World Breastfeeding Week 2014: Parent Support Deserts in the USA

By Rita Brhel, Editor of Attached Family magazine, API’s Publications Coordinator

World Breastfeeding Week 2014What this year’s celebration of World Breastfeeding Week is really about—more than updating the status on breastfeeding acceptance or increasing understanding for mothers who are unable to breastfeed—is advocacy for parent support.

While the primary goal of Attachment Parenting International (API) is to raise awareness of the importance of a secure parent-child attachment, the organization’s overarching strategy is to provide research-backed information in an environment of respect, empathy and compassion in order to support parents in making decisions for their families and to create support environments in their communities. API extends beyond attachment education, also promoting the best practices in all aspects of parenting from pregnancy and childbirth to infant feeding and nurturing touch to sleep and discipline to personal balance and self-improvement through such innovative programs as API Support Groups, the API Reads book club and the Journal of Attachment Parenting, just to name a few.

API is a parent support organization made up of parents located around the world with a deep desire to support other parents.

In this spirit, API created the Parent Support Deserts project through which we mapped gaps in local parent support opportunities specific to Attachment Parenting (AP). The goals of this multi-layered project are to identify communities, regions and nations in need of conscious-minded parent support and to encourage collaboration among like-minded organizations to address these gaps.

As research pours in on the benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding, evidence continues to point toward AP practices, such as using fewer interventions during childbirth, avoiding early mother-baby separation, rooming-in at the hospital, breastfeeding on demand, interpreting pre-cry hunger signals, encouraging skin-to-skin contact, room sharing, discouraging cry-it-out sleep training, helping the father in supporting the mother, and others. As a result, the vast support network that many communities now have for breastfeeding mothers—from a breastfeeding-friendly medical community to lactation consultants and peer counselors to doulas and childbirth educators and parent educators trained in lactation support—tend to direct breastfeeding mothers toward Attachment Parenting.

Local parent support for breastfeeding has grown at an astonishing rate since La Leche League (LLL) International was founded in Illinois, USA, in 1956. LLL groups are located worldwide in nearly all developed nations as well as other less-developed countries. LLL has expanded its resources as cultures have evolved with technology and the changing roles for mothers, assisting mothers in providing breast milk to their infants whether through exclusive or partial breastfeeding or pumping as needed.

By contrast, there are few organized AP-minded support opportunities for mothers who are unable to or choose not to breastfeed or feed expressed breast milk. Formula-feeding parents are relatively on their own in terms of finding support that rightly points them in the direction of Attachment Parenting, as this choice or necessity to bottle-feed exclusively is seen less as part of the relationship context and more solely a nutritive option—though certainly we know, and research in sensitive responsiveness is finding, the behaviors surrounding bottle feeding are as much a part of the parent-child relationship as is breastfeeding. Unlike breastfeeding support, formula-feeding support is much less cohesive, with some information sources putting forth questionable science regarding formula versus breastfeeding benefits.

For this introductory look at the Parent Support Deserts project, we examined locations of parent support groups in terms of infant-feeding in the Attachment Parenting context. We focused on LLL for breastfeeding support and API for both breastfeeding and formula-feeding support. While this list is in flux, click here to see state reports of API’s Parent Support Deserts specific to Attachment Parenting infant-feeding support in the United States as spring 2014, as well as read more details about the Parent Support Deserts project. You can find this article in the latest issue of Attached Family magazine.

Challenging Society’s Views of Infant Feeding: Behind the Scenes of “The Milky Way” Movie

World Breastfeeding Week 2013Today, we introduce Chantal Molnar, RN, MA, IBCLC, from Piece of My Heart Productions, home of the “The Milky Way” documentary (formerly “Bottled UP!”) to discuss the recent making of this film with Jennifer Davidson, RN, BSN, IBCLC, who works with pediatrician Dr. Jay Gordon, longtime supporter of Attachment Parenting International.

The Milky Way Movie Sizzle from The Milky Way on Vimeo.

Chantal and Jennifer repeatedly find that there is no one right way to assist new mothers in finding confidence in their own instincts, and many mothers find solutions to their problems that cannot be found in any book. Yet, mothers are desperate for solutions that help them to be good mothers.

This is why Jennifer and Chantal decided to create a documentary that addresses the issues facing mothers in the 21st Century. It is their goal to support women in accessing that feminine knowing that allows them to trust their bodies, trust their breasts, trust their babies and trust themselves.

And so, without further ado, Chantal…

Our mission is to restore the phenomenon of the nursing mother to the cultural landscape.

Did you know that, in the United States, 75% of all mothers attempt to breastfeed, but a meager 15% of American women successfully breastfeed?

Why do so many women start out breastfeeding but find themselves up against overwhelming obstacles? And why do so many other countries have a higher success rate, some as high as 96%? The “hero” in our film, “The Milky Way,” Jennifer, sets out to discover what happens between the beginning of breastfeeding and the reality of the statistics, including traveling to Germany and Sweden to find out what they do differently.

Our Inspiration

Time and again in our lactation practice, we see mothers who have been saturated with fear. “Don’t sleep with your baby!” “Don’t nurse so much!” “Don’t pick up your baby so much, you will spoil her!” “Your baby is not gaining enough! Supplement!” “Get him on a schedule!” “Is she sleeping through the night?” “Slings are dangerous!” And on and on. You get the picture.

As lactation consultants, Jennifer and I do our best to guide mothers into what ordinarily is second nature for them but has been scared out of them. We encourage mothers to follow the knowledge within, and lead them to trust the process. We find that so many women have trouble with breastfeeding and self-confidence, and that they are often made to feel inadequate by the very medical professionals that are being paid to serve them.

Our inspiration is the mothers. We are inspired by the many mothers who have taught us about trust and the many mothers whom we have empowered to trust in themselves.

Our mantra is: “Trust your body, trust your baby, trust yourself.” Jennifer and I have built our practice on this foundation: that mothers are fully capable of knowing what their baby needs, and babies are competent to communicate their needs.

There is no baby without a mother. The mother is a baby’s habitat – its home. When a baby is in skin-to-skin contact or in close contact with mother, such as in babywearing or cosleeping, baby is able to synchronize heart rate and breathing rate with the adult.

This foundation is based upon the MotherBaby being together – no separation at birth, early skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, cosleeping and babywearing. It is through frequent physical closeness that a baby communicates and mother responds. It is within this context that mother and baby express fully the programs within: the breastfeeding program in the baby and the mothering program in the mother. Being unhindered and unseparated releases the full manifestation of their intrinsic abilities.

That is the inspiration behind “The Milky Way” Movie.

We decided to supplement our practice with a film – a culture-changing film that is as revolutionary as it is beautiful. We will take you on a journey that will outrage and incite, enlighten and inspire, as we expose the social programming that derails breastfeeding and explore:

  • Why this is happening?
  • Who benefits?
  • What is at stake?

Furthering the Breastfeeding Movement

“The Milky Way” will contribute to the breastfeeding and parenting communities, as well as elevate women in general and transform the cultural perception of breastfeeding. We will empower mothers through a film designed to elicit each mother’s own embodied wisdom and encourage each woman to have confidence in herself during her journey through motherhood. Our film will counteract the century-long ad campaign that successfully vanquished the collective intuitive knowledge that women shared for most of history. We want to see women be so knowledgeable in how it can be that they will demand that medical professionals provide the kind of care that they want and need, because change in medicine is based on consumer demand.

Along with a film, we are creating a movement that is galactic in scope. Our mission is to elevate the nursing mother to a place in society where she receives all the necessary support to successfully nurse a child, where scientific evidence overrides marketing influences, and a woman does not fear breastfeeding in public. After the movie releases, we will shift gears and proceed to build a movement through a nonprofit organization that will continue where the film left off.

When all women are secure in their inner wisdom, their intrinsic knowing, and when they are confident and ready to step into their power and authority as mothers, our work will be done. This is our chance to make a tremendous difference in the lives of many women.

Behind the Film’s Name

We changed our name from “Bottled UP!” to “The Milky Way” because of a painting Jennifer saw in a museum when she was in Spain over Christmas. It is a painting by Paul Rubens of the creation of the Milky Way.

As the story goes, Zeus had an illegitimate mortal baby. He wanted the baby to become divine, so while Zeus’ wife, Hera, was sleeping, Zeus put the baby on her breast, which would impart divinity upon his son. Hera woke up, realized what was happening, and pulled the baby off her breast, spraying breastmilk all over the universe, creating the Milky Way. We delved a little deeper and discovered that even the root of the word “galaxy” refers to breastmilk, so the Milky Way was created and named for mother’s milk!

Learn more about this film through our Facebook page at and our website at

Chantal and Jennifer, the lactation consultants and producers behind "The Milky Way" Movie, visit with a client at her home about breastfeeding

Photo: Chantal and Jennifer, the lactation consultants and producers behind “The Milky Way” Movie, visit with a client at her home about breastfeeding

Nature’s Case for Breastfeeding

World Breastfeeding Week 2013For so many women, breastfeeding was the turning point for our journey into Attachment Parenting. And one organization whom many of us have to thank for our introduction to both breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting International — certainly in the case of API’s cofounders whose roots were here — is La Leche League International.

Dr. Jeanne Stolzer, Professor of Child and Adolescent Development at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, USA, whose research is known worldwide as an intelligent challenge to the current Western medical model that seeks to pathologize normal human behaviors, including breastfeeding, too, shares her beginnings in LLL. I heard her speak at a conference a few years ago.

“Most people think that because of the research I do, I was raised in a granola-eating, breastfeeding, bare-footed family,” said Stolzer. “Nothing could be farther from the truth. The first breastfeeding baby I ever saw was when I was 18 years old, and I was mortified. Five years later, I saw a woman with a PhD breastfeeding a three-year-old, and my immediate response was, ‘What was wrong with her?’”

Some years later, Stolzer herself was expecting a baby when a friend encouraged her to attend a LLL meeting.

“I was very reluctant, but I went,” said Stolzer. “I instantly felt like I was with kindred spirits.”

LLL led Stolzer to begin educating herself about breastfeeding. As she remembers, “I was reading and reading all this stuff and was getting madder and madder: Why didn’t my mother know this? Why didn’t my friends know this? And, gosh darn it, why didn’t my doctor know this?”

Where Did the Mammal in Us Go?

“For 99.9% of our time on this earth, we have been hunters or gatherers and we have been practicing esoteric mammalian parenting,” Stolzer said, meaning non-medicalized births, breastfeeding, and staying in close proximity to our babies. “Look at what, in just 100 years, we’ve done: We’re supposed to be the top mammal on the planet, but we’ve managed to completely erase the mammalism in our lives.”

Conception, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding are intricately linked together as one continuous process to give each baby the best start in life, Stolzer explains.

“Most people see these as separate. They’re not,” she said. “If you mess with one, you risk throwing off the whole connection.”

While there are a very small number of females in every mammal species unable to get pregnant, the United States has the highest infertility rate in the world among humans. But is there any wonder when we stop to look at what Western cultures are doing to the birthing and breastfeeding functions of this process?

Stolzer finds it comical that most mothers won’t touch a cigarette or a caffeinated drink while they’re pregnant – which is commendable – but then have no problem in going to a hospital and having powerful narcotics mainlined into their arm during labor and birth. In the United States, 38% of women are getting Cesarean sections when, naturally, only 1 to 3% of births might actually require medical intervention.

Then, mothers and their newborn babies are, more often than not, separated immediately after birth. If mothers are able to give birth vaginally, she is flooded with hormones – but by separating the mother from her baby, that hormone flow is interrupted. If the breastfeeding relationship isn’t challenged enough by separation, then it has to overcome the ordeal of a hormonally-deficient mother and a drug-affected baby. “It takes 138 muscles alone in the jaw to nurse, and if you’re drugged, they won’t work,” Stolzer said.

The truth is, most Western physicians are not educated in breastfeeding. To be so, they must go on to continuing education because medical schools don’t teach lactation.

“I think women do the very, very best they can, with the information they have at the time,” Stolzer said. “Breastfeeding decreases all forms of hospitalization, death, and prescription drug use. That’s amazing, but how many women who are formula-feeding know this?”

Introduction of Formula-Feeding

Formula was developed with the mechanization of the dairy industry, derived from whey, a byproduct of processing cow milk.

In 1910, only 2 to 13% of mothers formula-fed. After World War I, that statistic jumped to 65 to 70%, and the impression was that only the poor and the immigrants had to “resort” to breastfeeding. Formula-feeding had become a state symbol of wealth, and physicians were supporting that formula-feeding was superior to breastfeeding. The lesson learned here, says Stolzer, is to question your societal trends.

“Formulas are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies,” she said. “Look at who’s funding every study: If it’s a pharmaceutical company, don’t even read it – it’s propaganda.”

In reality, human milk is far better than any substitute milk. Human milk changes with each child, depending on the needs of that particular child during a particular time of the day, during a particular age of that child. Human milk – and breastfeeding, for that matter – quite simply, can’t be duplicated.

“Pumped milk is infinitely better than formula,” Stolzer said. “However, it would be a scientific fallacy to say that pumped milk is the same as milk from the human breast,” because of how breastmilk changes throughout the day, not to mention that feeding by a bottle misses the intricacy of the relationship aspects of breastfeeding.

Human milk is a dose-responsive specific variable, meaning the response is specific to the dose – or that the more that a baby is breastfed and the longer a baby is breastfed, the more benefits that breastmilk affords to the child, and the mother. Research that began in the 1920s clearly shows that breastfeeding reduces the risk of myriad physical and mental health conditions for both baby and mother – both through protective antibodies and enzymes, and the oxytocin and prolactin “love” hormones secreted with each breastfeeding interaction.

“Choosing not to breastfeed brings a halt to oxytocin and prolactin. This brings on the grief response in mammals,” Stolzer said. “That’s why we have 40 to 60% postpartum depression rates in this country – because the body believes that we’re grieving.”

In addition, it’s important to note the differences between cows and humans on an animal level. While both are mammals, humans and cows are not the same. Basically, there are two types of mammals on the earth:

  • Caching – i.e., cows. These mammals give birth to young who are, soon after birth, able to walk, regulate their own temperature, and be left alone for periods of time while the mother forages for food. Feedings are meant to be spaced to allow this, and therefore, the milk produced is high-protein and high-fat.
  • Carrying – i.e., humans. These mammals give birth to young who are unable to walk, regulate their own temperature, or stay quiet for long periods of time alone, and therefore must be kept in close physical proximity to the mother. Feedings are meant to be continuous and on demand, and the milk produced is low-protein and low-fat.

Quite simply, cow or soy milk formula would not be as good as human milk.

“It makes sense: We have such a different brain than a cow, and a soybean doesn’t even have a brain,” Stolzer said.

But mothers continue to treat their babies like that of caching mammals. This is evident not only in formula sales – it’s a $1 trillion industry – but also in the recent boom in sales of helmets meant to reshape the heads of babies who have flattened on one side because the baby spends more time lying down than being held.

Another important argument against formula-feeding is the increasing rate of food allergies in Western cultures. “The number-one allergen in human populations is dairy products,” Stolzer said. “The number-one ingredient in formula is dairy. Of course, we’re doing this.”

Extended Breastfeeding is Superior to Cultural Breastfeeding Standards

According to World Health Organization recommendations, babies must be breastfed at least two years to obtain optimal benefits. Developmentally, human children are designed to breastfeed well over two years of age. For example, permanent molar eruption doesn’t occur until the child is five to seven years old. In another example, a child’s sucking needs last for three to seven years – evidenced by prolonged thumb-sucking, pacifier use, and hair-sucking in older children.

The average breastfeeding weaning rate worldwide is three to four years. In the United States, weaning typically happens at only six weeks old, the time when women return to work outside the home. The breastfeeding research knowledge available clearly shows that if all women in the United States breastfed for just six months exclusively, the nation would save $3.6 billion a year, mostly in health care costs and time spent paying parents for sick time to stay home to care for their children. If they breastfed exclusively for one year, that savings would climb to $7 billion a year.

“Five thousand to 6,000 years ago, mothers were breastfeeding their children until about seven years old. They were ensuring the survival of the human species,” Stolzer said. “Not only is the human brain not done growing until the child is five to seven years old, but the human immune system is not fully developed for five to seven years.”

Breastmilk naturally has more antibodies available for the older child, because babies are designed to always be with their mothers. That’s why breastfed babies in child care centers still get sick – the antibodies in their mother’s breastmilk are designed to ward off family germs, not from the whole community. The antibody load naturally increases as the child becomes more mobile, Stolzer explains.

It’s time that Western cultures quit playing it safe when it comes to educating women about breastfeeding, Stolzer says. The benefits of breastfeeding are consistently dependent not only on the frequency and intensity of each nursing session but also on the duration.

“We used to tell women that any breastfeeding was good, but the truth is, for a baby breastfed for two weeks, his immunity looks the same as a baby never breastfed,” Stolzer said.

Worth the Work

One of the concerns of practicing Attachment Parenting is the physical work involved in the beginning, at a time when the baby’s natural sleeping and feeding schedule is so contrary to the parents’ pre-baby schedules. But Stolzer encourages parents to stick with it.

“I know it feels really intense right now – and it is really intense right now – but in the time between birth and death, this really intense time is very small,” she said. “Attachment Parenting does not ensure that babies won’t cry or make choices that will hurt you or make you so mad you could flip – but if you lay that foundation with Attachment Parenting, that path [of loving interaction] will always be there for them to find again.”

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