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Health

Mammals and Their Mammary Glands, a Post About Breastfeeding

I have no recent nursing photos of my own, so I borrowed this one from Hobo Mama, via Flickr.

I have written before about the fact that in all my days of nursing anytime and anywhere, I have never once received a rude comment. For the most part, I have seen nothing but support for breastfeeding. Unfortunately, last week I received a reminder of the fact that some people are still hung up, confused, or ill informed when it comes to breastfeeding. I was on the phone with a nurse who called me for a telephone consult. I prefaced my question with a bit of background information on Annabelle, which included the fact that much of her nutrition comes from breastmilk. This nurse stopped me mid-sentence and asked, incredulously, “She’s still nursing? At 19 months!?” Of course this could be interpreted as positive or negative, but her tone said it all. She was far from supportive, and it really upset me. This slightly (okay, very) snarky post has been bouncing around in my head ever since.  Continue reading

Journey to a Disposable Free Household

Welcome to the First Annual Freedom of Cloth Carnival

This post was written for inclusion in the Freedom of Cloth Carnival hosted at Natural Parents Network by Melissa of The New Mommy Files and Shannon of The Artful Mama. This year’s carnival will run from Sunday, July 3rd through Saturday, July 9th. Participants are sharing everything they know and love about cloth diapering, including how cloth has inspired them.

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Photo Credit: Ray King
Used by Creative Commons License

I have been on a journey to be kinder and gentler to the environment since long before my daughter was born, but her birth and the decision to cloth diaper definitely gave me the extra push I needed to take that journey more seriously. I knew from the start that I would use cloth in combination with elimination communication, but as I researched my options and learned how easy it was to use cloth, I took things a bit further.

Using cloth caused me to think more about other single-use items in our home and I have slowly been replacing these with options we can use again and again. The most obvious switch was from disposable to cloth napkins, but later we moved away from our use of paper towels for cleaning. I was surprised to see how easy it was to use cotton cloths in their stead, even for things like mirrors and windows. Making one small change at a time has made the switch to cloth for all of our household needs an easy one. My most recent change has been away from disposable feminine products and it was quite easy thanks to my “Keeper Cup.”
As I gave more thought to the products I was using to wash our diapers, I also began to examine all of our household cleaning products and that has been instrumental in my switch to a chemical-free household. Not only is this safer for my family, but it has me buying fewer products in disposable containers. We do use a large amount of vinegar that comes in plastic gallon jugs, so my current eco conundrum is how to reduce those. The change in our choice of cleaning products in turn made me look at the products I use for my own self care: shampoos, soaps, and other cosmetics. I have slowly made changes in this area as well, switching to products that don’t contain harsh chemicals and that use less packaging and disposable containers.
By no means am I perfect, and I’m sure that my family is not making all of the “right” choices, but the point is – we’re thinking about it, and we’re making changes one at a time as we see a need. Cloth diapering has been a giant stepping stone in our journey toward awareness and conscious, mindful living in our environment. 

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freedom of cloth carnivalVisit
Natural Parents Network
for the most up-to-date news on the Freedom of Cloth Carnival!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants on the following themes. Articles will go live on the scheduled theme day:

  • Sunday, July 3rd, 2011: Cloth Related Recipes — Writers share their best cloth-related recipes and tutorials.
  • Monday, July 4th, 2011: Choosing Your Cloth Style — Today’s posts discuss parents’ individual journeys to finding the cloth diapering “style” that best suits their families.
  • Tuesday, July 5th, 2011: Cloth Diapering Must Haves — Parents talk about the most important items in their diapering “stash” and why they love them.
  • Wednesday, July 6th, 2011: Wordless Wednesday, Inspired by Cloth — We asked parents to share their favorite cloth-related photo with us and turned them into a fluffy Wordless Wednesday photo montage on Natural Parents Network. Link up your own Wordless Wednesday post there!
  • Thursday, July 7th, 2011: Cloth Through the Stages: From Infancy to Potty Independence — Today’s participants explain how cloth diapering has served their families throughout one or more stages of their children’s lives.
  • Friday, July 8th, 2011: Cloth Troubleshooting and Laundry Day — Seasoned cloth diapering parents share their best tips and tricks for handling common cloth problems and tackling the diaper laundry.
  • Saturday, July 9th, 2011: Inspired by Cloth — For today’s theme, we’ve asked writers to explore the ways cloth diapering has inspired them to become “greener” overall.

Case Studies of Vegan Children

Having been vegan for a number of years before I had my daughter, I was always curious when I met vegan families with young children. I found it hard to engage anyone in real discussion, however, which may stem from the fact that most often when parents are asked about their choice to follow a vegan diet, the questions are a veiled criticism. It is easy to find cases of vegan children with nutritional deficiencies, and this can make it seem as though this is an inevitability in all vegan families. Fortunately, this is not true. I wanted to share how Annabelle has fared thus far, and look at a few case studies that do exist.

Since the daddy is not vegan, it’s unlikely that Annabelle will remain vegan throughout early childhood. It’s very likely that she will want to try some of the things her daddy eats in the years to come, and I don’t intend to place undue restrictions on her when it comes to food. For now, however, I prepare all of our meals and everything I put in front of Annabelle is vegan. 

Our Diet
  • Prior to becoming pregnant, I had been vegan for six years. I continued a vegan diet throughout my pregnancy, and still do.
  • I supplemented with B12, when I remembered, which admittedly was not often enough. Since I use nutritional yeast liberally, my poor memory probably didn’t do me too much damage. I took no other vitamins or supplements prior to pregnancy.
  • When I learned that I was pregnant, I immediately began taking a vegetarian prenatal vitamin with B12 and iron.
  • Because I was vegan, my doctor gave me a referral to see a dietitian. I didn’t feel I needed it, but was not about to turn down a free service or be haphazard about the health of my unborn child, so I went. I learned a few tips for increasing my iron absorption, but otherwise was told my diet was excellent.
  • At her birth, I requested delayed cord clamping and cutting to ensure that Annabelle got the full benefits of her iron rich cord blood.
  • I continued to take a prenatal vitamin with iron and B12 as I breastfed Annabelle exclusively for the first seven months of her life. 
  • Because I was supplementing my own diet with vitamin D through my prenatal, and we spend plenty of time outdoors here at 14 degrees north of the equator, I chose not to give Annabelle Vitamin D drops as the AAP recommends.
  • At seven months, despite introducing some complementary foods, I continued to take prenatal vitamins. 
  • As Annabelle’s intake of complementary foods has increased, I have taken care to include foods rich in iron such as hemp seeds and blackstrap molasses every day and I have transitioned from the prenatal vitamin to Floradix liquid iron, which includes B12. I also take care to eat foods rich in iron each day and cook in cast iron often. For added B12, I continue to use nutritional yeast on both her food and mine.
  • Annabelle is still breastfed, at least five times per day, usually more.

Our Health

  • Lab work early in my pregnancy revealed that I was borderline anemic. This was not surprising, as my iron levels were never particularly high, and iron deficiency is common among the women in my family – including those who eat meat. I upped my iron intake.
  • Labs taken later in my pregnancy and on the day my daughter was born revealed that I was no longer anemic.
  • Annabelle was born at full term (40 weeks and 2 days), and at a normal weight (6lbs15oz). She lost only five ounces in the first days before my milk came in, and once nursing was well established she had perfectly normal gains.
  • Because of our vegan diet and my history of low iron, I requested that Annabelle’s iron levels be checked at 9 months rather than waiting until a year as the pediatrician normally would have done. Her iron levels were normal. 
  • At 12 months, Annabelle’s pediatrician requested that we check her calcium and phosphorous and Vitamin D levels. Again, everything came back normal.
  • At 14 months, Annabelle is energetic and happy and loves to eat her vegetables. She began walking before nine months, and continues to advance in all of her motor, communication, and self-care skills.
Vegan Children Elsewhere
I have written before about the consensus on vegan diets for children among the American Academy of Pediatrics, US Department of Agriculture, American Dietetic Association, and the American Heart Association: vegan diets are perfectly healthful and adequate as long as they are carefully planned.


A look at a few studies…

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at vegetarian diets and children and concluded that, If known pitfalls are avoided, the growth and development of children reared on both vegan and vegetarian diets appears normal.”

The growth and development of children born of vegan mothers and reared on a vegan diet has been studied longitudinally: All of the children were breast-fed for the first 6 mo of life and in most cases well into the second year of life. The majority of children grew and developed normally but they did tend to be smaller in stature and lighter in weight than standards for the general population. Energy, calcium, and vitamin D intakes were usually below the recommended amounts. Their diets, however, were generally adequate but a few children had low intakes of riboflavin and vitamin B-12. Most parents were aware of the need to supplement the diet with vitamin B-12. It is concluded that provided sufficient care is taken, a vegan diet can support normal growth and development.”

“Severe nutritional deficiencies developed in four infants from a new vegan religious community. They had received breast milk until the age of 3 months; thereafter, breast milk was supplemented with or replaced by extremely low caloric-density preparations. All of the infants had profound protein-caloric malnutrition, severe rickets, osteoporosis, and vitamin B12 and other deficiencies. One infant died, while the three others had an uneventful recovery. After discharge of the infants from the hospital, the community responded well to a modification of the infants’ diet, which did not violate their vegetarian philosophy. However, they refused to give their infants vitamin B12 on a regular basis.”
This appears to discuss a very similar population, if not the same one. 

Do you see what I see? I have to think that the health of the children in the last study had a lot to do with the cessation of exclusive breastfeeding after just three months. In any case, a look at all of this information leaves one with a few impressions: Vegan diets can provide adequate nutrition for children, and in fact do provide it for many. There is also the potential for severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies, though these are not unique to vegan children. It is crucial that vegan parents consider “common pitfalls” and plan meals in order to avoid them.

Are you a vegan or vegetarian family? How do you plan your meals to avoid “common pitfalls? I would love to hear your story, too.

Donor Milk and Cross Nursing

The cultural norm for infant feeding seems to be pretty simple: some women nurse or may express breast milk for their babies, while others feed their babies formula from a bottle. I have yet to meet, in person, a mom who did anything else. It seems that when there are breastfeeding problems, or a mother cannot or does not wish to nurse, the natural solution is infant formula. I’m sure that formula companies are quite pleased that their products are the immediate go-to for the vast majority of moms when breastfeeding is difficult, or is not an option for one reason or another, but this is an unfortunate scenario for infants.

The following excerpt is taken from the World Health Organizations’s Global Strategy for Infant Feeding

“The vast majority of mothers can and should breastfeed, just as the vast majority of infants can and should be breastfed. Only under exceptional circumstances can a mother’s milk be considered unsuitable for her infant. For those few health situations where infants cannot, or should not, be breastfed, the choice of the best alternative – expressed breast milk from an infant’s own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or a human-milk bank, or a breast-milk substitute fed with a cup, which is a safer method than a feeding bottle and teat – depends on individual circumstances…Infants who are not breastfed, for whatever reason, should receive special attention from the health and social welfare system since they constitute a risk group.”

In other words, most every mother can breastfeed and doing so provides the greatest benefit to her offspring. In the rare circumstances when she cannot, the best alternatives, in order are:
  • Expressed milk from the mother
  • Milk from another healthy mother, at the breast, or expressed and fed using another method such as an SNS, syringe, cup, or bottle
  • Infant formula
In terms of what is healthiest for our children, infant formula should be the LAST resort, and as stated above, actually puts children who consume it at risk. It’s no surprise, however, that women tend to go straight for it when breastfeeding is not possible, or is not quite enough. The idea of using donor milk is almost unheard of, and is sometimes even treated as something completely wacky and counter-culture. Cross nursing (a woman nursing a child other than her own) is even worse – I mean who does that, right!? It’s a sad state of affairs when society fails to empower women to make the best possible choices for their children’s health. Once again, though, I’m sure Nestle and other formula companies are quite content with the way things are!
Fortunately, there are milk banks in a growing number of locations, but these generally serve NICU babies first and if they do have milk available for healthy babies, a prescription is required and at roughly three dollars an ounce or more, it can be cost-prohibitive. This milk is also pasteurized, which is good, of course, in that it helps to destroy any potential pathogens, but it also has a negative effect on some of the beneficial substances in human milk. So, while it is certainly superior to infant formula, human milk from a milk bank is not always easy to obtain and loses some of its nutritional and immunological value in the pasteurization process.
When one looks at the evidence, it becomes clear that cross-nursing, or donor milk directly from a healthy mother is actually quite a sensible choice, and the apparent taboo surrounding it is an unfortunate hurdle for mothers who have trouble breastfeeding themselves. Women who realize this are speaking up, however. Milk Share, formed in 2004, is an informational resource and connection point for families in need of human milk and others who are willing and able to provide it – free of charge. Eats on Feets, a new, global milk sharing network, is another connection point whereby families in need can find mothers willing to donate milk. They have chapters springing up all over the world – we have even started one here on Guam! Whether it is talked about or not – there are mothers virtually everywhere in the world who are more than willing to provide milk for babies other than their own – out of the kindness of their hearts.
What about you – have you ever nursed a child other than your own, or donated milk? Have you ever benefited from donor milk from another mother? If you suddenly found yourself in need, would you be open to using donor milk or to allowing another healthy mother to nurse your baby? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Also, please don’t be shy — feel free to hit one of the buttons below to share this post and help raise  awareness about this important, and too seldom discussed topic.
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