let them eat styrofoam

Not even two weeks in, it might seem a little early to consider the nutritional impacts of the new administration. However, while maybe lost among the more pressing issues, there among the flotsam and jetsam of the post-inaugural news was a story that caught my eye. A story that might begin to inform. But first, let me back up a little.

My antenna is usually positioned to pick up the bits of information associated with food and nutrition as it relates to the personal or the political–and it beeps especially loudly when there is an atmospheric collision of the two.Third White House Kitchen Garden Harvest

As regards presidential matters, examples from prior administrations–beginning with my own nascent awareness of such things–include the following:

  • Ronald Reagan’s affection for Jelly Beans. And, his administration’s declaration of ketchup as vegetable in an attempt to allow flexibility in school lunch planning. This was a nutritionally-depleted response to maintaining nutritional requirements in the face of budget cuts to the Federal School Lunch Program. (It was actually pickle relish that was used as an example in the original regulations.)
  • George H. W. Bush’s anti-broccoli proclamation–and while broccoli took the whipping, apparently his distaste of vegetables was non-discriminatory. It was during his time in office that the USDA Food Guide Pyramid took to the streets, so to speak, a cavalcade of refined carbohydrates–bagels, baguettes, rolls, and pasta–marching in stride.
  • Bill Clinton’s propensity for Big Macs and Philly Cheese Steaks with onions and Cheez Whiz, his post-presidency quadruple heart bypass surgery, and the subsequent radical changes to his lifestyle and diet. In the wake of his own health epiphany, his Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association founded The Alliance for a Healthier Generation. However, while in office, Clinton’s 1996 welfare reforms resulted in deep cuts to the Food Stamp Program, thus limiting the ability for working families to obtain benefits.
  • George W. Bush’s eating habits were healthier than those of his father. Better, after experiencing a pretzel-induced near-fatal choking incident in the White House, he acknowledged his mother’s advice to chew one’s food carefully. While he attended to his physical activity by jogging his way through many a national crisis, it was during his years in office that the nation’s health and obesity crisis could no longer be ignored. Bush did support some well-meaning nutrition legislation, but during his second term, the USDA Food Pyramid morphed into the MyPyramid. This chaotic appearing icon further fueled confusion concerning governmental nutritional recommendations, leaving everyone to just throw up their hands to reach for the closest bag of Doritos. Oh, and then there was the recession.
  • Barack Obama’s nutritional legacy is really attributable to First Lady Michelle’s devoted efforts. Along with appointing a White House chef dedicated to healthy menus and growing an organic garden on the South Lawn, she promoted the Let’s Move initiative. Attendant legislation included the signing of The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. Despite this presidency’s strong commitment to our nutritional well being, it faced resistance from its own Congress–which passed a bill allowing pizza with two tablespoons of tomato paste to qualify as a vegetable in the USDA School Lunch Program. Sound familiar? And, it was downright thwarted by Big Food. Also, while the president’s support for the cause was irrefutable, his own dietary habits were less than aligned, as I previously detailed during his bid for re-election.

And so, that brings us up to the present. I have gleaned a tiny bit about the dietary and culinary inclinations of the new commander-in-chief. For now, let’s just say I am not surprised. I am also remembering the ridiculousness of his pizza parlor outing in NYC with Sarah Palin. And, I have now found this–his alternative facts explanation.

While for now I can ignore the personal, I am still quite worried about the political. I am concerned about the fate of Michelle’s beautiful organic garden at the White House. And, the myriad initiatives that germinated under her tender care, yielding amazing gardening programs and healthier food systems in schools and preschools as well. Not to mention the attention that is given to facilitate women’s ability to breastfeed their babies, optimizing children’s health from birth. What is going to happen to all of that?

Well, the details are still scant, but here’s what I have so far that may give us a clue. It comes from that one story I mentioned above. It was the story about the Inaugural Cake. Here are the basics of what happened, in case you missed it. The setting was the Inauguration’s Armed Services Ball. The cake was a nine-tiered tower whose design was blatantly plagiarized from one made for Obama’s Commander in Chief Ball in 2013. The baker, merely following orders, was not aware of the plagiarism until after the fact. At the Ball, the cake’s bottom layer was sliced by means of a military saber wielded jointly by Trump and Pence. And the real kicker? Apparently, only that lowly layer was actually real cake–the rest of it was made out of styrofoam. It was a styrofoam cake!? Don’t they know about the styrofoam bans?

Oh, dear fellow plebeians–and members of the military–prepare to heed the call of the new administration’s both obesity prevention and anti-hunger programs. It may, in fact, be, “Let them eat styrofoam!”

Well, that is it for now. Please take care and make sure to eat your greens. For those of you who have been marching around in the cold of winter, let’s share a virtual cup of tea or some hot Golden Milk to warm us up. And curl up to read the many links on this post.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

Related Recipe: Golden Tumeric Milk from Downshiftology

Update March 2021: Signs of life in the new Biden Administration White House Garden. Jill Biden sends Michelle Obama some of the garden’s bounty.


Golden Milk My Plate

My Plate Haiku

If only we could

Change the world on that one day

By feeding our hearts.

by Julie

Far from Home

Well, here I am. Right now I am on retreat in beautiful California, far from home. While my orientation to space is altered due to this coastal exchange from east to west, my orientation to date and time has been altered as well. I have experienced a profound loss.


The beautiful California Coast

As I search for some renewed serenity and some solid ground-albeit in this land of shaky earth-I do try to stay somewhat aware of the prevailing events of these times that still swirl around me. Likewise, as I reconnect with the calendar structure that patterns the days before me, I turn the page onto August just in time to remember to honor the annual celebration of World Breastfeeding Week.

As I consider the support of breastfeeding babes, moms and families an essential component of improving the collective health of communities around the globe, I do always try to write something about World Breastfeeding Week and its annually appointed theme.

Forgive me this year, that as my tears still flow more readily than my words. In lieu of my own thoughts, I share this interesting article by the journalist (and my dear friend) Ellen Wulfhorst. Ellen provides a look at the very real consequences of compromised attention to the timely initiation of breastfeeding. This highlights how powerful are the immunoprotective properties of breast milk and how greatly breastfeeding serves as an antidote to infant mortality.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

Thank you to all who continue to support me, my blog, and my work. Gratitude to those who have nourished me on this visit–Julie, Gordon, Debbie, Michael, Ben, Lois and Richard.

To healthy birth and rebirth, Elyn


Julie’s My Plate

My Plate Food for Thought

Breastfeeding is not only the cornerstone of a child’s healthy development;

it is also the foundation of a country’s development.

UNICEF and the World Health Organization’s World Breastfeeding Week Message

first food

Yesterday, while I was leaving work, my friends wished me a nice weekend, acknowledging that I was taking today off in honor of my birthday. Happy Birthday they chimed while sweetly presenting me with a sunflower plant. As I have for the past twenty-seven years when asked about birthday plans, I am apt to explain that it is also my son’s birthday. Though my day’s celebration is no longer actively intertwined with his as it was when he was young, I cannot extricate my birth from his.

When I mentioned this, Josie commented on how for every parent, the birthday (or receiving day) of their first child marks their own re-birth as well, no matter the confluence of dates. It is the day that changes profoundly everything that may have preceded it. This is quite true. Cathy added that she birthed her first child exactly at the moment Mount St. Helena’s volcano erupted in 1980! While distanced by an entire continent, for her the event was no less spectacular.

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Midsummer Night’s Dream

Still, I remain as tickled and surprised by my calendrical coincidence of blazing glory incarnation as I was the mid-summer night it occurred. And, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I enjoy that the date I first brought babe to breast coincides with World Breastfeeding Week/Breastfeeding Awareness Month. As a matter with so many implications for health, nutrition, and societal well being, and one rife with dilemmas, I try to bring attention to this important activism each year. Thanks to Mary Ellen, here’s a nice little video from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation about Growing a First Food Movement Naturally that helps give perspective to the story of infant feeding.

This year’s theme for World Breastfeeding Week is Breastfeeding and Work: Let’s Make it Work. Its focus is on furthering support for nursing women working in formal, non-formal or home settings so as they can continue to breastfeed their babies and maintain their right to breastfeed. The need to return to work–exacerbated by the lack of mandated and satisfactory maternity leave policies–is one of the main factors why women stop nursing. The initiatives associated with this year’s campaign highlight and advocate for improved national and state labor laws and practices; employer awareness and compliance with existing laws; and ways to create clean, comfortable, private and safe areas for women to nurse or to express breast milk in the workplace.

It is encouraging to witness that some real strides are being made. Government agencies, global health organizations, national groups, and local coalitions have been working hard so that women do not have to stop nursing their babies in order to keep food on the table for themselves and their families. Lactation spaces are becoming available in various public and private settings. Closets and storage areas in offices, factory buildings, schools, and daycare centers are being transformed into comfy lactation rooms; and creative and caring entrepreneurs are designing nursing pods for women working, recreating, or relaxing in various field and outdoor settings.

In the fall of 2013, I attended a Nets basketball game at the then newly anointed and crazily crowded Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Navigating the many corridors along with throngs of people was not easy. Having made it up to our seats in the nosebleed section, the female contingent of my party had to then descend back down a few levels to find a bathroom. Literally relieved to find the facilities, we were also quite surprised to find a door marked ‘lactation room’. A burly guard stood by the entrance. Our supportive interest piqued, we asked him about the room. As though protecting a highly paid all-star, he tersely informed us that there was someone in there. Though I probably wouldn’t bring my baby to such a noisy environment–unless it was a nursing toddles or if a family member was playing in the game or singing the national anthem–but if I did, I’d be nursing in my own seat, jumbotron cameras and all. But, for those mamas and babies who deserve a modicum of privacy and quiet dining, having such an option in such an incongruous setting is quite incredible. I wonder who there is to thank for that.

My own awareness of the many aspects of this year’s Let’s Make It Work campaign was heightened yesterday as well, when I was fortunate, as in previous years, to watch SUNY Albany’s School of Public Health/New York State Department of Health’s Bureau of Supplemental Foods annual webcast presentation of Breastfeeding Grand Rounds. This was, as always, an excellent program and it highlighted many great examples of breastfeeding-friendly environments. Though it left me feeling inspired, it also reminded me how amazing women are and how damn hard they work.

Stories and images of women shlepping breast pumps and accessories to work, utilizing break and lunchtime to sit in secluded rooms listening to the whir of mechanical pumps, rushing into daycare centers in the middle of the workday to nurse a baby, sequestering into hidden spaces to feed their young, and negotiating with employers individually for their own rights–god bless them all.

My mixed reaction to the situation also was evident as I attempted to find an image for my new Lifeseeds Nutrition Instagram post to honor the week and encountered some difficulties. The breastfeeding photos I most easily found depicted either beatific, blissed-out industrialized world mothers posed in pristine settings or somber-faced traditional world mothers huddled in sparse environments. Though I appreciate the beauty of both, neither captured what I was looking for– a reflection of how working mothers often feel in our modern society–weary from its many demands and yet comforted in the respite of feeding their child. I hope the one I finally chose came close.

As for my birthday, I wished really only for a little quiet me time. Though no longer tending daily to my children’s needs, with one child still in college I am still a working mom. The memories of running from babysitter to job to various activities with a baby in tow are still pretty fresh and my plate continues to feel pretty full. Thankfully, I got what I wished for. It is a perfect sunny day and my little village is exquisitely tranquil. My front porch cradles me, and I have some time to write. Soon I will have the phone conversation with my son where we simultaneously say, Happy Birthday.

Until then, wishing all the hard-working mommas, and all who support them, good nourishment of both body and soul.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

Related Posts: Blessed Feeding; To She Who Loves Us Before She Meets Us; Breastfeeding Redux; Oh MotherA Winning Goal

My Plate Plate

Momma’s My Plate


My Plate Haiku

Hard toiling mamas

Hear their hungry babies cry

Breastfeeding and work–let’s make it work

by Elyn

a winning goal

I would feel a little remiss were I to not make mention this year of World Breastfeeding Week (WBW). In previous years I have always made a point to do so. But, it is late. I should already be in bed. Besides, I have to get to work early tomorrow in order to partake in a webinar that is celebrating the week and its important mission. So, I will be brief. wbw2014-logo-hd

Perhaps after tomorrow’s webinar, I will have something more inspiring or informational to offer with a larger perspective. Tonight, I sit quietly with only my personal experience–the one that reminds me that twenty-six years ago at this very time I was deeply in labor, nestled in my midwife’s quiet birthing room in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. On the other side of midnight, in the dark of night of the day of my own birthday, my son would make his way into the world. Our breastfeeding relationship would begin immediately thereafter.

But, during that time, the practice of breastfeeding on a larger global scale was diminishing with serious consequences for maternal and child health, with societal and environmental implications as well. In 1981, the World Health Assembly adopted the International Code of the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, to remediate the malnutrition suffered by infants and young children due to the inappropriate marketing of commercial formula. And, then in 1990, exactly two years after my own bond was formed in connection with the dying art of breastfeeding, the Innocenti Declaration was signed by government policymakers, WHO, UNICEF and other organizations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. It designated the first week of August as World Breastfeeding Week.

Twenty-four years later, though there have been significant gains made in reversing the declining trend, there is still work to be done. There are also newer nutritional impacts of breastfeeding being investigated as we begin to better understand the myriad functions of the gut microbiome.

This year’s WBW slogan is Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal for Life. I suppose it relates to this year’s Football World Cup. Could that be? That’s a little funny to me because my son has been a soccer player and is a devoted fan of the sport. Though no longer on the field much, he is hoping to be working in the field of professional soccer someday. May I also parenthetically add, that throughout and since the World Cup games, I’ve noticed that I have had an almost daily blog reader from Brazil–so apparently not everyone in the country was focused on the sport. A special hello to that reader(s).

The objectives of WBW 2014 are strongly linked to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set by governments and the United Nations to fight poverty and promote healthy and sustainable development in a comprehensive way by 2015. A description of how breastfeeding is linked to the MDGs can be found here. The connections are quite profound.

I am interested to see what I will learn in the course of tomorrow’s session. I will let you know if there is anything particularly interesting. In the meantime, please take a moment if you will and have a look at these powerful photos. They will say much more than my usual thousand words.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

P.S. The webinar session was yesterday. It was sponsored by the SUNY School of Public Health and entitled, International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and Promoting and Supporting Exclusive Breastfeeding. I applaud the school’s long term commitment to this topic and recommend the session highly. I believe it will be available soon for viewing online. Dr. Ruth Lawrence, an international breastfeeding authority, and author of Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, whose pioneering work and advocacy for breastfeeding dates back to the 1950s, is on the panel.

The webinar described some examples of successful applications as well as egregious violations of the International Code of Marketing, and also shared some exciting outcomes in regard to increasing initiation and exclusivity of breastfeeding in some NYC hospitals and in the Vermont WIC Program due to some dedicated efforts. It also discussed commerciogenic malnutritionin this context, referring to the marketing of breastmilk substitutes and its impacts on babies, but I may ponder some wider implications as well.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

Related Posts: Blessed Feeding; To She Who Loves Us Before She Meets Us; Breastfeeding Redux; Oh Mother

Today’s My Plate is the beautiful watermelon cake prepared for me by my office “birthday angel”.

Related Recipe: Watermelon Fruit Cake 

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Cathy’s My Plate







My Plate Haiku

Hearts are not just reserved for romance

Every living thing

Is in love.

by Kat


This is about confluence–where different streams of my life all flowed together in one special day–today. To start with, it is my birthday. And, twenty-five years ago today, my first child, Morgan, was born and I had my first experience of nursing a baby. Giving birth on my birthday was pretty special, and a big enough confluence in itself, one which was only considered at about 7 pm the evening before, after returning home from seeing the movie, “A Fish Called Wanda” and realizing I was in labor.

But there is more. Today is also part of World Breastfeeding Week which is celebrated during the first week of August. As a nutritionist concerned with the feeding of the species and maternal and child health issues, I do like to honor the week and spend time advocating and educating about breastfeeding in my work. I like that my birthday and nursing day coincide with this annual event. This year, I am using some of the well-produced materials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health’s It’s Only Natural campaign as part of my activities at the Health Center and I am continuing to address it as I have done in my previous writings.

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World Breastfeeding Week Display

Also today, Pete and I are in Seneca Falls, New York for Empire Farm Days, the largest agricultural trade show in the Northeast. This show has also taken place during these same dog days of summer for the past eighty years. It is a nice birthday gift to be in the midst of these many farmers whose business it is to grow and raise amazing foodstuff for the masses and for me to have a chance to more fully appreciate their concerns. Food off the farm has a very abstract quality, quite remote from its actual origins. But, being at this show, one can see that farming matters such as soil health, pest management, plant hardiness, marketing and the raising of animals are quite real.

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Yep, me driving the big tractor. Empire Farm Days

As today unfolded, it was no surprise to find my alma mater, Cornell University, with a large presence here. Both Cornell and Seneca Falls sit upon the shores of Cayuga Lake, and Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences plays a large role in the state’s agricultural initiatives. My nutrition studies took place inches from the ‘Ag School’. I walked miles through its vast acreage, bought college-made ice cream at its Dairy Barn, spent hours studying in its Mann Library, barely survived its microbiology course– and, it was where I met Pete.

The Cornell exhibit was displaying a video called Birth on the Farm. Starting with birds, it shows bluebird babies hatching from their eggs, barn swallows being fed by their parents, and then it moves on to mammals. A sheep, a horse, a dog, and a cow give birth, each baby emerging with amniotic sac intact. Once licked clean by their mama–with a little help from the farmer–these newborns quickly find their way to the nipple or utter and begin to feed.

Witnessing the wildly innate behavior of the mother/infant nursing dyad in the animal world heightened my wonder about how that behavior has become so disrupted among humans. Human babies, like their mammalian cohort, will find their way to the breast as well, when placed on their mama’s tummies. I just finished a research project on breastfeeding, scratching my perpetual itch to understand the modern-day hindrances to feed our infants in the biologically prescribed way that has sustained humanity for millennia. How has something that a puppy can figure out within minutes of birth become something that is culturally perceived as more difficult than rocket science and as contentious as climate change? How has the concept of species-specific milk become so foreign?

I put those questions aside in order to make sure I had time to head over to the nearby Women’s Rights National Park and Museum and Women’s Hall of Fame. This was the icing on my birthday cake. The exhibits are awe-inspiring and provide a really deep appreciation of how arduous the fight for women’s rights has been. Immersed in this incredible history, I picked up my previous thoughts again and mused over the sometimes expressed contention that breastfeeding further chains women to their domestic duties and inhibits their participation in the workplace and in the larger society where they may wish or need to be. Walking in the footsteps of these courageous women bolstered by my feeling that this argument misses the point. It is not breastfeeding, but instead, the lack of mandated maternity leaves, workplace supports and other inequalities in this country that are prohibitive. The exhibits themselves provided some proof.

For example, Norway, the country with the highest breastfeeding rates in the world, also leads in regard to the number of women in parliamentary positions. And this year, Ina May Gaskin is being inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame. Ina May is the modern “mother of authentic midwifery”. Though midwives had assisted with childbirth since ancient times, their role had been essentially obliterated with the professionalization of male-dominated obstetrics in the early twentieth century. Her efforts sparked a revolutionary movement which not only opened the way for the re-emergence and popularization of midwifery-guided and women-empowered birth but also contributed to the re-establishment of some breastfeeding practice in this country. Interestingly, Ina May perfected her motherly arts at a commune community called The Farm, and her grandmother was an avid admirer of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the suffragettes.

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Declaration of Sentiments Seneca Falls Women’s Convention 1848

At the end of the afternoon, Pete rejoined me and we went for dinner. A nice end to a very special day. As we sat at the restaurant overlooking the water where the Cayuga-Seneca Canal flows into Seneca Lake, I thought about how my day all flowed together–birthday, college, nutritional work, food and farming, women’s rights, birth, and breastfeeding. All pretty big themes in my life.

Considering this confluence, I contemplated its meaning. Could it be, that if when enough babies are born welcomed and sustained by the mother’s touch, natural nipple, and warm nutritionally complete milk; when women’s capacity to nurture and nourish is deeply valued and protected; and, when our farmers are supported to grow healthy food and to protect the land–that the world may be a safer, healthier and softer place? I hope someday.

Please, let me know what you think and do send greetings! Happy Birthday, Morgan. Love, Mom.

In health, Elyn

My Plate

My Plate

My Plate Haiku

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course. by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, et. al.



oh mother

I was hoping not to have to work today. It is Sunday and I promised myself a little repose. So there I was actually lounging on the couch this morning when the news of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s announcement of the New York City Health Department’s Latch on NYC breastfeeding initiative filtered into my airspace from an NPR podcast.


breastfeeding (Photo credit: sdminor81)

Clearly, the launch of this voluntary program for New York City’s hospitals was timed to coincide with World Breastfeeding Week. The story started off nicely enough with a rational presentation of the benefits of breastfeeding and informed that 27 out of 40 New York City hospitals have already signed on to the recommended policy. But, it then whacked me with a tirade of the backlash (and responses) to the initiative–bemoaning that women do not want to have their parenting decisions enforced, especially by a man–and specifically not by health policy promoting Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

I rolled over and groaned into the cushions. My hopes for a relaxing day were shattered. I intended to glue my attention to the Olympics–one of the rare times I surrender to watching TV– but this report was going to interfere. Having discussed the topic of breastfeeding previously, I had no choice but to respond to this in a timely manner. Water polo and volleyball could wait, but this must be addressed before track and field and gymnastics takes to the screen.

In brief, Mayor Bloomberg did not make up these policies, and in fact, they are not mandated. These are recommendations consistent with the guidelines of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. Other larger jurisdictions have already implemented these policies. The intention is not to take choice away from women or to impound life-giving nourishment. It will not send women back into the kitchen chained to the stove with babes pulling on the teat as some editorials that I read implied.

Instead, it is a long-overdue remediation of a situation that separated the human species from their species-specific milk and compromised in both subtle and profound ways the health of many moms and babes. The superiority of human milk, as compared to artificial milk or formula, for human babies is not disputed and its immuno-protective properties are well established. There are many other benefits as well of mother’s milk as a substance and breastfeeding as a method.

What is not as well-known is that formula companies have participated in the disruption of this mother and child feeding relationship for many years and that this has promoted a cultural ignorance about the benefits of breast milk and a communal lack of wisdom regarding supporting women in this most natural of human behaviors. Big corporations have been the beneficiaries of immeasurable profits by influencing infant feeding using extreme measures by literally getting invited right into the hospital.

Pregnant women are wooed with coupons, samples, and free merchandise. New moms are given goodie bags with loyalty promoting formula brands. What formula a baby is started on has nothing to do with the baby or the doctor, but by whatever company got their hands on those tiny sucking lips first. Where else does this marketing intrusion occur so blatantly in matters related to health?

Women’s efforts to nurse have been sabotaged in hospitals for decades by babies being given sugar-water or formula without consent. Birth attendants including doctors and nurses not educated in lactation have also impeded the mother’s success at nursing. The result is a society that for decades has been led to believe that nursing is difficult, inconvenient and an impediment to maternal freedom. What has created barriers for mothers choosing to nurse is not nursing, but a lack of education, limited support, pathetic maternity leave policies, lack of comfortable places for nursing and pumping and a prudish culture that has turned to feed at the breast into a lascivious act aggravated by laws that even make nursing in public illegal in some places.

If you wish to discuss enslaving factors as regards women’s choices, this is what people should be concerned with–not the new policies. Of course, there will be some situations where babies will require formula, and there will be women who will choose formula feeding for a multitude of reasons. But, I am pretty sure the locked cabinet that the policy suggests will not be in the hospital basement by the janitors’ supplies and that women won’t be found dragging their IV poles down the hall in desperate search of a contraband formula to sate their starving babies. And, I strongly doubt that nursing staff will be utilizing methods of intimidation to enforce breastfeeding.

This is just an opportunity to fully educate and inform and to take the profits out of our babies’ bellies. It is one of a long series of efforts by many health care professionals to enhance the health of women and children in both the short and long-term. This is not rocket science nor is it evidence of a nanny state. If we as mothers have to choose our battles–this is not the one to wage.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

Related Posts: Blessed Feeding; To She Who Loves Us; A Winning Goal; Breastfeeding Redux

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Cathy’s My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Blueberry bushes

Three children with empty pails

Pluck, pluck, crunch, exhale.

by Michael

To she who loves us before she meets us

To she who loves us before she meets us. Inscription on the Monumento a la Madre in Ciudad de Mexico.

The story of how women birth babies in this country has many chapters. In brief, it is a story that begins with essentially all births being attended to by midwives from various traditions in women’s homes or designated places and leads to the current paradigm of almost all births being managed according to a pathology-oriented medical model in hospitals.

The change was effected by the professionalization of obstetrics at the end of the 1800s; the advent of charity hospitals that lured women with the promise of improved care but essentially were intended as training grounds for a profession that had no actual experience–and that resulted in a significant rise in maternal and infant mortality; and the influence of physicians who changed labor and delivery from a natural process to one that required the routine use of a series of interventions. By the 1940s, the vast majority of births took place in hospitals. This trajectory was not the same in most other industrialized countries.

The introduction of “twilight sleep” which used morphine and scopolamine defined mid-20th century birth. The combination of these drugs left women powerless, with no memory of their labor or delivery. Problems associated with this cocktail led to its discontinuation but gave rise to other substituted interventions.

The late 1960s and 1970s saw a counter movement with women recreating options for more natural births. This resuscitated the profession of midwifery and ushered in the establishment of free-standing birth centers, more comfortable birthing rooms in hospitals and even expanded possibilities for women to deliver their babies back in the sanctity of their own homes. However, the persistent culturally held belief system that medically guided births are safer and the seduction of pain-free birth–promised now by the wide-spread use of epidurals–has maintained the predominance of a medical model. A midwifery model of care is still marginalized–though it is quite alive and kicking.Image result for monumento a la madre

In Attacking the Causes of Obesity, Really?, I discuss how I believe some very powerful influences regarding our current health situation including the weight problem have been seriously overlooked. To me, dismissing the consequences of dissociating women from the birth of their children is a glaring oversight. It seems rather obvious that as women were lulled into surrendering their most primal potent power that there would be other negative sequelae. Try not to interpret this on a personal level but rather on the larger societal level where these insidious changes occur.

Birth is a very divinely tuned natural process where a precise cascade of hormones allows for a woman to orchestrate the birth of her baby. It benefits from attendant security, guidance, and support. Right after a normal delivery, a woman is alert and aware, able to hold, bond, nurse and care for her infant. Imagine, coming out of an induced stupor to find yourself alone with no baby to immediately see–let alone to hold. With medications and fear impeding the ability to breastfeed, it is also no coincidence that formula feeding quickly obliterated nursing at the same time that these interventions were implemented. This period of medically controlled birth was also marked by weight gain fear being instilled in women and the withholding of food during labor. Those practices are still the norm today.

Over the course of a few decades in this country, we abruptly dissolved the innate wisdom of women on how to trust their instincts in the care and feeding of their young. Ironically, it happened just as women were gaining other rights. It has now been about seventy years since that big SNAP, CRACKLE  and ultimate POP of male-dominated modern obstetrics felled the tree that rooted women to their maternal wisdom. Our infant and maternal maternity rates are abominably high–along with our C-Section rates, and, our breastfeeding rates are pathetically low. Chronic illnesses are common and increasing in our children.

With a few generations of women now lacking communal wisdom and thereby, confidence in their ability to give birth; and, with doctors who are not trained in nutrition and the motherly art of breastfeeding conducting our obstetric and pediatric care, is it any wonder that we no longer know what to do? That we no longer know how to cook and prepare real food for our children, that drugs are offered like candy, that a huge percentage of our infants and young children have hardly ingested a morsel of non-processed or non-adulterated food and, that we barely know and trust how to nourish our own selves?

In that prior post, I state that I want to be an impressive expert–a paid one. Here, I will boldly lay claim to my area of expertise. I have had the very unique experience of providing nutrition care in clinical and community settings for almost thirty years. In my next post, I will share my observations and experiences.

Until then, as always, I welcome your thoughts and comments. And, I share my deep gratitude for all the incredible midwives, many of whom I know personally, some who have birthed my own children, others who are out there fighting for the rights of women and children on a daily basis.

A special thank you to my midwife Helena who brought me boxes of organic vegetables the summer I was pregnant with my daughter. And to Leslie and Jennifer.  Please check out BirthNet and Every Mother Counts.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health,  Elyn

Related Posts: Blessed Feeding, Breastfeeding Redux, To She Who Loves Us; Oh Mother

My Plate Haiku

Craving for pickles

And German chocolate cake

My friend is pregnant.  By Gretchen

still feeding things

One snowy, frigid day this past winter, in Feeding ThingsI wrote about how the birds at my bird feeder were complaining about the milo, millet, cracked seed with oil sunflower seed food that I had given them, squawking that they only liked plain oil sunflower seed. Ingrates, I called them. Who were they to turn up their beaks at my offering in those difficult days when food was scarce?  

Still, I relented. I donned my boots and gloves, precariously positioned the ladder and refilled the feeder with only the plain oil sunflower seed. I should have insisted that they at least try it, which is what you must do with young children who are refusing their vegetables, but instead I chose to view them as lovely guests and extended my hospitality without arguing.

Recently though, the bag of the plain oil sunflower seed was running low, so I decided to blend the milo mix in, kind of like disguising vegetables in sauces for those picky types. For the first few days, the feeder sat sadly unattended. It seemed that my fine feathered friends were not amused by my ruse. Now, however, the temperature was hovering near 100 degrees. Even the mere thought of lugging the ladder back out in the heat was too draining, so I ignored the situation.

A few days later, I did see a bird or two come by, but they did not linger. Imagine then my surprise when the next day, I returned home to find the feeder entirely empty. I thought maybe a non-discriminating crow had discovered and devoured the contents or that some other fluke-like occurrence explained the disappearance of the food–so I took the effort to refill the feeder with my carefully proportioned blend once again. Sure enough, this time I saw the birds actively feeding, and the food was once more quickly gone.

In avian fashion, I puffed out my breast and congratulated myself on my nutritional success–even if it was just for the birds. Unfortunately, my contentment at establishing peace and harmony in the eating world was to be short-lived.

Before my own feathers had even neatly realigned themselves, I came out onto the porch to find teal niblets of plastic scattered all about. A squirrel had managed to eat its way through the bin that I keep the bird feed in and had feasted with abandon. Scoundrel. This was not the first time I have been one-upped by the squirrel squad. In the past, they have actually chewed their way through my screens, entered into my house and unearthed stashes of chocolate.

While I was still contemplating the mess on the porch, Chico, the cat, was meowing fiercely. He was displeased with my decision to only offer him wet food in the evening.   Without even leaving home, I was reminded again of the perplexities and complexities of species feeding. What awaited me when I next headed out into the world of humans would only add to the story.

Over the course of the next few days, I had a few experiences that deepened my ponderings. Firstly, I came face to lips with a caffeinated water marketed locally called element. Apparently, its 50 mg of caffeine per 17 oz bottle–equivalent to a Coca Cola–sets one aloft, focused and refined at any time of day without sugars and chemicals. It is not the first caffeinated water on the market, but the newest; and the latest that has me contemplating the consequences of its extending reach. Though I am sensitive to caffeine and thus avoid it, I did take a few sips. Given its propensity for flight, I thought it might be relevant to my work in bird nutrition.

I then had a mind-blowing moment in a nearby new frozen yogurt establishment. I had observed that this place was frequently “spilling onto to the sidewalk” mobbed and sane people I knew were screaming its praises. With out-of-town guests in tow, I ventured in to meet my newest nutritional nemesis.

This was not your grandpa’s frozen yogurt shoppe. With its electric pink walls, I felt like I was in a bar scene from Star Wars. The aliens around me all seemed to think it was quite ordinary to find lightly sweetened tapioca pearls floating in their shaken Bubble Tea with royal creations named Purple Oreo, Yellow Cupcake, Marshmallow Puff, and Chocolate Stout.  Likewise, they seemed confident, sensuously dispensing their own yogurt and slathering it with a myriad of toppings, some of which I had never seen before–such as little roe-like jelly balls filled with various flavors which pop in one’s mouth. Here, the seduction of food had been elevated to an even higher level. It was jaw-dropping, or should I say jaw-filling, to say the least–and not cheap.

Bubbled up, I stumbled back to the mothership. There, in a cramped coffee shop, on the inaugural day of World Breastfeeding Week, I watched a woman struggle to fit some contraption around her shoulders so that she could nurse her baby. Nothing seems straightforward or simple anymore–even the feeding of our young.

So, as I observed in Feeding Things, this is complicated stuff. I can’t even guess what the food world will look like by the time that little nursing baby comes of age or even starts school. Will the challenges for eaters become easier or more difficult? Will we be assisted in working better with our inherited biology or led further away? What do you think?

But, what about the newt, Everest, you ask? He’s still working his way through the same little containers of flakes and pellets.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

IMG_3279 (1)

Squirrel My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Blueberry bushes

Three children with empty pails

Pluck, pluck, crunch.  Exhale.

By Michael

breast feeding redux

Poster advertisement for Nestle's Milk by Théo...

Image via Wikipedia

So, here is what happened. Last week I wrote about breastfeeding. On one level I was addressing the possible connection between most babies’ first food and the increased incidence of weight issues in children. On another, I was speaking to the very low rates of breastfeeding in this country and the implications of that as well.

Right after I posted, my friend who is a wonderful adoptive new father responded that breastfeeding was not a viable option for his baby. I felt bad. I know a lot of adoptive parents. And, having worked in maternal and child health for many years,  I know there are some real situations that make breastfeeding not possible for some. There are many women who have really tried but for different reasons have not been able to nurse. I hope I did not appear insensitive. As a health counselor, I am very sympathetic to one’s personal experience– but I also know that our low breastfeeding rates are not caused by these exceptional types of cases.

In my discussion, I had decided to not make apologies or to outline the contraindications to nursing in the limited words I afford my writings. Most materials related to breastfeeding already do so. I had wanted to challenge the oft-repeated message that breastfeeding is challenging, but mainly I wanted to bring the topic of breastfeeding to the table. As a nutritionist, I consider breast milk a quintessential component of the human diet. Once I did, I  thought  I was ready to move on–but as I lingered in the post post aftermath and received some thoughtful responses, I considered that how we feed our babies is a way too overlooked issue in this huge conversation about food, culture, and weight. Breastfeeding is discussed in breastfeeding circles among women who are nursing. Beyond that, not many people ever think about this very important topic–even some parents to be. Most people in our culture have never really seen a baby nursing at the breast. I am highly attuned to watching for nursing babies–and I rarely get a sighting (except for my multi-cultural workplace that offers pre and postnatal care.)

I worry about what a world would look like that really no longer knew how to instinctually nurse its young. So, during the past week, I thought a lot about recent natural disasters where water and food supplies are not available–what happened to the formula-fed babies in the wake of Hurricane Katrina;  I considered the tragedy of the melamine-tainted formula in China that affected 300,000 babies; I wondered about the plastics that every formula feed involves through either bottle or artificial nipple; and, I lingered on antibiotic resistance and even genetic modification of formula. As I was doing all this a few things happened.

Firstly, quite coincidentally, I came upon an article called Cows Genetically Modified to Produce Human Milk. Writer Erika Nicole Kendall in her blog, the Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss does not seem to miss much regarding our confusing cultural cuisine–and one need be neither black, young, female or overweight to appreciate the topics she very thoughtfully explores and exposes. Here, she tells about a recent exhibition in China where technical achievements are touted as part of the country’s five-year plan.  Fascinatingly, in ancient China, emperors and empresses drank human milk throughout their lives. Apparently, presented at the exhibition were a herd of cows that have been genetically modified to produce human milk–which apparently contains the anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory agents and the hormones and digestive enzymes particular to the real stuff.  The milk purportedly will preserve and improve the immune systems and central nervous systems of children and will address decreasing breastfeeding rates in that country. Must I explain the irony here?

Then, mon cher French ami who is always on topic in spite of mothering three young children–who she nursed in succession–sent me an article on breastfeeding in France. I learned that France has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the Western world. Mon Dieu. I was shocked and rather nauseated by the story. The nationwide gist is that breasts are for your husband–not your baby. French doctors apparently are in collusion with this imperative of preserving the sexual function of its countrywomen rather than supporting their maternal inclinations. Accompanying comments mocked those who promote breastfeeding as the breast police. Really? Does fighting tobacco advertising and helping people to quit smoking make one the lung police?

And, lastly, just Tuesday night, I watched the first episode of Jamie Oliver‘s second season of the Food Revolution. As he was stymied by the Los Angeles City School District to get into their schools for filming, he invited the public to bring him samples of the foods that the kids are being served there. In the opening scene, he is shown surrounded by a group of people who are presenting to him all types of horrific-looking junk that is splayed out on a table. A woman in the group is carrying a few month old beautiful baby girl. He reaches for the baby who gently accepts his arms. He reminds us how totally pure and perfect our babies come into this life. Seeing this gorgeous little being surrounded by this landscape of low-quality food was a powerful juxtaposition–it is the way I also see the situation.

Before school food, infant formula is the ingredient template that constitutes most of a child’s diet for most of its first year. Aside from added vitamins and minerals, the following are what milk and soy formulas are made of in some variation:  non-fat milk, lactose, vegetable oil, whey protein, high oleic safflower oil, soy oil, corn syrup solids, soy protein isolate, sugar, and coconut oil.  Interestingly, as most formulas now try to mimic the beneficial lipid profile naturally found in breastmilk–mortierella alpina oil and crythecodimium coluni oil are what are used to make them closer than ever to breast milk.

So, I decided, it was a worthwhile effort to pursue this conversation a little more–in the name of restoring, reviving, encouraging a resurgence–a redux of what I consider to be our natural birthright. The right of babies under most circumstances to be sustained on the foodstuff designed for their biology, presented in a form supportive of their neurological wiring and physiologically and hormonally consistent with that of the other member of the feeding dyad–their mother. The rest of the population may benefit as well–even the men.

And, in case some shared wisdom on this motherly art is sought, please check out this very thorough Breastfeeding Tips and Guide lovingly prepared by Sara Spencer. It contains some nice videos including a great one on feeding twins.

I am just wondering, were you breastfed?

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

Related Posts: Blessed Feeding; To She Who Loves Us Before She Meets Us; Oh MotherA Winning Goal; First Food

blessed feeding

Breastfeeding an infant

Image via Wikipedia

It was one of those mornings. One minute I am simply getting dressed for work, the next I am hopping around with only one leg in my tights, trying to find pen and paper to grab what I can from another nutrition-related radio story.  On that particular day, it was an NPR story entitled, Some Baby Formulas May Cause Faster Weight Gain.

The story which ran on January 24, 2011, starts out by saying that breastfeeding can be challenging, so most babies are on formula. It was about a small study comparing cow’s milk formula and predigested protein formulas– which are very expensive and used mainly for babies with significant digestive issues including cow’s milk allergies. The research suggested that at 7 months of age, the cow’s milk formula babies weighed two pounds more than breastfed and predigested formula babies. The study only observed that the babies drinking the cow’s milk formula took a longer time to be satiated and therefore drank more. There was no explanation given for this.

Interviewed for the story was Dr. Nicholas Stettler, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. He starts out by saying that formulas have been proven safe and effective, and if infants like them and eat them, they’ll maintain their health and weight.  He then goes on to say that babies who gain too much weight in the first weeks and months of life are 5 times more prone to obesity and its inherent health risks by age 20–and that formula babies often gain too much. He concludes by advising that, “Parents should work closely with their pediatricians to make sure their babies don’t gain too much or too little. In this case, average is best.”

All in all, it wasn’t worth the hopping. None of this was exactly news to me and if anything I was surprised at the limited analysis of the results. However,  it touched on an issue that I feel quite strongly about–the dismal state of affairs regarding breastfeeding in this country and its many implications.

Ironically, on January 20th, just four days before, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin announced the “Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding“.  Outlined clearly in the announcement and its accompanying report are the many benefits of breastfeeding and the attendant health risks of not doing so. Clearly known in the medical and nursing community is that there are many physical and emotional benefits for both nursing moms and their babies and that babies who are not breastfed are at increased risk for diarrhea, ear infections, more serious lower respiratory infections, SIDS, childhood leukemias, asthma, diabetes, and obesity. Lactation experts and women who do breastfeed understand that human milk is species-specific for human babies, and its composition perfectly designed for proper and progressive growth. Mother’s milk changes composition during each feeding as well due to differences in the foremilk and hindmilk and naturally provides nutritional, immunological and satiety factors.

In the introduction to the report, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius writes, “For much of the last century, America’s mothers were given poor advice and were discouraged from breastfeeding to the point that breastfeeding became an unusual choice in this country.” I appreciated the admission. Tucked in the report amongst the many reasons for our pathetically low breastfeeding rates  was this paragraph:  “A recent survey of pediatricians showed that many believe the benefits of breastfeeding don’t outweigh the challenges that may be associated with it and report various reasons to recommend against it.”

This seems pretty shocking given the following. Comparing formula-fed babies to those who were breastfed exclusively for four months, the rates of hospitalization for lower respiratory tract infections are 250% greater; for GI infections including diarrhea are 178% greater; and, for necrotizing enterocolitis in premature babies 138% greater for the formula-fed babies. The economic impact of just these three illnesses that breastfeeding can prevent, costs this country 3.6 billion dollars per year. In cultures where babies have unlimited access to the breast and constant maternal contact, the prevalence of psycho and sociopathic behaviors are very low. What is the economic cost of those disorders?

Though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, this recommendation does not translate into proper education, promotion, and support. Hindering the promotion of breastfeeding in this country is the perpetuation of the idea that the decision to breastfeed is a personal one and we should not make women feel guilty for not breastfeeding. Also, as a non-breastfeeding society for a few generations now, the cultural belief system is that most babies are raised on formula and they are fine. Additionally, like nutrition, obstetricians, and pediatricians– who are best poised to promote this clearly biologically superior milk–may not receive much training on breastfeeding and there is an awkwardness about women and breasts–even in the medical community.

The moment that baby opens its little mouth and receives artificial milk, it is unwittingly committed to a different path than its breastfed nursery mate. Immediately, that baby becomes a consumer of a highly and often deceitfully marketed corporate product; is more vulnerable to various illnesses and diseases with short or long term health implications; compromises its innate ability to self regulate feedings, and now in this weighted world, must work with its pediatrician to strive for average.

The Health Center where I work serves a large and diverse international clientele. I feel very fortunate to encounter daily a multi-cultural perspective. Last week, as I was walking past the main waiting area, two young women were nursing their babies. One woman was Mexican and the other was Burmese. This was not shy, covered up nursing. Both, were one breast exposed unabashedly doing what women have been doing for thousands and thousands of years. Confidently nourishing their young. How challenging can it be?

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

Related Posts: To She Who Loves Us Before She Meets Us; Breastfeeding Redux; Oh MotherA Winning Goal; First Food