Tag Archives: Breastfeeding

Shout-out #1: Enlightened Mama in the Twin Cities

Such a place!

Such a place!

I’ve given a couple of talks in the Midwest this month, and I want to give a shout-out to two very worthy organizations: Enlightened Mama in St. Paul, Minnesota (this post) and Southwest Tech in Fennimore, Wisconsin (coming soon).

I first met Liz Abbene, Enlightened Mama’s founder and “Alpha Mama,” a couple of years ago when I was speaking at the 2012 REACHE conference in Seattle. As we chatted about the conference I was impressed by Liz’s ability to carry on a coherent conversation while buried in children (she has four beautiful kids). Anyone who could keep that many balls in the air at one time, I figured, must run a pretty interesting business.

When the conference wound down, Liz extended me an invitation to speak at Enlightened Mama if I was ever in the Twin Cities. Sure, I said, figuring what are the chances of that ever happening? I’d never been to the Twin Cities and didn’t really have any plans to travel there.

Liz Abbene

Liz Abbene

Ah, but life has a way of changing one’s plans. Last year I enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s Masters in Public Health program, which requires online students to spend a couple of weeks on campus during the year. So I came to the Twin Cities for UMN’s Public Health Institute in early June and, as Liz had willed back in Seattle, I wound up at Enlightened Mama talking on the wonders of the newborn microbiome.

Space does not allow me to describe all that Liz does at Enlightened Mama. Suffice it to say that along with doula services she and her staff and partners provide lactation support and breastfeeding classes; massage, acupuncture and chiropractic care; family therapy and career counseling; and a number of other classes and services that promote wellness before, during, and after childbirth. Alas, there is no brewpub or nail salon at Enlightened Mama, but for all I know these are in the works.

Enlightened Mama is a great resource for families in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area. So if you live there and you’re pregnant, give Liz a call!

P.S: When I asked one St. Paul mother how her town differed from Minneapolis, she told me this:

“People from Minneapolis love to tell you how cool it is to live there. People from St. Paul already know we live in a cool town. No need to brag about it.”

I remain neutral in the matter…

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Filed under Breastfeeding, Doulas, Maternal-child health, Natural childbirth

How mama ‘roos do it…

Busy mother, wildlife park outside Perth

Busy mother, wildlife park outside Perth

Here’s a lactation trick humans can only marvel at:

A kangaroo mama often nurses two babies (“joeys”) of different ages, meeting the individual nutritional needs of both simultaneously. She does this by producing milk of very different composition from each of her two breasts–one milk designed for the newborn and the other for the “toddler.” Protein and fat content differ considerably between the breasts.

Kangaroo lactation consultants certainly have their work cut out for them…

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Filed under Animals, Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding in the U.S. (Part 2): How are we doing?

Making progress…

First the good news: More American babies are breastfeeding every year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which just released its Breastfeeding Report Card 2012:

– 76.9% of infants start out life breastfeeding

– 47.2% were at least partially breastfed at 6 months (versus 34.2% in 2000)

– 25.5% were at least partially breastfed at their first birthday (versus 15.7% in 2000)

The statistics for exclusive breastfeeding show a similar encouraging trend:

– 36% of babies were exclusively breastfed through 3 months of age (vs. 30.5% in 2000)

– 16.3% were exclusively breastfed through 6 months (vs. 11.3 in 2000).

The bad news, such as it is, is that as a nation we have a long way to go. Ideally, all babies would be exclusively breastfed until at least 6 months of age, and we’re far from that ideal.

The percentage of exclusively breastfed babies in the 2012 report card does come close to the CDC’s Healthy People 2010 goals: 40% of babies exclusively breastfed at 3 months, and 17% at 6 months. But still…that means the majority of American babies aren’t enjoying breastfeeding’s many benefits.

The CDC has set more ambitious and hopefully achievable breastfeeding goals in Healthy People 2020:

2020 Target:

1) Ever breastfed: 81.9% (2012 report card: 76.9%)

2) Any breastfeeding:

At 6 months: 60.6% (2012: 47.2%)

At 1 year: 34.1% (2012: 25.5%)

3) Exclusive breastfeeding:

Through 3 months: 46.2% (2012: 36%)

Through 6 months: 25.5% (2012: 16.6%)

Next we’ll look at state-by-state breastfeeding data. Not surprisingly, there are some significant differences…

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Filed under Breastfeeding, Maternal-child health

Soybeans and baby brains

Just like Gram Sloan used to grow…

The second study (following up on my last post), also published in Pediatrics, involves a comparison between soy formula and cow’s milk formula. The concern: given the known differences in cognitive development between breast and formula-fed babies, does soy pose any additional risks when compared with cow’s milk formula?

The authors, Aline Andres and colleagues at the University of Arkansas, focused on the role of isoflavones, an estrogen-like chemical found in soy. Their results: there was no difference in behavioral, psychomotor, and language development in the soy-fed babies compared with those who drank cow’s milk formula.

But…what they did find (again) is that neither the soy nor the cow’s milk groups did as well on testing as did breastfed babies. This difference held up even after mother’s age, socio-economic status, and IQ were taken into consideration.

So what is the deal about breastfeeding and better scores (or should I say formula feeding and lower scores)? More on that subject down the road…

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Filed under Breastfeeding, Development, Nutrition

Fatty acids in formula: Making babies smarter?

DHA = smarter babies?

A number of studies in the past decade have shown that breastfed babies are slightly “smarter” than those who are formula-fed, at least in terms of standard intelligence test scores. Which, of course, has led to a predictable, lengthy media spat as to why this might be so.

Is the “IQ gap” due to some unknown smartness-inducing quality of breast milk itself? Or some IQ-damaging substance in formula? Or might it be due to some other factor altogether–like the extended mother-baby contact that comes with nursing, or the fact that the breastfeeding mothers in the studies tended to have higher IQs themselves, and more money, than the formula-feeding moms?

A couple of  recently published studies don’t settle that issue, but do show how incredibly difficult it is to make infant formula that comes anywhere close to providing all the benefits that breast milk and breastfeeding do.

The first study*, published by Ahmad Qawasmi and colleagues in Pediatrics on May 28, looks at two fatty acids, abbreviated  DHA and AA, which are added to infant formula. DHA and AA are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids known to be critical to cognitive development both within the womb and in early childhood. Breast milk contains substantial amounts of DHA and AA; formula did not until supplementation began some years ago. Formula manufacturers quickly trumpeted the benefits of these new additives to infant brain growth. And though they didn’t say so directly in their ads, they hoped that DHA and AA would close the IQ gap between their products and breast milk.

It didn’t work out that way. According to Qawasmi’s team, which performed a meta-analysis of a dozen studies on the subject, the addition of DHA and AA to formula provided no measurable “intelligence boost” at one year of age compared with un-supplemented formula.

That’s not to say that DHA and AA shouldn’t be added to infant formula–anything that brings the composition of formula closer in line with breast milk is a good thing for the 70%  of American babies who are drinking at least some of it by the age of six months.

It’s just that we’ll have to look elsewhere for the answer to the differences in cognitive development between breast and formula babies. Qawasmi suggests that other factors should be studied, such as the antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties of breast milk.

What this and other studies do demonstrate, though, is that it’s pretty darn tough (and likely impossible) to commercially duplicate all the benefits of breastfeeding. After millions of years of tinkering, nature knows what it’s doing.

(*A look at the second study, about soy formula and cognitive development, is coming up…)

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FAQs: Is Vitamin D necessary for breastfed babies? (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of frequently asked questions I hear from parents in my practice. If you have an FAQ about children’s health, send it along!

Vitamin D: A buffness requirement

Is vitamin D supplementation really necessary for breastfed babies?

Vitamin D supplementation for breastfed newborns is a hot topic. Though it’s strongly recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, many parents understandably question the need for it. After all, isn’t breast milk nature’s perfect food? Aren’t we undermining breastfeeding promotion by saying mother’s milk is deficient in something? And, hey…if this is such a problem, how did the human race manage to get by without vitamin drops all these eons??

Let’s look at the issue from a number of angles and see what the fuss is all about. I’ll start with a basic Q & A and then go into more detail in future posts.

1) What is vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a steroid hormone. It belongs to the same chemical family as cholesterol, testosterone and estrogen, among many other compounds.

2) What does vitamin D do?

It was originally thought to only play a role in bone health, by helping the body absorb calcium. In recent years, though, vitamin D has been shown to play an important role in immune system functioning, both by heightening the body’s responses to invading bacteria and preventing the immune system from attacking normal tissues.

3) Where do we get vitamin D?

There are two major sources: sunlight and diet. Sunlight is the more efficient way to get vitamin D.

The good stuff

4) What happens if we don’t get enough?

Historically, the connection between lack of sunshine and rickets–soft, deformed bones–was made in the 19th century. (Pelvic bones shrunken and deformed by rickets were the cause of many deaths in childbirth in those days.) Later, a lack of vitamin D was identified as the cause of rickets. Osteoporosis, especially in women, also results from inadequate vitamin D. Recently, as vitamin D’s immune system role has become clearer, a lack of vitamin D has also been linked to a number of serious chronic conditions, such as Type 1 diabetes, systemic lupus erythematosis, and multiple sclerosis.

5) Why is there so much vitamin D deficiency these days?

It’s mainly due to decreased sun exposure and poor diet.

6) So why are breastfed babies at risk for vitamin D deficiency?

Many pregnant or lactating women don’t have enough vitamin D for their own bodies, let alone enough to build up their babies’ supply. A mother’s problem soon becomes her baby’s problem, too.

More to come…

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Another reason to breast feed (as if you needed one)

(Painting by Tamara de Lempicka)

A new study from Great Britain has found that breast fed babies have better lung function at age 12 than those who are formula fed.  This was particularly noticeable in the children of mothers who have asthma, a finding that contradicted some earlier research.

I’ll check on this, but I assume the improvement is attributed to better immune system function in breast fed children. As more research looks at the link between vaginal birth, breast feeding and immune system health, we’ll likely be seeing more studies like these.

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Filed under Asthma, Breastfeeding