WBW 2015: Breastmilk and baby’s gut health, the big picture

wbw2015-logo-mEditor’s note: Several scientific studies were published this year on the topic of breastmilk’s effect on the establishment of healthy gut flora. This World Breastfeeding Week, Attachment Parenting International (API) gives a special thank-you to API Editorial Review Board member Linda F. Palmer, DC, for this modified excerpt from her new book, Baby Poop: What Your Pediatrician May Not Tell YouPalmer2008, which gives an overview of how our choice to breastfeed or not — or to provide expressed breastmilk or donor breastmilk if breastfeeding is not an option — can affect our baby’s health not only through childhood but long into adulthood.

Born from an entirely protective environment where mother’s body tends to baby’s every immune and nutritional need, breastfeeding transitions the newborn safely into childhood. Nutrition is truly only a portion of breastfeeding’s role. Along with significant neurological and hormonal provisions, there are multitude immune-protective factors. A major, but seldom considered, portion of baby’s protection from illnesses, and the continued health of the child, comes from the early establishment of optimal gut flora.

Editor’s note: Watch this video from National Public Radio to learn more about what your gut has to do with your health.

In the Beginning

Beginning with the trip through the birth canal, every minute counts in the early effort to launch the healthiest-possible balance of gut microbes. The newborn digestive system is not ready at birth to handle much in the way of food, and the breasts know this. Immune protection is the first order of business and is greatly dependent upon the establishment of healthy flora. When uninhibited by antibiotics, formula supplements or delayed feedings, breastmilk can essentially seal the deal.

from linda 4It’s been shown that the health of the floral environment into which an infant is born can have positive or negative impact on the creation of his long-term microbiome. In turn, the child’s early risks for infectious diseases, and adult risks of non-infectious diseases, are highly dependent upon early gut health. Remember that some hospital germs are much tougher than community germs, and quite antibiotic resistant. Also, if mother has not been in the hospital herself for a few days, her immune system — and hence her breastmilk — will not contain antibodies to many of the threatening microbes floating around the hospital. Infants born into large hospitals are at greatest risk for colonization with unfriendly flora. Those born in a non-sterile home with healthy-gutted inhabitants — and with people or pets who go outside often — are shown to establish the healthiest array of florae.

Editor’s note: API does not take a stance on homebirth, but rather advocates that parents make an informed choice on childbirth decisions. Learn more through API’s First Principle of Parenting: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting.

from lindaIf only a magical concoction existed with which a newborn’s digestive membranes could be quickly coated immediately after birth and then, if repeatedly applied, it could possibly head off some less desirable environmental influences. Of course, there is one. A few drops of colostrum from mother’s breast is all it takes — the sooner, the better.

The newborn’s stomach acidity at birth is quite neutral, because it contains amniotic fluid. Acidity does not become higher for about a day, so either good flora provided in colostrum or bad flora from a hospital environment have an exceptionally high opportunity to establish themselves in the first many hours after birth.

The Broncho-Entero-Mammary Pathway

Interestingly, when birth occurs through a planned Cesarean section — meaning no labor has occurred — mother’s milk is found to contain less healthy flora to pass to her newborn. Apparently, labor is not only a signal for mother’s placenta to pump antibodies into the soon-to-be-born child, but also a signal for the conveyance of important flora to mother’s breasts to enhance her colostrum for added newborn protection.

In addition to antibody-producing cells making their way from mom’s lymph centers in her intestines and respiratory tissues to her breasts, flora also travel from these areas to mother’s milk. Clearly, mother’s own gut health will impact what flora are available. These immune system cells and healthy bacteria are found to travel — transported by dendritic cells — chiefly through the lymphatic system as well as through the bloodstream. These roadways — by which mother’s body provides such valuable factors to her milk — are referred to as the broncho-entero-mammary pathway.

Mother’s milk not only provides more than 700 different species of valuable bacteria and fungi to homestead in her infant’s gut, but also plenty of special fiber-like sugars — oligosaccharides — to perfectly feed the flora. Every breastmilk taste provides a nurturing boost to the child’s floral garden.

Microbes — good or bad — will generally enter a child’s system through the mouth, pass through the throat and enter the intestines; thus, the digestive system is a baby’s greatest vulnerability, by far, in terms of infections. Auspiciously, breastmilk travels this same course and has tremendous influence on the development, wellbeing and protective capacities of the digestive tract and its flora — and thus the child. Even microbes that enter through a child’s nose will meet with breastmilk-nurtured floral defenses in the throat. The floral balance, and thus the infection risks for the sinuses and ear canals, depend upon the mouth and throat flora, which are influenced by the gut flora and by the same factors that affect gut flora — mainly breastmilk. Even lung flora and function are strongly influenced by the gut microbiome. Via its passage through the baby, breastmilk powerfully protects against dental, sinus, ear, throat, lung, stomach and intestinal infections.

Lactoferrin, Iron and Infant Protection

from linda 2Lactoferrin is a breastmilk protein that binds with iron. Nutritional iron is provided by mother’s milk in this bound manner. The more challenging bacteria — found in the gut of formula or solid-food-fed infants — require free iron to survive and proliferate. Lactoferrin holds on to the iron in the exclusively breastfed intestine, making the iron unavailable to feed unwanted bacteria and providing safe haven for desirable lactobacilli, bifidobacteria and other friendly microbes to proliferate.

Once free iron is added to a breastfed child’s diet, it will saturate and overwhelm the lactoferrin, feeding the challenging bacteria and allowing them to flourish. Free iron exists in all formulas — even low-iron formulas — and pretty much in any solid food besides pure fats or refined sugars. It doesn’t take very much formula, juice or baby food to overtake the protective lactobacilli and bifidobacteria florae provided by exclusive breastmilk feeding and to allow for the growth of the more challenging types of bacteria, including enterococci, enterobacter, clostridia, streptococci and E. coli. In fact, baby’s flora has been shown to change within 24 hours after just one bottle of formula.

The picture, of course, isn’t quite as simple as this. Various proteins, such as isolated soy or cow milk proteins, are also known to interrupt the virgin flora of a previously exclusively breastfed gut. Once your infant’s stools begin to develop unpleasant odor and darken in color, you can tell that the floral transition from protective breastfed flora to more adult-like bacteria is taking place.

A final loss of the exceptionally protective flora that only exclusive breastmilk provides is inevitable with the eventual introduction of solid foods. The longer this event can be put off, however, the longer the child’s status of lower risk for infections can be maintained and the stronger his future protection becomes. Six or more months before introducing other foods is the recommended goal. Still, after this flora alteration occurs, breastfeeding continues to provide many, many nutritional, hormonal, neurological and immune protective advantages and continues to support the flora.

Final Thoughts

Many mothers have an ideal image of the way they want their baby’s beginnings to be. Often, things don’t go as intended. All is not lost. The good news is that recent studies are revealing that when all doesn’t go as planned, positive impacts can be made on baby’s flora and intestinal health with the use of probiotics and other healing measures, thereby reducing later risks of many chronic diseases.

Editor’s note: Citations and further information, including the impact of antibiotic use among infants, can be found in the book Baby Poop.

WBW 2015: Who is the woman in pink?

martha with viola from LLL and baby stephenWhen this photograph was taken, 26 years ago, there was no such thing as the Internet. Cameras were film only. There were no cell phones or laptops. If you wanted to make a phone call while on the road, you had to first find a pay phone booth. And if you wanted to make a phone call at home, you had to stretch the cord connecting you to the wall around the corner to get any privacy. Mainstream parenting advice wasn’t particularly warm, fueled by a widespread fear of spoiling children, but parents who wanted another perspective could get it through a print subscription of Mothering magazine.

And while more mothers were breastfeeding back then than a couple decades before, lactation consulting was still gaining a foothold in medical practice. The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, which certifies lactation consultants, was still in its infancy, having been founded in 1985. Really, the only reliable source of breastfeeding education and support anywhere was La Leche League (LLL) with its expansive network of mother-to-mother support groups, many in small and rural communities.

This image was captured in 1989 at a LLL conference in Anaheim, California, USA. The young woman in this photograph — do you recognize her? (Keep reading to find out who this mystery mom is!) — was breastfeeding Stephen, the baby in the arms of Viola Lennon, one of LLL’s seven cofounders and coauthor of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

The world said a sad goodbye to Viola in 2010 when she passed away at the age of 86. She was the mother of 10 children and had learned how to breastfeed from her own mother before attending the founding meeting for LLL in 1956. She went on to serve LLL in many ways, including Board chairman and Development Director. LLL quotes Viola saying:

“Breastfeeding…led me to self-discovery and to a greater appreciation of the full humanity of the babies who were entrusted to me. Each woman needs to trust her own instincts, her own feelings and her own sense of what will work for her with each baby. Women in the 1950s had forgotten the wisdom of previous generations in relation to breastfeeding. Mothers who tried to breastfeed on their own were almost always destined to fail. The neighbors sent their children to watch me breastfeed, because they knew the children would not see it anywhere else!”

LLL, from the beginning, nudged parents toward a gentler, more biological way of relating to their children. Breastfeeding itself is rooted in a secure parent-child attachment bond; breastfeeding cannot be successful in any other way. No doubt, the very beginnings of the Attachment Parenting movement are rooted in LLL. Very significantly,  Attachment Parenting International (API) credits LLL as part of our foundation. API’s cofounders Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson were LLL Leaders before they conceived the idea of API in 1994, most influenced by a speaker they heard at an LLL conference about the importance of secure attachment on child development: Dr. Elliott Barker of the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children explained how every violent criminal he had encountered had a history of extreme separation and insecure attachment as a child. As LLL continued to focus primarily on breastfeeding as its mission, API was able to take up Attachment Parenting as its mission.

LLL influenced others apart from Lysa and Barbara to educate and support parents in Attachment Parenting, many who soon joined in encouraging API’s growth and development. Among them is pediatrician and API Advisory Board member Dr. William Sears and his wife, API Board of Directors member Martha Sears, a nurse and mother to their eight children. Bill and Martha Sears had first published The Baby Book — considered a parenting bible by families around the world — in 1992, and would go on to become two of the most recognized names in parenting.

MSears159Three years before, in 1989, a young Martha was sitting on a couch with Viola as they admired Stephen. I wonder if Martha had any idea at that point what her future would hold?

Thank you, Martha, for breastfeeding your babies…for becoming a LLL Leader…for coauthoring parenting books that questioned the status quo…and for going on to encourage mothers worldwide to reclaim the wisdom of previous generations in both breastfeeding and parenting in a sensitive, wbw2015-logo-mnurturing, gentle, attachment-minded way. You have made a difference in the world! And we recognize you this World Breastfeeding Week!

WBW 2015: The Big Latch On

wbw2015-logo-mWorld Breastfeeding Week is an exciting time for me every year. Not only do I greatly enjoy joining in the annual celebration through Attachment Parenting International‘s week-long observance on the APtly Said blog, but I also get to partake in fun, local events through my job as a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor. Today, I kicked off World Breastfeeding Week by helping with a local Big Latch On event.

The Big Latch On originated in New Zealand, started by the Women’s Health Action as part of the 2005 World Breastfeeding Week. It is an organized opportunity to support breastfeeding families and promote breastfeeding by inviting breastfeeding women from the local community to come together and latch on their babies and toddlers at a set time. It’s similar to the Great Cloth Diaper Change, if you’ve ever been part of that.

PrintThe Big Latch On event I helped with was in Kearney, Nebraska, USA, and hosted by the Kearney Community Breastfeeding Initiative, Breastfeeding USA of Kearney, Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska and Nebraska WIC Nutrition Program. Breastfeeding moms and their children began coming in to get signed up, settled in and comfortable at 10 a.m. Then, at 10:20 a.m., we announced that it was time to prepare to latch. At 10:30 a.m., every mom was supposed to latch and stay latched until at least 10:31 a.m. Accountability was provided by witnesses, like me, who assured the count was accurate. After 10:31 a.m., participants could leave whenever they wanted. We did have a drawing for breastfeeding T-shirts and a chance for moms to share why they chose breastfeeding, and most moms stayed to chat for an hour, as their babies finished breastfeeding. Then, the coordinator of the program tallied the number of attendees and number of moms who latched and submitted these statistics to the Global Big Latch On.

Big Latch On events have been going on July 31 and August 1 globally, and there is also a count through August 2 of selfies of moms with their babies and children latched on. So the total isn’t in yet, but as of 9 pm Central Time, there have been 13,000 latches. That’s a lot of moms and babies!

The count isn’t a Guinness Record Attempt, but rather a comparison to past years. The idea is beat last year’s record. Here are the records for the past five years:

  • 2010 – 2 countries – 147 local events – 2,045 latches
  • 2011 – 5 countries – 412 local events – 5,687 latches
  • 2012 – 22 countries – 626 local events – 8,862 latches
  • 2013 – 28 countries – 845 local events – 14,536 latches
  • 2014 – 31 countries – 826 local events – 13,798 latches

If you have participated in the Great Cloth Diaper Change, you know that this event is a Guinness Record Attempt. And Guinness World Records can certainly increase awareness, both during the attempt as well as in total numbers. So why is the Big Latch On different?

According to the organizers, the Big Latch On is designed to reflect reality in order to show how culture is changing. This means including communities where there aren’t large groups of breastfeeding women. To be a Guinness Record Attempt, each local event would have to have a minimum of 25 participants to be counted. Many of the Big Latch On events are in smaller communities where there aren’t 25 or more mother-child pairs to be had. At the Kearney event I helped with, we didn’t have 25 breastfeeding mothers. But the moms who came did — and should — count!

By the way, the Guinness World Record for simultaneous breastfeeding is 3,738 mothers at one location, and for multiple locations: 15,128 mothers across 295 sites. Both are held by the Philippines, and both are great awareness tools for breastfeeding. But this just isn’t the Big Latch On style.

Another not-so-obvious, but very good, reason why the Big Latch On is not a Guinness Record Attempt is that what the Big Latch On counts as a latch happens not only during the act of breastfeeding — of both singletons and multiples and tandem-nursings (each baby’s latch counts separately!) — but also active pumping by an exclusively pumping mom.

As I like to say when working with WIC clients, any amount of breastmilk is good. So moms don’t have to be exclusively breastfeeding to be included. One mom who attended the Big Latch On event at Kearney had 2-month-old twins, whom she breastfeeds but also gives pump-expressed milk and supplements with formula. Breastfeeding multiples is hard work, and kudos to her for sticking with it and continuing to work on boosting her milk supply.

Another mom is pump-dependent and actively working on latching her baby, but wasn’t successful at latching that day at 10:30 a.m. No problem, because breastfeeding mothers who are unable to latch are now recognized in their own count. It can be hard to hold off a feeding for a newborn baby who would otherwise be breastfeed on demand, whether at 10:30 a.m. or not.

161052_1659Probably the most impressionable conversation of the event was one I had with a grandmother who came to the Kearney event in support of breastfeeding. She was a breastfeeding mom 30 years ago and talked about how fortunate women today when there are so many opportunities for qualified support, whether from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or another breastfeeding specialist, La Leche League or another local support group, or the Big Latch On or another awareness-raising activity.

This grandmother, who had been formula-fed only herself like so many others in her generation, decided to breastfeed her own children with literally no local breastfeeding support and of course the Internet didn’t exist back then. She remembered going to her doctor for a diagnosis of mastitis and even her doctor didn’t know what to say or how to help. All she could do was continue breastfeeding, despite severe pain, and hope it would get better. What a strong woman! She now has a daughter who is breastfeeding her third time and is an active breastfeeding advocate.

Thirty years can seem like eons ago, but at the same time, it really wasn’t that long ago when women who chose to breastfeed didn’t have any real options if they came upon a challenge, like poor latch, engorgement or low milk supply. Some communities had La Leche League groups, but the organization was still growing then. So many breastfeeding moms 30 years ago, especially in rural areas, who encountered a problem had only one option fully supported by the medical community and culture at the time: to wean to formula. And so many did.

For all the breastfeeding challenges we still have to face and overcome in our culture, we are very fortunate to be mothers at this time in history.

Ready for World Breastfeeding Week 2015?

wbw2015-logo-mAttachment Parenting International (API) is pleased to announce that we are taking part in World Breastfeeding Week, Aug. 1-7. Check daily for posts about how women are making breastfeeding work for them and supporting others in their motherhood journeys.

The 2015 theme of World Breastfeeding Week is “Breastfeeding and Work: Let’s Make It Work!” This annual observance is coordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), which has issued this statement:

This World Breastfeeding Week, WABA calls for concerted global action to support women to combine breastfeeding and work. Whether a woman is working in the formal, non-formal or home setting, it is necessary that she is empowered in claiming her and her baby’s right to breastfeed.

wbw2015-elementThe WBW 2015 theme on working women and breastfeeding revisits the 1993 World Breastfeeding Week campaign on the Mother-Friendly Workplace Initiative. Much has been achieved in 22 years of global action supporting women in combining breastfeeding and work, particularly the adoption of the revised International Labour Organization Convention 183 on Maternity Protection with much stronger maternity entitlements, and more country actions on improving national laws and practices. At the workplace level, we have also seen more actions taken to set up breastfeeding- or mother-friendly workplaces including awards for breastfeeding-friendly employers, as well as greater mass awareness on working women’s rights to breastfeed.

The Innocenti Declaration (1990) recognized that breastfeeding provides ideal nutrition for infants and contributes to their healthy growth and development. There is much that remains to be done despite 25 years of hard work, particularly on the fourth Innocenti target that calls on governments to ‘…enact imaginative legislation protecting the breastfeeding rights of working women and establish means for its enforcement.’

WABA calls for:

  1. Concerted global action to support women to combine breastfeeding and work, whether in the formal sector, non-formal sector, or at home
  2. Ratification and implementation of maternity protection laws and regulations by governments, in line with the ILO Maternity Protection Convention
  3. Inclusion of breastfeeding target indicators in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

wbw2015-objWith the World Breastfeeding Week 2015 campaign, WABA and its partners at global, regional and national levels aim to empower and support all women, working in both the formal and informal sectors, to adequately combine work with childrearing, particularly breastfeeding. We define work in its broadest form from paid employment, self-employment, seasonal and contract work to unpaid home and care work.

Various strategies exist to support women working in your country or community from long-term actions to short-term actions. Together, we can make it work!

This week, API’s celebration of World Breastfeeding Week will honor a collection of inspiring mothers who are dedicated to supporting mothers in breastfeeding no matter their lifestyle choices. A few of the upcoming posts to look forward to:

  • A tribute to Martha Sears, coauthor of many of the Sears parenting books
  • The role breastfeeding plays in baby’s gut health and what that means for overall health not only in childhood but adulthood
  • The role of historical trauma in breastfeeding rates among tribal women.

Check in tomorrow, Aug. 1, for our first installment of 2015 World Breastfeeding Week!

API’s Breastfeeding Library

World Breastfeeding Week 2013Thank you for joining us at APtly Said for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week. We hope you’ve found support and enlightenment. As we bring the week’s celebration to a close, we leave you with a collection of API’s breastfeeding resources from our online publications. Additionally, the latest breastfeeding news can be found through API Links, our monthly enewsletter, and parent-to-parent support is given to breastfeeding mothers through API’s online discussion forums.

Feed with Love and Respect, the second of API’s Eight Principles of Parenting, on AttachmentParenting.org

A New Look at the Safety of Breastfeeding during Pregnancy from AttachmentParenting.org

Another Look at Breastfeeding with HIV/AIDS: An Interview with Marian Thompson, cofounder of LLLI from The Attached Family

Breastfed Babies and the Growth Chart from APtly Said

Breastfeeding After “Almost” Weaning from The Attached Family

Breastfeeding After Sexual Abuse from The Attached Family

Breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting are Intricately Linked from APtly Said

Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer Awareness Month from APtly Said

Breastfeeding and Cosleeping in a Critical Culture from The Attached Family

Breastfeeding and Working, an Illustration from The Attached Family

Breastfeeding for Two: Tandem Nursing from The Attached Family

Breastfeeding Helps to Offset Early Disadvantages from APtly Said

Breastfeeding into Toddlerhood from The Attached Family

Breastfeeding is Not Just for Babies: The Benefits of Breastfeeding a Toddler from APtly Said

Breastfeeding Memories from APtly Said

Breastfeeding On-Demand is OK from The Attached Family

Breastfeeding the Right-Brained Way from The Attached Family

Breastfeeding Twins?! from APtly Said

Breastfeeding While Pregnant from The Attached Family

Breastfeeding While Pregnant: Trying at Times But Ultimately Worthwhile from APtly Said

Celebrate World Breastfeeding Week from APtly Said

Celebrating the Model of Attachment from APtly Said

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

Dads Can Help Breastfeed, Too from APtly Said

Discovering On-Demand Breastfeeding from The Attached Family

Effects of Breast Implants on Lactation from The Attached Family

Extended Breastfeeding from APtly Said

Fighting the Battle Against Oversupply from APtly Said

Food Allergies in a Breastfed Baby from The Attached Family

From Fear to Breastfeeding from from The Attached Family

Interactions and Relationships in Breastfeeding Families: An Interview with Dr. Keren Epstein-Gilboa from The Attached Family

Is Pumping a Breastfeeding Requirement? from from APtly Said

Living with 25-Plus Food Intolerances from The Attached Family

Nature’s Case for Breastfeeding from APtly Said

Newsflash: Breastfeeding Mother Not Harassed for Breastfeeding in Public from APtly Said

Normalizing Extended Breastfeeding from APtly Said

Number One on the Breastfeeding Team is Daddy from The Attached Family

On Breastfeeding While Pregnant from APtly Said

On Support and Breastfeeding from APtly Said

Parents Crave Uncommon Support for Common Concerns, Like Breastfeeding from APtly Said

Parents’ First Decision: Feeding Your Baby from APtly Said

Pumping for Stay-at-Home Moms from The Attached Family

Rest and Sleep the AP Way from APtly Said

Supporting Breastfeeding in Still Life: A Look at the “Breastfeeding is Normal” Project from APtly Said

Supporting Nursing Moms from APtly Said

The Basics of Breastfeeding Advocacy from The Attached Family

The Breastfeeding Father from The Attached Family

The Chemistry of Attachment from AttachmentParenting.org

The Composition of Breastmilk, part 1 & part 2 from APtly Said

The End of Extended Breastfeeding from APtly Said

The Link Between Breastfeeding and Mental Health from The Attached Family

Trust Your Baby to Show You When to Breastfeed from The Attached Family

When Breastfeeding Difficulties are Overwhelming: Getting Past Them from APtly Said

When You Are Feeling Overwhelmed By Breastfeeding from APtly Said

Why Bedsharing and Breastfeeding Go Together, and What Could Happen If You Ignore Biology from APtly Said

Why Breastfeed? It’s More Than Milk from APtly Said

Why Do You Breastfeed? from APtly Said

Why Breastfeed? It’s More Than Milk

World Breastfeeding Week 2013The core of Attachment Parenting is responding to our children with sensitivity. This third of API’s Eight Principles of Parenting is one of two principles–the other is striving for balance–that are part and parcel to the whole of the parenting approach, that thread themselves through each of the remaining six principles, including feeding with love and respect.

Attachment Parenting International recognizes that breastfeeding can be difficult in our society. It is hard to do something different than our family and friends, our social network prior to becoming parents, and to find a new support system for our choices. It is hard to navigate new motherhood relatively alone, compared to other cultures where family rallies together to give the mother a baby moon, a time when mom and baby can bond uninterrupted while housework and caring for other children are taken up by others in her life. It is hard to make the choice to return to work and then try to integrate a child care provider into our alternative way of parenting. It is hard to pump while away from baby. And it is hard to continue to push through difficulties, whether it be a poor latch or milk supply issues or teething or night-waking, when so many others in our lives are trying to convince us to just give a bottle of formula.

But breastfeeding, like any choice made through the lens of Attachment Parenting, is ultimately about responding with sensitivity to our babies. There are great nutritional and health benefits to feeding breastmilk, but what makes breastfeeding special enough for many mothers to continue despite societal pressure and their personal hurdles is that breastfeeding is more than a way to feed their babies — that it offers the beginnings of a relationship with their child that cannot be replicated in any other way.

When I work with clients through the WIC program, it is clear to me that breastfeeding is 10% know-how and 90% desire. Every mother-baby pair is different, and while peer counselors and lactation professionals can offer help for various problems that arise, each situation is unique. The mother has to want to breastfeed, to learn this relationship with their child no matter what, and that’s what makes breastfeeding successful.

The human mother was designed to breastfeed so that a relationship is borne out of the effort, out of each mother and her baby learning about each other and what will work or not, out of the gaze between one another, out of the oxytocin rush each receives, out of the gentle discipline necessary in teaching baby not to bite or to eventually night-wean, out of the mother finding her balance while caring for her baby, out of learning to be flexible as baby grows and needs change. We can find a bit of each of API’s Eight Principles of Parenting within the act of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding behavior is very literally the embodiment of responding with sensitivity to our babies–and responding with sensitivity is a skill and artform that all mothers need no matter their child’s age.

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 www.facebook.com/pages/Bottled-UP-The-Film/352408118167906 and our website at www.themilkywaymovie.com/.

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.”