on your shoulders. Balancing my needs and wants with my son’s is not always easy – I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process and found more patience than I’ve ever had.
 

KC: What has been the most rewarding aspect of parenthood for you?
MG: Watching life unfold. From the moment you find out you’re pregnant – to holding a fragile life in your arms – to marveling at the genius that comes from a child’s world. It’s beautiful and remarkable. I have also found that becoming a mother has helped me to love and accept myself. I think that’s the magic of parenthood: it opens your heart in a new way, and things are forever different.

 

{Join Megan on Instagram at @megangarcia, and visit her website at megangarcia.com.}