Monday, November 18, 2013

BREASTMILK The Movie - A Review

There were plenty of leaking breasts, milk-drunk babies, and personal testimonies, but unfortunately there wasn't enough information.

Click to watch the trailer!

Like many birth and breastfeeding professionals, I've waited months for the newest documentary by Rikki Lake and Abby Epstein (and Dana Ben-Ari), the directors of the excellent birth documentary The Business of Being Born, and was hoping it would be just as insightful, empowering, and informative... in some ways it was, but overall I was disappointed with the lack of information.

Beginning with the early breastfeeding experiences of various mothers, we continue through the first months and onto the first year with a diverse group of parents, couples, and babies.

We are witness to the first latch, numerous breastfeeding and pumping sessions, tandem nursings, and preemie supplementation. We hear about a mother's experience with induced lactation, the changing sexuality of the breasts for one father, and from many generous milk donors providing their milk to adoptive families.

The documentary demonstrates the diversity of experiences breastfeeding parents encounter and lends even more weight to the argument that we don't provide enough support to new families. One mother, a librarian who pumps for months to feed her daughter breastmilk, points out that as a country we claim to support "family values", but in reality the true picture of family across the US is hardly supported at all - an incredibly relevant observation as mother after mother is unable to meet their breastfeeding goal, or that of our country's Healthy People 2020 goals.

An unfortunate theme, pervasive throughout the film, was 'there's not enough milk'; a legitimate concern for many parents today. Mother after mother, and even the fathers, addressed concerns that they weren't making enough milk... it almost seemed as if the documentary was trying to drill this in :( 

Unfortunately I felt that the issue was never addressed beyond that. Where I saw opportunities to interview lactation specialists, health workers, and medical professionals about what a "normal" milk supply looks like, how to increase supply, and our cultural misconceptions about "low-supply", instead we hear a discourse about the importance of perceiving "an abundance of milk" - which don't get me wrong, I completely agree with, but I think is less than helpful to the majority of struggling breastfeeding mothers.

What about information on how long it takes for your supply to come in? This was only briefly addressed in that early pumping (often promoted by hospitals) can make many mothers feel they don't have enough milk because at this point it hasn't come in... but there is no real dialogue about how long it takes for breastmilk to actually come in! Colostrum, mature milk, let-down... none of these things were discussed, leaving those who don't already know about breastfeeding and breastmilk to still be in the dark.

This documentary was more of an observation of modern infant feeding practices (including breastfeeding), rather than an informative and empowering documentary about breastmilk. In the end we are left with an understanding of how difficult breastfeeding can be and that we are not alone in our struggles with breastfeeding... but nothing for what to do to improve this situation.

So enough of what I didn't like, what I did love was the montage of breasts squirting breastmilk - almost as an onscreen competition - making the audience laugh at the distance and amount of milk being sprayed everywhere; a testimony to the 'abundance of milk' discourse briefly mentioned in the film, but contrary to the mother's lived experiences of trying to salvage every last drop!

I had hoped for a movie that I could encourage expecting couples and future parents to watch and learn about breastfeeding, to even help with making a decision about breastfeeding, but I don't think that's what this movie is best for.

Rather, I'll be recommending this movie to anyone who has breastfed. This movie has the potential to help breastfeeding parents feel less guilty about their own breastfeeding experience and to know that they certainly are not alone!

One thing the movie does attempt to do is to normalize breastfeeding and to call attention to the challenges that breastfeeding in an industrialized country entails. As one mother points out, "this is what our mothers and grandmothers have been able to carve out for us in the feminist movement", having to juggle mothering and professional life - often feeling as though you aren't doing your best at either.

It is certainly upsetting to hear such negative discourse, but it is important we acknowledge the reality of motherhood (especially in the US) and how many challenges, obstacles, and road-blocks we face when it comes to parenting and feeding your baby - hopefully we can use this honest dialogue to advocate for greater family support in the US!

Overall, Breastmilk- The Movie was an enjoyable watch for someone who knows a bit about breastfeeding and breastmilk, and for those who have struggled through their own breastfeeding relationship, but I felt it needed more information for future parents and curious individuals that want to know more about how to make breastfeeding better, how to make it work!

What did YOU think about the movie? Please leave a comment!

~Wisdom and Birth

Also directed by Rikki Lake and Abby Epstein is The Business of Being Born, if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it!!! You can find it on Netflix.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

13 (AWESOME!) Evidence-Based Reasons to Breastfeed

Breastfeeding truly is the best feeding! And if you needed any more reason to think so, here are some wonderful research-based and perhaps less well-known reasons to breastfeed!!

If you have other ideas please share them in the comments below!!


1. Breastfeeding can decrease your risk of breast cancer. 
 This is a BIG one that I think we need to talk about more! 
Preventing breast cancer is better than having to treat it!!

A large meta-analysis of 47 epidemiological studies from 30 countries found a 4.3% (95% CI 2.9-5.8) decreased risk of breast cancer for every 12 months of breastfeeding. 

Breastfeeding two children for two years each could conceivably reduce your risk of breast cancer by over 17%. [PubMed] (1)

2. And Ovarian Cancer. 
A meta-analysis found that the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer decreased 8% for every 5-month increase in the duration of breastfeeding (RR: 0.92; 95% CI: 0.90, 0.95). [PubMed] (2)

3. Breastfeeding will save you over 
$2,366 per year.
In The Business of Baby by Jennifer Margulis (2013) she estimates that infant formula will cost approximately $2,366 per year, whereas breastfeeding is free. This doesn't even take into account all the money you could save on doctor's visits and medicine because you'll have a healthier baby. See my post here for how to save over $4,000 with a new baby!

4. And your baby will be healthier.
Breastfeeding decreases the risk of infection such as gastrointestinal infections, lower respiratory infections and otitis media. Breastfeeding has also demonstrated an effect in the prevention of allergies, obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, hypertension, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This means less doctors bills, missed days of work, and money spent on medicine. [PubMed] (3)

5. Breastfeeding enhances cognitive development. 
Although there is some conflicting research, some studies show that breastfeeding may enhance cognitive development, at a minimum breastfeeding promotes optimal cognitive development for each respective baby. [PubMed](3)

6. And can give your baby better social mobility.
A large British cohort study demonstrated that there may be life-long social benefits to breastfeeding; a better chance of moving up the social ladder. It was found that breastfeeding increased the likelihood of upward social mobility and decreased the odds of downward mobility; an effect partially mediated through neurological and stress mechanisms. [NCBI] (4)

7. They may be less likely to become obese.
Although research isn't definitive on this because there are so many confounding variables, there does to be a correlation between increased breastfeeding rates and decreases in overweight and obesity. [PubMed] (5)


8. Breastfeeding is sustainable and Earth-friendly.
Infant formula, not so much. Just think about all that tin, cardboard, plastic, and the costs of cattle for milk, manufacturing dry or liquid formula and shipping... the environmental costs of infant formula are numerous, but breastmilk on the other hand is essentially cost-free. More environmental impact facts and information here.

9. You may raise a less picky-eater.
 Some research indicates that breastfeeding and especially extended breastfeeding may introduce a baby's taste pallet to a variety of flavors leading them to be less picky as they try foods in toddler-hood. You can find more in this article and this study

10. You can put a pause on your fertility. 
 An effective form of birth control, exclusive breastfeeding is 98-99.5% effective in preventing pregnancy in the first 6 months, when certain conditions are met. For some women ovulation doesn't occur for over two years, an excellent way to child-space for optimal health! Referred to as lactational amenorrhea, you can learn more about it here. Night feeds are an important factor in preventing ovulation and subsequent period. 

11. You'll get more and better sleep!
Research is increasingly demonstrating that breastfeeding mothers get more sleep than mothers feeding formula or using mixed feeding (contrary to what formula advertising alludes to!). Exclusively breastfeeding mothers report having more energy during the day, less symptoms of postpartum depression and more hours logged throughout the night. You can find an excellent summary of the research here.

12. And reduce your risk of  
postpartum depression. 
Breastfeeding can protect a mother from postpartum depression and reduce the severity of symptoms, this is possible through various mechanisms such as promoting hormonal processes that protect the mother against stress, helping to regulate sleep and wake patterns for mother and child, improving mother's self-efficacy and emotional involvement with the child, reducing the child's temperamental difficulties, and promoting better mother-child interactions. [PubMed] (6)


13. And you may lose more baby-weight!
Although there are some conflicting studies, there are some high-quality studies that demonstrate a positive association between breastfeeding and postpartum weight loss! [PubMed] (7)

Are there other research-based reasons to breastfeed? Leave a comment and let me know!!

Happy Breastfeeding!
~Wisdom and Birth

1. Breast cancer and breastfeeding: Collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, including 50302 women with breast cancer and 96973 women without the disease. Lancet. 2002;360:187–95. [PubMed]
2. Luan NN, Wu QJ, Gong TT, Vogtmann E, Wang YL, & Lin B. (2013). Breastfeeding and ovarian cancer risk: a meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2013 Oct;98(4):1020-31. [PubMed]
3. Leung AKC & Sauve RS. (2005). Breast is best for babies. Journal of the National Medical Association. 97(7): 1010-1019. [PubMed]
4. Sacker A, Kelly Y, Iacovou M, Cable N, Bartley M. (2013) Breast feeding and intergenerational social mobility: what are the mechanisms? Arch Dis Child 2013;98:9 666-671 [NCBI]
5. Lefebvre CM & John RM. (2013). The effect of breastfeeding on childhood overweight and obesity: A systematic review of the literature. J Am Assoc Nurse Pract. doi: 10.1002/2327-6924.12036. [Epub ahead of print].
6. Figueiredo B, Dias CC, Brandão S, Canário C, Nunes-Costa R. (2013) Breastfeeding and postpartum depression: state of the art review. Jornal de Pediatria (Versão em Português), 89(4):332-338. [PubMed]
7. Neville CE, McKinley MC, Holmes VA, Spence D, Woodside JV. (2013). The relationship between breastfeeding and postpartum weight change-a systematic review and critical evaluation. Int J Obes (Lond). doi: 10.1038/ijo.2013.132. [Epub ahead of print] [PubMed]

Friday, September 13, 2013

Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology ~ Healing Birth Trauma in Babies

I recently responded to a post on a Facebook parenting page, the mother wanted to know what she could do to help her 3 month old daughter heal from her birth. I encouraged her to look into the field of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology (PPN) and even mentioned a few names of leading practitioners in the field.

After recommending this, I began my own search to actually see what materials were available to parents who want to help their baby heal from a stressful or traumatic birth. This is when I truly realized that there is almost nothing currently available to guide parents in supporting their baby through a healing process. Most of what I found encouraged parents to seek clinical counseling from someone who specializes in PPN and I would encourage you to do this as well, for babies with severe trauma or residual issues from their prenatal, birth or postpartum experience. But here's the thing, PPN is hardly recognized and professionals that specialize in it are still few and far between.

So I will try to provide some thoughts and ideas for helping babies acknowledge and recover from their birth experience. These thoughts and strategies can be used by anyone (and should be used by all of us) to truly support the well-being and optimal growth of our young ones.

First, I am sorry that your baby had a negative or traumatic experience. It is likely that you did as well, or at least witnessing your child's pain has been difficult, and for this I am also sorry.

But, I do know that you searching for ways to help them is a big step and you are already helping your baby by recognizing their experience and believing that they can heal. You are doing something great for them; you are a great parent!

The following ideas can be applied at anytime for any baby, but if you are planning to help your child heal from a traumatic event, then you need to wait for the right time to address these traumatic experiences. This is not something that I can tell you how exactly when or how to do. There will be a 'right-moment' when your child is already stressed or suffering and you can begin to consciously and respectfully address what you hear, see, and receive from them. For some parents, you may know what triggers a regression to the traumatic experience and can initiate some of these strategies as appropriate before, during, or after this occurs.

Again, when and how to address traumatic experiences should be done with conscious care. Be respectful of your baby's feelings and treat them even better than you would want to be treated - you are helping to shape how this little human understands and views the world, how they think of themselves and what they deserve, and how they will view and treat others. You have the ability to make this tiny being more whole, just by loving them unconditionally!

This leads to the first thing you can do to support the healing process in your baby, or anyone for that matter.
  • Believe (in) them. You must believe their story, their experience, their perceptions, sensations, and beliefs of what they went through. But you also have to believe in them. Believe they are capable of healing, growing, adapting, and changing. Believe in their ability (and yours) to communicate with one another - no matter how impossible it may seem to some. Communication happens in more ways than just language, this understanding alone can open realms of new possibilities for interacting with your baby.
So that brings up the next important part of helping your baby heal.
  • Listen to your baby. This may sound crazy at first, but you aren't just listening with your ears - you are listening with your mind, heart, spirit - your whole being. Babies are incredible communicators, especially when they are around someone who is 'tuned in' to their ability to communicate. I have a feeling since you have searched this topic that you are already cognizant of your baby's ability to share how they are feeling and what they want or need... open up a little more and let this communication channel a little deeper and there will be times when the message your baby wants you to hear will be loud and clear. We can communicate with our vocalizations, body language, facial expressions, emotions, and even (or especially?) with our hearts and minds :)

"You will communicate more easily with your baby if you can set aside the myth that language is the foundation for thought. We are only beginning to understand that thought and communication are more fundamental than language. In fact, some would argue that thinking and communication are innately human, and integral part of consciousness, regardless of age... you are not limited to formal language in communicating with your baby."   
~ David Chamberlain, Babies Remember Birth (1988, p186)
  • Verbalize for them. This can apply for more than just healing. When you verbalize what you see your baby doing you are also helping them learn to speak! When you are in a moment with your baby, whether it is a momentary stressor, or something that triggered their traumatic memories or reactions, you can respectfully verbalize for your child those things they are struggling to release. The key word here is respect. No one feels better after someone demeans or abuses their feelings, you are playing the role of parent-counselor and need to be respectfully present, but somewhat removed from the emotional pull of their behavior. Go back to the first point if you need help in this, believe them - believe their experience is real for them and your role is to 'hold-space' in a peaceful and respectful way so they can find their way back to equilibrium. 
  •  Hold Space. Just be there. Be aware, conscious, respectful and allow the love you have for this tiny, incredible being to pour from your body and soul. Sometimes we just need someone to be with us while we fall apart and to love us as we come back together. For a baby this may look like holding them close while they have an emotional melt-down and keeping your heart, mind, and body calm, or better yet, resonate love and peace from within your heart, your soul, and let the baby experience how much you love them. Your peace will help bring them peace.
  • Observe, be in the moment. Your baby may be moving, reacting, and demonstrating what they want you to see. This goes back to communication, your child has ample ways to communicate with you, you only need to be aware that they may be trying to tell you something, a story perhaps. Being in the moment and observing your baby may help you see something you wouldn't have noticed before. Are they wiggling their head and body in a certain way when you hold them tight and close in your arms? Could this actually be because they are reminded of a tight-fit or a scary moment during their birth? Taking the time to observe your baby may help you see things in a way you hadn't seen them before. You may need to let them play out the motion and verbalize what you see, their story, as it happens. Again, be respectful. If your baby is scared, help calm them; remember not to push someone to do something they are not willing to do, especially babies. Support their growth and peace. You may be able to explain why they felt they were stuck, what mommy was doing to help them get out, and how scared they felt, but how brave they were. These verbalizations and observation of their story may be what they need - to have their experience recognized and be able to move forward!

An example may be the best way to portray this for some readers. This is an excerpt from Dr. Wendy A. McCarty's book Welcoming Consciousness. This is her own personal account of witnessing psychotherapy for birth trauma in a three-month-old:

"Dr. Emerson showed a video of a treatment session he had with a young baby. The baby was portraying movement patterns and emotional expressions associated with a difficult portion of his birth. It appeared that he and the baby were having a very intimate mutual communication about it. In that moment, I experienced the baby's depth of presence, his capacity to communicate with and understand Dr. Emerson's communication with him. Dr. Emerson quietly acknowledged to the baby how similar the baby's present experience felt to a particularly difficult time in his birth, empathizing with the baby's experience. At one point the baby was in a deep and quiet stillness as he looked into Dr. Emerson's eyes and I was filled with the sense that the baby's expression was one of gratitude. His expression appeared to be conveying his appreciation of Dr. Emerson's "being with him in this place," and communicating in this way with him, I saw something in this interchange and in the baby's expression that I had never seen in babies before and it changed me." (p10).

The last point I think is important, and perhaps the most important, to communicating with your baby.
  •  Trust your instinct - follow your gut. What are your instincts telling you? What does your gut say your baby needs or is trying to communicate with you? I am betting that since you are seeking information on how to help your baby heal that you have already trusted your instinct in some way, this is wonderful, keep it up! Evidence of our ability to perceive the emotions, needs, thoughts, and feelings of others is quickly building up and those 'gut feelings' or instincts we have are evidence of our ability to pick-up on the energy around us. We all emit an energetic wave from our hearts and others can pick up on the messages being sent, so when you "just know" what your baby is trying to say, you are likely right! This is especially true for parents and those close to babies, particularly the mother because the two of you were literally entangled from before conception. You can learn more about how we communicate with our hearts at the Institute of Heartmath.

"PPN findings have consistently revealed that we thrive when we are welcomed, wanted, loved, and valued and related to as a person." 
~Wendy Anne McCarty,  Welcoming Consciousness (2005, p115)

These are just a few thoughts and strategies. In an ideal world we would all treat babies this way, all the time, but this isn't (yet) our reality. You have already helped your baby heal in some way by seeking out how to help them - in this way you have also acknowledged that they have been hurt and that they have the capability to heal. You are a good parent!

Try to adopt these strategies as ways to support and love your baby in a more 'whole' way. Start slowly if you need to, but don't wait, I promise your amazing baby will return your gesture in a wonderful way and your connection will grow deeper and stronger.

Babies are incredible, conscious beings that are capable of far more than we have historically given them credit for. You can read more about PPN here and some great PPN quotes about what babies are capable of here. You can also learn more from the Association of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health.

Healing peace, love, and connection to you and your baby!
~Wisdom and Birth

The above information is not meant to replace medical or professional psychological/counseling advice. I have a background in Clinical Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and I seek to spread the knowledge I have gained to improve the human condition. Please always trust your gut and seek professional help if you or your baby need it!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

10 Remarkable Quotes (about babies) from Prenatal Psychology

Few people know about the important field of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology (PPN), which studies the fascinating mind of the developing human embryo and newborn baby. More on PPN

Surprisingly, this area of study receives very little attention from mainstream media, medical research and practice, and even in discussions for improving birth - which heavily focus on the rights and experiences of the mother. 

What does PPN have to tell us about our babies, their experiences, and our potential as human beings?

The following quotes are from a few of the leaders in PPN research and illuminate some important findings emerging from this incredible field. 

"The truth is, much of what we have traditionally believed about babies is false. We have misunderstood and underestimated their abilities. They are not simple beings but complex and ageless - small creatures with unexpectedly large thoughts." 
~David Chamberlain, PhD - Babies Remember Birth (1988)


"PPN findings reveal how our earliest experiences in the womb and during birth and bonding lay core patterns in our implicit memory, subconscious, and autonomic system that profoundly shape us and set in motion life-long patterns." 
~Wendy Anne McCarty, PhD, RN - EFT for Mom, Baby, and Dad From the Beginning of Life (2007)


"Mothers intuitively know what scientists have only recently discovered: that the unborn child is a deeply sensitive individual who forms a powerful relationship with his or her parents - and the outside world - while still in the womb." 
~ Thomas Verny, MD - Nurturing the Unborn Child (1991)


"Human beings are conscious, sentient, aware, and possess a sense of self even during this very early primary period."   ~Natural Family Living, Right From the Start (2008). 

The primary period of human development encompasses preconception through the first year of postnatal life. Sentient is defined as: responsive to or conscious of sense impressions; aware; finely sensitive in perception or feeling. 


"It is not too late to be sure every baby is carried in an assured uterus, with a supported and happy mother, and is welcomed into the world as a feeling, conscious being. Just imagine what that would mean for the baby's future and that of mankind."   
~Robert Oliver, MD - Sharing Space:Obstetrics and Attachment (2004)

"There is a tremendous loss in human potential when birth becomes traumatic for the baby, mother and father... so many infancy and childhood problems are set in motion during the birth and bonding period... priority is to stop the harmful practice of separating mother and babies,"   
~ Wendy Anne McCarty, PhD, RN & Marti Glenn, PhD - Investing in Human Potential From the Beginning of Life: Key to Maximizing Human Capital (2008)

"It is the mother's eyes we see it through; it is her joy that evokes our sympathies. We assume her child feels nothing - that he is an innocent bystander at the celebration. This is simply not true. For his mother, for his father, his birth may represent an unperishable memory, the fulfillment of a life-long dream, but for the child himself, it is something much more momentus - an event the imprints itself on his personality. How he is born - whether it is painful or easy, smooth or violent - largely determines who he becomes and how he will view the world around him." 
~ Thomas Verny, MD - The Secret Life of the Unborn Child (1981)


"...medical interventions appear to have long-term detrimental (physical and psychological) effects and, because of this, even the most commonly used obstetrical interventions must be questioned."     
~William R. Emerson - Birth Trauma: The Psychological Effects of Obstetrical Interventions (1998)


"We can help babies repattern beliefs of constriction, fear, violence, and separation into beliefs of connection and growth; beliefs that will help them experience the joy of living in a friendly, healthy world." 
~ Wendy McCarty, PhD - The Power of Beliefs: What Babies are teaching Us (2002)


 "We find that prenatal and perinatal experiences have a profound impact on the subsequent quality of health and human behavior; we see that life is a continuum which starts before conception, not after birth. During this formative period, parents and babies are not isolated from each other but fundamentally interconnected. A loving prenatal and perinatal experience inspires such things as bonding and sensitivity to others which have long-term consequences for both individual relationships and for society. Ultimately, womb ecology reveals itself in world ecology as the seeds of peace or violence are sown by parents, their models, teachers, and caregivers during pregnancy and birth." 
~ Association of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Welcome to PPN :)
~Wisdom and Birth

This is not to say that medical interventions aren't necessary in some cases, but knowing what we do now about the capabilities of the infant, life-saving procedures and necessary interventions need to be carried out in a respectful and sensitive manner.