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7 Cautions for Every Nursing Mom Considering Essential Oils

Listen to the podcast, “Essential Oils and Breastfeeding: Stop, Look and Listen to be Safe! “

Only a few weeks ago, someone came at me with a big accusation. Her exact words were, “You think that if you didn’t study something in nursing school, it isn’t legit!”

Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

Admittedly, I like remedies to have studies that back up safety and efficacy. I may be slower to recommend those that don’t. But I personally have used plenty of treatments that I never learned about in nursing school—chiropractic care, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, foot reflexology, glucosamine … you name it, I’ve probably used it. Including aromatherapy.

I do look for research about such remedies—either evidence that supports their use, or evidence against them. But the absence of research doesn’t necessarily move something to my “avoid” list. Some remedies are just common sense, and some come from long-standing traditions. In that case, I take some time to weigh the potential benefits against possible risks.

So I was astonished and pleased to find that there are thousands of articles in medical journals about essential oils—the basis for aromatherapy—supporting their use for a variety of purposes. Wondering if there are any risks? Read on. During my radio show with certified aromatherapist Lea Harris, I uncovered 7 cautions for every breastfeeding mother considering essential oils.

Don’t confuse the “essential oil” with the herb. Plants have three parts: root, stem, and leaves. Essential oils are made (usually, distilled) from the plant, not the leaves. So while you should feel no positive or negative health effects from eating fresh rosemary on your roasted potatoes, you may indeed feel some effects from the essential oil, rosemary. The same is true for cinnamon, cloves, and other plants that can be distilled into an essential oil.

Don’t ingest essential oils. Essential oils that may be safe and effective when breathed through your nose or massaged into your skin, usually are not safe for consumption. Do not ingest any essential oil unless you are working with a professional.

Avoid some essential oils when pregnant or breastfeeding. Although some Internet sources claim there’s nothing to worry about when using essential oils during these times, substances may cross the placenta during pregnancy or be excreted in your milk during lactation. Even when the “dose” that crosses into your milk may be small, you will want to carefully consider the possible effects. In general, I would urge you to err on the side of caution.

Some essential oils may affect your milk supply. Aside from safety, you should also wonder if the essential oil—or any substance—will affect your milk supply. Do we have good evidence? Unfortunately, no. For example, anecdotal reports suggest that peppermint oil can reduce milk supply in some but not all women; we don’t have a strong study to support that.

So, think it through. If you have an ample milk supply, you might be willing to take the risk. If you’re already struggling, remember that Lea and I agree that peppermint can negatively affect milk supply in some women. How would you feel if that happens to you? Note too that I’ve always believed sage—the herb—reduces milk supply; Lea says that sage—the essential oil—absolutely should not be used during the childbearing cycle.

Some essential oils should not be used with some medications. If you’ve had some medical complications from your pregnancy or delivery, or if you have another medical condition, you may be taking some medicine. You should know that essential oils can potentiate—make more dramatic—the effect of some medications, such as coumadin or heparin. Even if a drug and an essential oil may be safe while nursing, the two taken together might mean trouble.

Beware if your baby will be directly exposed. Some essential oils might be fine if your baby is exposed to them through your milk, but be unsafe for your child directly. For example, plenty of evidence shows the safety of lavender for the childbearing woman, but it is not safe to use for children. (Still want to use it yourself? You could use a personal inhaler to avoid exposing your baby to it.)

Stop, look and listen. Oh, this sounds so trite, doesn’t it? But it’s true. Stop and think about how powerful the essential oil is. Look at the exact name—for example, Bulgarian lavender is different from French lavender. (Lea gives several examples of this in the show.) Listen to the true experts—not everything in print or online is accurate. Lea gave some tips for how to spot credible sources. You might want The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness by Nerys Purchon and Lora Cantele, or perhaps Tisserand’s book.

“Natural” may not be safe. Caution is always a good step.
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Stop! Before You Give Your Baby Formula, Consider This.

Listen to the podcast, “What You Don’t Know About Formula Regulation CAN Hurt You–And Your Baby”

btbb-kent-formula-forblog_vignette_400You may, like so many other parents, believe that infant formula is completely safe, and that it is put through rigorous testing by the FDA before it can be fed to babies. That’s not the case.

Before you offer artificial infant formula to your baby, consider that when you buy formula, you are:

… buying into the myth that formula is “almost as good.”

For years, formula manufacturers have been selling us on the idea that their products are just as good as breastfeeding. (In some cases, they’ve worked hard to suggest that the formula is even better than breastmilk.) You won’t be surprised that I’ll tell you it’s not.

A mother’s milk is a miracle substance. It provides more than nutrition—it provides living cells! Through her milk, the mother provides a “remote control” immune system for her baby, one that is highly responsive to the germs in their shared environment. Formula cannot do that. There are no living cells in infant formula.

Infant formula is “almost as good” as a mother’s own milk in the same way that a 1-carat perfect cubic zirconia may be “almost as good” as a 1-carat perfect diamond, or a Rolls Royce is “almost as good” as a Volkswagon. Their basic appearance and purpose are the same, but that’s where the similarities end.

… giving your baby less than the best.

There are piles—and I’m talking piles that are perhaps 12 stories high—of scientific studies showing the superiority of human milk for human babies, in terms of growth and development. There’s no question about this. As Derrick Jelliffe said in the 1970s: “Breast is best”! By now, it’s a fact, not an opinion. (And we see that breastfeeding is important to babies’ health and mothers’!)

It may be uncomfortable to hear this, but if you are giving your human baby something other than human milk, you are giving him less than the best that you have available.

… disempowering yourself and your body.

For decades, I’ve heard concern that we shouldn’t talk about this breastfeeding, out of concern for “those women who can’t breastfeed.”

I know that there are mothers who cannot breastfeed. There are also mothers who have four kidneys, one arm, and bifurcated uteri. Yet, they produce and pass urine, pick up and carry items and babies, and conceive and bear children. With rare exceptions, women can breastfeed. Those who say they “can’t” breastfeed are lacking either the internal motivation or the external support—or both. It may be negative feedback from others, labor practices that get breastfeeding off to a bad start, or lack of confidence or any of myriad other things that undercut breastfeeding, but in the vast majority of cases it isn’t that the mother’s body can’t make milk.

… empowering Big Business to create your child’s growth and ill-being.

That’s right, I said “ill-being.” Each year, it seems we have more scientific studies that show formula-feeding results in ill health, both in the short-term (when babies are at higher risk of ear infection, gastrointestinal illness, respiratory infection, and SIDS) and long-term (when those who were formula-fed are at higher risk of diabetes, and other problems). Even one bottle can make a difference to your baby’s microbiome.

… trusting the FDA to control formula safety and efficacy (when maybe you shouldn’t).

The FDA doesn’t test infant formula before it hits the market. The agency does establish guidelines for manufacturers, but it relies heavily on industry self-regulation. There are problems with this system, as I discussed with special guest Dr. George Kent recently and wrote elsewhere.

What have you heard about infant formula?
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6 Tips Help You Find the Perfect Gift for New Moms

shutterstock_womanHoldingGiftListen to the podcast, “Gift Giving Guide for the Breastfeeding Mama”
Shop Marie’s Holiday Gift Guide.

It’s the holidays! A time for celebration, for family, for gift-giving. Whether it’s the addition of a baby to the family that makes this year feel extra special or just that you’re feeling out of fresh ideas, you’re looking for tips that will help you choose the perfect gift for the mom who gives so much. Here are six questions that will help you identify her wants and needs. While these tips can be used when gift-shopping for anyone—moms, dads, grandmas, you get the picture—I’ll give examples related to my core audience—breastfeeding moms.

1. What would help her in everyday life?
My family jokes about how many times I’ve opened a gift and asked, “But what does it do?” and my diva sister has replied, “It doesn’t do anything. It’s just for pretty.” My slant here is what the gift will do for the recipient, but I’ll include some other ideas, too.

Nearly every new mother is strapped for time, sleep-deprived, and feeling isolated from simple outings. (Even going to the grocery store can be a major chore). It takes time to lose the pregnancy weight, so some moms end up wearing their baggy maternity clothes–even if they hate the idea. For nursing moms, “regular” tops or dresses don’t always leave the breasts accessible for the baby. There are some great clothes out there that are perfect for this.

Any gift that helps comfort and calm the baby, saves time, or helps the nursing woman feel she looks good would be helpful and welcome. A more elaborate or expensive gift might be a rocking chair. A simple and fairly inexpensive gift might be a NuRoo pocket.

A breastfeeding mother who works outside her home or frequently travels for work has all of those needs, and much more. She might love a Sara Wells bag for her breast pump, an inflatable nursing pillow for a plane trip, or a hands-free device to hold the pump flanges in place so she can simultaneously pump and read email.

2. What nuisance factors does she put up with—but wishes she could avoid?
Every mother has times when she feels two hands are not enough—even moreso when the baby wants to be held, or needs to be carried. A new mom might like a gift such as a baby carrier or sling to enable her to carry her baby but have her hands free for other tasks. An added benefit—this helps to calm and comfort her baby, and who doesn’t love that?

Because her baby is literally attached to her breast, the nursing mother may find herself being criticized for breastfeeding in public or she might be tired of having her distracted baby keep drawing away from the breast to look around. In this case, one of the many stylish clothing designs or special cover-ups that help her to nurse discreetly may be appreciated. Or an inexpensive, attractive set of “nursing beads” that double as a stylish necklace and a safe means of holding baby’s attention while he is nursing might be a welcome gift!

3. What does she love to do?
The nursing mother who loves to read might find that juggling a baby and a book is difficult. But perhaps she could use one hand to read from a Kindle or an iPad. Maybe she would love to read to her baby or older child. There are several excellent books for children, including some on breasts and breastfeeding!   Maybe she likes to listen to music. There are tons of CDs out there, and even some that she can use to keep her other kids semi-quiet while she nurses the baby! My favorite kids’ musician to recommend? The Laurie Berkner Band.

4. What does she hate to do?
The same woman who hated to cook or clean before she became pregnant and had her baby will probably hate those tasks even more now. Every mother we know would appreciate a gift certificate to a local restaurant—and choosing an establishment that has take-out service adds flexibility for using the gift certificate that is sure to be appreciated.

Or, maybe she’s like me: I don’t mind cooking, but I hate grocery shopping. A gift for a service like Blue Apron would be a thriller. Similarly, a gift certificate for a cleaning service is a fabulous gift for anyone who craves a clean house, but doesn’t like to clean or doesn’t have time to clean.

5. What would create a memory for her?
How about a gift certificate for a family photo session with a local photographer? It could be anything that creates a memory, but let’s face it, family photos are priceless.

Although tangible gifts are great, the nursing mother of an older infant might be eager to get out of the house. Tickets to a concert or a membership to a gym or a yoga class might be “memorable” for some mothers. Couple it with a “free babysitting” coupon for double the delight!

6. What does she enjoy that costs more than she would be willing to spend on herself?
Parenting is an all-the-time job; the mom you know is on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, putting someone else’s needs—the baby, other children—ahead of her own. She is likely to appreciate a gift that costs more money that she feels she can spend on herself. I suggest anything that makes her feel pampered. Is there any woman on the planet who wouldn’t love a manicure, a pedicure, or a massage? Shucks, an entire day at the spa would be on my wish list!

Need more specific ideas? Listen now. Then share this episode with sisters, parents, and in-laws. And be sure to comment below and let me know:
What gift would make your holiday merry and bright?
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Top Tips for Breastfeeding During the Holidays

Listen to the Podcast, “Better Breastfeeding Through The Holidays” Holiday_cork_shutterstock_editResizeConsider: To go or not to go?
Very often, people feel they must travel to visit relatives for the holiday because that’s what they have always done. Although traveling is rarely as predictable or easy as we might like, traveling with a nursing baby can pose a new set of hurdles to overcome. Can it be done? Absolutely! Do you want to take on this added layer of holiday travel complexity? Maybe. Maybe not.

Having a new baby—nursing or otherwise—is often a good time to re-think entrenched habits and traditions; it’s even an opportunity for starting a new tradition. Instead of traveling to a relative’s home because we feel obligated to maintain the status quo, this may be a time to consider the obligation to put the baby’s needs first. Sometimes that may mean staying home. There are a number of pros and cons to consider, and it’s okay if you decide to do something different than usual this year.

If you go, plan how.
If you are traveling, consider how you’ll go—plane, train, or car. Traveling by car or train enables you to pack just about anything (or even overpack to include some might-need item). Baggage limits for air travel usually mean you can only must-have items. Finding a place to pump or nurse—no matter how you get where you’re going–opens up another set of logistical questions. Certainly, it can be done, but think it through before you do it. (If you’re flying, we hope there’s a Mamava at the airport you’ll use!)

Have you considered the train? When I give a course in Orlando, I always take Amtrak’s autotrain. There’s no hassle of taking off my shoes or going through security, and within 10 minutes of boarding, I can be eating, stretching, using my computer, or emptying my bladder—and I can do those activities (and many more) as often as I wish—without ever having to worry about a seatbelt or finding a place to pull over! Plus, my fully-packed car is ready to go to my final destination. How cool is that?

Consider: To pump, or to nurse?
In some respects, nursing the baby is the simplest thing to do. The baby removes milk from your breasts better than any pump on the market, and there are no parts to wash or lose. But you may find yourself in an unfamiliar environment, or one where you have little control, so think it through beforehand.

Keep it simple.
If you decide to stay home, you may be entertaining the relatives. With the need to nurse your child added into the holiday mix, you’ll want to identify tasks that are time-sensitive or time-consuming. For example, you might want to skip the complicated recipes and fine china in favor of simpler recipes and paper plates. Better yet, consider hosting a dessert-themed party where all of the relatives bring a yummy treat to share. 

Minimize mall issues.
Online shopping is the ultimate fix-it strategy for eliminating the hassle of shopping at the mall. However, most of us end up going to the mall either for a specific item, or because our friends or relatives are shopping, and it’s a social thing to go along.
If you’ve never left your nursing baby with someone before, now might not be the best time to try it. If you take your baby with you to the mall, and if your baby is easily distracted in crowded or unfamiliar settings, call ahead to see if there is a quiet place to nurse. Many anchor stores have nice lounges available.

Make a packing list. Check it twice.
If you’re traveling, take time to make a packing list of all of your “regular” items as well as all of your feeding items—including whatever you need for nursing or pumping, as well as water and snacks for yourself and soft foods or finger-food snacks for an older nursing baby. A must-have: at least 25% more diapers than you would ordinary plan for your baby. (A change of diet or routine can lead to a change in baby’s diaper habits!) Don’t forget toys, teething rings, and replacements for pump accessories, including batteries.

Stay comfortable. Don’t be “overfull.”
Although your breasts are never truly “empty” (you always have more milk, just like you always have more tears), your breasts can certainly be overly full. This happens when you put off nursing because you’re busy, distracted, or even just having too much fun! Delaying nursing can lead to a plugged duct or mastitis; it can also cause milk supply issue. Nurse your baby or express your milk as often as you normally do, to avoid these issues.

Plan for public or private nursing.
With scads of people at home or mobs of people elsewhere, it’s not always easy to find privacy. You might feel completely comfortable nursing or pumping in front of your sister, but not in front of your Uncle Wilbur. (And Uncle Wilbur might not feel comfortable, either.) Plan ways to minimize your exposure. Most importantly, be sure that you’ve done a “dry run” on how to nurse or pump discreetly before you have those people around you.

Be prepared for criticism.
Yes, you read that right. It’s time to be prepared for criticism. Although many people will be supportive of your efforts, there are always those who have a snarky comment. Rehearse a few retorts that are respectful (or better yet, humorous!) so that these folks don’t get you down. I did an entire radio show on coping with criticism. Feel free to use some of those “sound bites” as needed!

Eat, drink and be merry—in moderation.
Certainly, moderation is the key to consuming any food or beverage, whether you’re nursing or not!

Don’t hesitate to try foods that you don’t usually eat. Such foods probably won’t bother you or your baby at all. But try not to overindulge, just in case. And, be sure to have extra diapers on hand in case your baby is affected!

An occasional glass of wine isn’t likely harm to your healthy baby. Based on research from the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “ingestion of alcoholic beverages should be minimized and limited to an occasional intake [of] no more than about 2 oz liquor, 8 oz wine, or 2 beers” and that the breastfeeding mother wait about 2 hours before nursing, to minimize the concentration of alcohol in her milk. (If it sounds like a pain, be comforted in knowing  that experts no longer call on nursing moms to “pump and dump” before resuming feeding! Any alcohol in your milk will be processed by your body, so there’s no reason to go through that hassle.)

Of course, this advice presumes that both you and the baby are healthy.
Dress up and feel good about yourself. Do your hair, maybe get a mani-pedi, and don’t hesitate to wear some sexy little dress that makes you look like the gorgeous woman you are. Worried about leaking? Don’t. A pair of LilyPadz is just the ticket for keeping you dry!

Celebration is a vital part of our lives. Celebrate love, celebrate life, including the new little life you have just brought into the world! Give thanks, and be happy for the holidays!
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Pacifiers and Breastfeeding: Myths Abound

Listen to the podcast “Pacifiers and Breastfeeding”
shutterstock_pacifierSooner or later, every new parent hears that their baby “needs” a pacifier. The reasons offered may vary, but they all have one thing in common: They’re false. Not every baby needs a pacifier. But if you want to reality-check the myths, here’s the scoop on the top ones you’re likely to hear.

1. People say: Using a pacifier will protect your baby from dying of SIDS.
Fact-check: Sadly, there is no known method for absolute prevention of SIDS. There are studies that show an association—a link, a correlation, a relationship—between pacifier use and a lower incidence of SIDS. However, it is unclear exactly what causes SIDS, so the exact preventive measure is not well understood.

2. People say: Using a pacifier will ensure your baby doesn’t suck his thumb.
Fact-check: It may seem like giving an infant who likes to suck on fingers a pacifier will be a good thing. After all, you can take a pacifier away from the baby to break the habit later, right? Actually, many infants who accept pacifiers also engage in non-nutritive thumb-sucking or finger-sucking. Giving or not-giving a pacifier won’t change that.

3. People say: There’s no research on short-term or long-term effects of pacifier use.
Fact-check: Actually, there are dozens of studies that show a correlation between pacifier use and adverse effects, including dental changes, reduced length or duration of breastfeeding, and ear infections. It’s important, though, to remember that many of these studies show association; cause-and-effect relationship is difficult to prove.

4. People say: Other than helping the baby (and parents) to settle down, pacifiers have no benefits.
Fact-check: For years, we have known that pacifiers are beneficial to preterm babies and, for all babies, seem to offer some pain-relieving benefit during a painful procedure. Research also shows that breastfeeding is more beneficial than pacifiers.

5. People say: Pacifiers are mostly harmless.
Fact-check: Actually, this is unclear. Multiple peer-reviewed, published studies have identified adverse effects in several body systems, including psychological, language development, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, and more.

6. People say: For a healthy, term baby, pacifiers make no difference in breastfeeding.
Fact-check: Why pacifier use is linked to early cessation of breastfeeding is unclear, but the relationship does exist. Nearly 20 years have passed since Dr. Victora and colleagues published “Pacifier use and short breastfeeding duration: Cause, consequence, or coincidence?” but piles of new research has failed to elucidate the nature of this relationship. The pacifier could be the cause, the consequence, or just a coincidental aspect of early weaning.

7. People say: Pacifiers are the best way to calm, console, and soothe a baby.
Fact-check: There are lots of ways to calm a baby! Most parents will intuitively
hold, cuddle, sing to or rock their fussy baby. Even more simple strategies, such as skin-to-skin contact or infant massage can be helpful. Pacifiers can help some babies, but it’s important to remember that crying is, for the baby, a means of communication. Why is the baby crying? What is she trying to communicate? A wet diaper? Hunger? A need for sleep? An upset tummy? A need for some close contact? To truly meet your baby’s needs, you probably want to focus on figuring that out before plugging in a pacifier.
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Breastfeeding: It’s Your Right

DeLorenzo_forBlog Listen to the podcast “Know Your Breastfeeding Rights”
Read Jill DeLorenzo’s story. Her big “offense” was breastfeeding her child in Gold’s Gym. Note that Jill was a paying member of the gym, and had breastfed there before. But apparently on this occasion, doing so was an “offense.” Some unnamed person at the gym was offended that Jill was so bold as to feed her own children from a body part that is designed for that purpose, and so two high-ranking members of the gym administration (including the executive vice president of the management company) told Jill to move. Although they could have suggested that the complainant shift his or her gaze in a different direction, gym leadership chose to act in favor of that party’s feelings rather thanJill’s right to breastfeed.

All too often, people in positions of authority think they can strong-arm a mother with such tactics as intimidation, threats of legal action, and references to an un-posted (and likely nonexistent) policy about breastfeeding in public. In Jill’s case, the vice president noted that since the gym “is private property, we can do what we want to here.” He dodges Jill’s question about how he feels about breastfeeding in public, noting that “I’m protecting rights for our members—and how our staff feels as well.”

Without question, it would have been easier for Jill to relocate to the women’s locker room to continue breastfeeding. But she didn’t. It wasn’t convenient for her, since she had two children along—and, anyway, she knew that she shouldn’t be shamed for breastfeeding her child. She remained glued to the chair and fought for every minute her baby needed to feed. When she left the gym, she didn’t quit fighting; she took the fight to a bigger stage! She joined efforts to push for legislation to protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in the state of Virginia.

I hope every woman understands that it is not illegal to breastfeed in any US state, and nearly all states have laws specifically protecting a woman’s right to breastfeed. Personally, I think it’s silly that we need a law to protect the right to breastfeed—generations of Americans breastfed without them!—but obviously, we do need such a law!

Change can and does happen with each woman who refuses to be intimidated. Join me on the show while Jill is my guest, and find out you how to help women in the US to have their right to breastfeeding protected.

Related resources:
National Conference of State Legislatures: Breastfeeding State Laws
Women’s Law Project: Breastfeeding and Pumping Laws
BreastfeedingLaw.com
Normalize Breastfeeding: A Breastfeeding Awareness Media Campaign
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Juggling Breastfeeding and Child Care

shutterstock_childcareWorker_momandBabyListen to the podcast “Breastfeeding and Childcare: Solving Unforeseen Problems”
Listen to the podcast “Breastfeeding and Child Care”

Most mothers know that keeping up their milk supply and expressing milk in the workplace are best handled with information-seeking and appropriate planning. Far fewer, if any, realize that a child care provider may make or break their breastfeeding experience. Here are five tips for making the whole breastfeeding-and-daycare thing work out:

1) Select a caregiver who is 101% supportive of your breastfeeding goals. Remember that no matter how much training and information a caregiver has, it won’t substitute for shared values and mutual respect. Be sure the caregiver or facility creates an atmosphere (both a physical atmosphere and a communication environment) that protects and supports breastfeeding.

2)  Know federal laws and state regulations in your state about breastfeeding and paid child care. Along with that, be aware of any special recognition or resources that childcare providers have or have access to that support breastfeeding.

3)  Clearly communicate your goals, preferences, and directives. If you are determined to have nothing but your milk offered to your child, be upfront and say so. If you want to breastfeed the baby when you arrive at the caregiver’s location, make sure they know not to offer the baby a full feeding minutes before you are scheduled to arrive. If a pacifier is okay but formula is not, be sure you make that clear. 

4)  Clearly write out your child’s needs, norms, and preferences. Remember that many childcare providers, even if they have undergone training, have had little experience with breastfed babies. Until now, they’ve had no experience with your baby! Ask them to keep brief notes about your child’s feeding experience each day. You’ll know how to best express and provide enough milk, and they will know how to best offer what your baby needs.  

5)  Predict and plan ahead for issues and problems that might happen that will be different from the at-home situation. The away-situation is fraught with many issues: traffic jams and late pick-ups, overfeeding, or the baby refusing an artificial nipple are just the tip of the iceberg of issues that require some advanced planning and problem-solving. If you have built a good relationship with your child care provider, you’ll be better able to overcome these challenges in caring for your baby.
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