Born To Be Breastfed > Articles by: Marie Biancuzzo

Human Milk: The Most Sustainable Food in the World?

Listen to the podcast, “The Breastfeeding Controversy, Why It Is and What To Do”

In the 1970s, the late, great Dr. Derrick Jelliffe said that “breast is best”. This soon became the mantra of tens of thousands of breastfeeding advocates. Now, a similar but different mantra is “sustainable food.” These discussions often mention dairy foods, but no one seems to call out formula as a “dairy food”. So I ask: how could we justify formula as a sustainable food source?

Human milk might possibly be the most sustainable food in the world. Taking a page from—but kicking it up a notch—I posit that there are eight reasons why formula is not a sustainable food.

Formula does not help protect the environment

In my interview with environmental journalist Jennifer Grayson, we only touched on the environmental impact of formula. There are no clear, indisputable statistics that we are aware of. However, La Leche League estimates that for every one million formula-fed babies, 150 million containers of formula are consumed.

Admittedly, some of those containers could be recycled, but many end up in landfills. The Surgeon General reminds us that breastfeeding, however, “generally requires no containers, no paper, no fuel to prepare, and no transportation to deliver, and it reduces the carbon footprint by saving precious global resources and energy.”

Formula does not promote personal health

Are you aware of any literature that implies that formula promotes personal health for either the mother or the baby? No, me either. If food doesn’t promote personal health, how can it be classified as sustainable?

Formula does not promote public health.

To promote public health, formula would need to have documented evidence of superiority over the alternative—human milk. Public health issues, such as infectious disease, diarrheal disease, and obesity, diabetes, for example, have all been strongly associated with the use of infant formula.

Formula is unlikely to save family farms

Admittedly, I don’t know where the big formula companies find cows to produce formula. But knowing that formula-making is a multi-billiondollar a year business, a great volume would be needed. Hence, it’s difficult for me to fathom how that could be accomplished on family farms only.

Formula does not promote animal welfare

Okay, again I plead ignorance. But if you were the cow, how would you feel about this? You would be given antibiotics, hormones, and be hooked up to a milking machine every day. Your udders would often be full, and you’d have mastitis. And oh-by-the-way—after going through all of this, your milk would be to the offspring of another species!

How can formula protect farm workers?

Here’s what says: “Studies have shown that when factory farms enter communities, they replace local farmers, causing a downturn in the local economy. They are often too large to be locally supplied and can cause a decrease in property values. In addition, the pollution from these farms endangers the health of the community and negatively impacts the local environment.”

How does formula empower and protect farm workers?

Again, I’m presuming that formula comes from cows on industrial farms. And such farms are more likely to hire migrant workers. Industrial farms are a source of toxic fumes and piles of manure. You might even make the case that female migrant workers have a compromised experience of bearing and breastfeeding their own children.

If it were a sustainable source, it would taste good!

Yeah, this is the kicker, isn’t it? Sustainable food tastes good. I’ve often said that formula tastes like paste.

We need to widen discussions about breastfeeding. The “breast is best” mantra is necessary, but insufficient. Few, if any of us, have thought about formula-feeding as an unsustainable food source.

I know I’ve met several of you who own cattle farms. Any comment for you? Any comment from anyone else?
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But My Friend LOVED Hers…”Rules” for Choosing a Breast Pump

Listen to the podcast, “Your Before-You-Buy Guide to Breast Pumps”

You’ve read the books, talked to friends, surfed the web, and compared customer reviews. You’re sure you know which pump you want to buy or use. You’re all set, right? Not so fast. With a global market worth well over 700 million U.S. dollars, manufacturers are vying to make you choose theirs. But what’s fact, what’s fiction, and what will improve your pumping experience? Before breaking the bank on the latest and greatest pumping technology, take the time to figure out what breast pump you really need. Here are just a few rules to follow before shopping for the “best” pump.

Rule #1 Don’t listen to your best friend’s recommendation: Choose a pump for YOU

“I got the XYZ pump because my best friend loved it! I don’t understand why she loves it, because I hate it!” I’ve heard this phrase uttered by frustrated moms many times.

A variation is, “What’s the best breast pump on the market?”

My response always is, “There is no “best” breast pump. You need a pump to meet your needs and wants, and this all depends on your specific circumstances. Do you have a few minutes for me to explain?”

As with any other product—cars, socks, phones, or food—the “best” product for one person is not necessarily well-suited for another.

So rule number one is to seek a breast pump that is best for you – not your mom, aunt, bestie or anyone else.

Rule #2  Think about it: Is your baby nursing? Or are you just pumping?

This is a critical question. If your baby is preterm or ill or unable to suckle strongly, you are “pump-dependent.”

Even if you have a healthy baby, perhaps your baby is not suckling, either by choice, or by circumstance. You may have elected to be a full-term pumper, or you may be away from your baby for an extended period.

You’re depending on the pump to maintain your milk supply. In these situations, a frequently-cycling electric pump is your best bet. Having said that, hand expression will work just as well as a high-quality electric pump.

Not sure of the pros and cons of each?  Get my free worksheet

Rule #3 Consider Your Work Environment

Your work environment affects your choice of pump. Presuming you are working outside of your home, your work setting—including how far your work is from your home—influences what features you’ll want to look for.

If you can take a break nearly any time during the work day, and if you have a private office of your own, you can probably use any pump on the market. However, you might have a very different set of circumstances.

For example, if you’re a forest ranger, lugging a heavy pump around or using one that requires electrical power isn’t realistic. Even a battery-operated pump might not be convenient for you. Instead, consider a lightweight cylinder pump. In my opinion, these little gems are unappreciated.

Consider the classic Kaneson. These are also great if you do air travel and want to tuck a pump into your carry-on case.

Rule#4 You are pumping milk not weight training: Consider the weight of pump

Even if you’re not taking your pump to work, or traveling by plane, you might have a fundamental objection to lugging around any heavy item. For some people, the weight of the pump is a definite deal-maker, or a deal breaker.

Furthermore, if you’re slinging the pump over your shoulder or crisscrossing it in front of you, you could be putting yourself at risk for a plugged duct.

Rule #5 If Inspector Gadget had a breast pump it would have these features: Consider your quirky personal preferences

Each pump offers a different set of features, and each mom should have specific things she’s looking for in a pump.

There may be an endless list of features that are more important to some moms, and less important to others, but here are a few you might not have thought about. Some moms don’t like:
  • a device that has multiple parts to assemble and disassemble, lose and replace!
  • washing parts. They also worry about losing tiny parts in the dishwasher.
  • making a public announcement that they’re pumping. They want to be discreet.

You’re entitled to your quirky preferences (aren’t we all?) so feel free to shop for the features that are important to you. Not necessarily to your bestie!  

Rule #6 Consider What Technical Specs Do You Value.

There are all sorts of specs to consider. Finding out what all the terms need will help you figure out what you want.

Wrapping Up The Rules of Finding a Breast Pump

Here, I’ve covered only a very few factors that make one pump a “best” choice for one person and a “worst” choice for someone else. But any and all questions boil down to:

(1) outcome—keeping up your milk supply under your set of circumstance

(2) convenience or personal preference.

As a new mom or expecting mom, I know you’re tired. But take a little time to figure out what’s best for you.

What are the one or two most important factors you’d be looking for in a pump?
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Top Tips on Babywearing Your Premature Baby

Listen to the podcast, “Babywearing Your Preemie in the NICU, A Beginner’s Guide”

These days, you hear a lot about babywearing for healthy, full-term babies. But there’s almost no buzz about wearing your preterm baby. The latest buzz was created by Jennifer Canvasser when she was a guest on my radio show. Many mothers—and nurses!—don’t know it’s possible to wear a preemie. It is! In spite of the tubes and the wires, and your baby’s small size, you may be able to wear your preemie and carry him against your body. Want to know more?

Listen to the show! You’ll love hearing about Jennifer’s experience. Meanwhile, here are the top 7 tips she gave for any parent who wants to wear their preterm:

Check out different types of carriers.

Both Jennifer and an earlier radio show guest, Samantha Bunnell, identified four different types of carriers: the mei-tai, ring sling, soft-structured carrier, and woven wrap.

Each type of carrier has its benefits and drawbacks. What might be a plus for you and your baby might be a minus for another couplet. So talk with other mothers. Find a babywearing group if you can, so you can “try on” the various options. (You might want to start with a ring sling; Samantha and Jennifer both say it’s quicker to learn skills for that than for the others.)

Work with your baby’s primary nurse.

Your baby’s primary nurse might not know much about baby carriers, but as a NICU nurse, she knows a lot about babies: their capabilities, limitations, wires, tubes, and devices.

The baby can’t be “worn” until he exhibits physiologic stability. The primary nurse is in the best position to interpret the data and discuss whether your baby is stable enough to handle being worn yet.

Gain skills and confidence with your carrier.

When Jennifer’s friend first brought up babywearing, she knew it would be a while before she her babies were stable enough to be worn. So, she used that time to develop her skills with the carrier, by “wearing” a stuffed animal. She needed to make sure she was comfortable handling the carrier before she tried it with her baby.

I can tell you, using any sort of baby carrier takes skill. I gave it a try, and my initial attempts at wearing a woven wrap were unsuccessful. I would have had to practice many times to get it right. Yet, the woven wrap was what worked best for Jennifer’s son, Micah.  

Determine what type of carrier works for your preemie.

Jennifer had twins. One type of carrier worked best for the more stable twin, whereas a different type worked for the less stable twin. There are no “rules” on which style is best; you have to figure it out for yourself.

Learn to read your baby’s cues.

Babywearing is incredibly soothing for both the mother and the baby. But preemies are in a vulnerable state. Keep alert for signs of stress. When you see any, it’s time to alert the nurse. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have to take the baby off for now … but it might.

Be patient.

Jennifer’s babies were born 2 days short of 28 weeks’ gestation. It was 8 weeks before she could wear one of her boys, and 7 months before she could wear the other one. Babies cannot be worn until they are stable. (Kangaroo care may be possible sooner.)

Get help: Human, media and other.

Hands-on help from a person who is knowledgeable about babywearing would be ideal. (Look for a babywearing group in your area, or connect with your local La Leche League group.) YouTube videos, Jennifer’s article, books by Maria Blois or Evelyn Kirklionis would be good starters.

Babies naturally want to be with their parents. Babywearing is a great way to make it happen…even if your baby is a preemie!
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21 Great Reasons for a “Hands On” Approach to Expressing Your Milk

Listen to Podcast, “Getting Your Milk in a Way that Doesn’t Suck”

Breast pump manufacturers have done a great job of convincing mothers that their product is as much a “must have” new-parent item as diapers and burp cloths. Many mothers accept that they’ll need to have a pump for when they go back to work, return to school, or are separated from their baby. Expressing milk is a necessity. But pumping is not the only way to express milk—even if the breast pump makers would like you to think that’s the case! Like Francie Webb, author of Go Milk Yourself and my recent guest on Born to Be Breastfed, many mothers are never told that hand expression is an option for expressing their milk. Those who are aware of the method tend to think it’s old-fashioned and inconvenient or—even worse for a new mother!—time-consuming and ineffective. Once they give it a chance, many mothers find there are many advantages. I can think of 21 off the top of my head:

  1. Your hands are always with you.
  2. Hand expression is a very clean method. There’s no need to worry about cleaning or sterilizing any nooks and crannies where milk might congregate. What could be simpler than washing your hands?
  3. Studies show that mothers can get a high volume of milk by using hand expression.
  4. Hand expression can be fast. It may go slowly at first, but with a bit of practice you’ll develop your skills and learn to do it quickly. I’ve seen mothers express as much as one ounce per minute without any real incentive to beat the clock. If you express 5 ounces each time, that’s 5 minutes for the whole process. (It can take that long just to set up, and clean up, an electric pump!)
  5. There’s no need to lug around a pump. No schlepping the thing through the turnstiles at the subway entrance or the library.
  6. There’s no possibility of losing your pump, or having it stolen, because your “pump” is at the end of your arm.
  7. It’s silent—no noise from the pump.
  8. There’s no need to worry about losing pump parts—especially one of those itty-bitty membranes (And if you don’t have that itty-bitty membrane, your pump won’t work!)
  9. It works even when there’s a power outage, making it great for emergency situations.
  10. There’s no need to make sure that you are near an electrical outlet; you can hand express your milk anywhere.
  11. You’ll never need to scramble to arrange for overnight shipping to get a lost, damaged, or worn out part.
  12. You won’t need to worry about trying to get the right size flange.
  13. If you need to express your milk during the first days after your baby’s birth, you won’t waste a drop of precious colostrum when you express it directly into a spoon or a medicine cup.
  14. It’s less work. There’s no need to set up the pump, wash the flanges afterwards, and so on.
  15. It’s cheaper. You won’t need to pay for an electric pump or any breast pump collection kits. (Pump kits are pricier than you might assume.)
  16. You’ll become familiar with the contours of your breasts. You’ll have fewer worries about “lumps” in your breasts because you’ll know if they are usually there or if they are something unusual.
  17. Perfect for the assembling-parts-challenged woman. Whew! There’s nothing to figure out or remember!
  18. It eliminates the possibility of traumatizing your breast or nipple with suction that is too high—because there is no suction.
  19. It’s the closest thing to breastfeeding your baby. The skin of your fingers on the skin of your breasts is warm and makes “rolling” motions that are similar to the baby’s motions, which can help maintain your milk supply when you are apart.
  20. Hand expression is empowering. You’re not dependent on a device when you express your milk this way.
  21. Aside from the cost of bottles or milk storage bags (which you’d need with an electric pump, too)—it’s free!
What’s your reason for expressing your milk this way?  
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11 Considerations Before You Use Creams On Your Nipples

Listen to the podcast, “Sore nipples, creams, ointments: A Quick Guide for Nursing Moms”

hand to discourage overuse of nipple creams and ointments It’s common for breastfeeding mothers to experience sore nipples in the early days after birth. In most cases, the new mothers are experiencing “new baby” soreness. What’s a mother to do? Well, before you reach for a nipple cream or ointment, stop.

Consider: It might be better for you to massage a few drops of your milk into your nipples, and seek help for positioning and latch before you buy any commercial products. Whether any creams or ointments actually help with sore nipples is debatable. Before you try them, consider the following:

Creams and ointments on nipples will not cure poor latch.

Cracked or otherwise traumatized nipple skin signals poor positioning and latch. Get an experienced professional to take a look and help you out, before your nipples start to feel so painful you consider giving up. Breastfeeding shouldn’t—and doesn’t have to—be like that.

“Hypoallergenic” products are not allergy-free.

Remember, hypoallergenic; means that a product has been manufactured in a way that reduces the possibility of an allergic response. It doesn’t mean it will completely eliminate allergies, and allergic reactions are still a serious possibility.

In a roomful of experienced lactation consultants preparing for their 10-, 20-, or 30-year IBLCE exam, at least one or two experienced IBCLCs—every city, every year—tell me they have seen an allergic reaction on the nipples after the lanolin has been used. I’m not surprised.

Let me be quick to say: The condition they report may or may not have been formally diagnosed as such. Even if it is, we can’t necessarily jump to the conclusion that it’s a cause-and-effect relationship.

But personally? If you have an allergy to wool, I encourage you to stay away from lanolin-based creams.

Use any product sparingly.

Pharmacist Wendy Jones, PhD, cautions that any of these products should be used sparingly. If you need to wipe or wash off excess cream before the next feeding, you probably applied too much. More product isn’t necessarily more beneficial, and it might even exacerbate a problem. On our recent show together, Wendy talked about the difference between “supple” and “soggy.”

Remember, too, that washing nipples is likely to cause more dryness, and consequently, more skin damage.

Look for proof of effectiveness in resolving sore nipples

Some studies claim that some of the available creams, oils, ointments, or balms prevent or cure sore nipples. Across the board, they seem to be small studies, with questionable designs. I find these studies unconvincing, and my observations when caring for many breastfeeding mothers over the years leaves me highly skeptical. Wendy Jones, PhD concurs.

Here’s another thing: Many mothers tell me they’ve been instructed to put lanolin cream on the inside of the flange while pumping. I’m unaware of any evidence to support that recommendation. However, I’m aware of anecdotal reports that suggest that lanolin cream isn’t good for the pump.

Avoid nipple creams or ointments that contain alcohol.

Here in the US, creams and lotions often contain alcohol. Alcohol has antibacterial properties. But it removes not only “bad” bacteria, but also the “friendly” bacteria, which could set you up for a yeast infection.

It also has a drying effect on the skin, leaving you at greater risk for cracked skin and, again, infection.

Avoid those that taste or smell “funny.”

Babies are much more sensitive to tastes and smells than the rest of us. Nursing babies instinctively seek the smell of their mother’s milk, which a study by Varendi and Porter (2001) show helps to guide them to their mother’s breast. (There are many studies on this topic!)

If the smell of the cream or ointment overpowers that of your milk, your baby may feel frustrated and pull away from the nipple. And, if the cream or ointment has a peculiar taste, the baby will be turned off! (Wouldn’t you be?)

Some may include “surprise” ingredients

If you’re considering a cream to put on your nipple, one that may be ingested by your baby, be sure to review the ingredients. Are there preservatives? Gluten? Genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)? Parabens (which could cause an allergic reaction)? Does it contain animal products or use animal testing? (Many people don’t realize that lanolin products are derived from sheep’s wool.) Read before you buy, so you really know what you’re getting.

Avoid products that don’t go smoothly onto nipples.

If the product doesn’t glide onto your nipples, it is likely that you will be tugging on your nipple skin when you apply it.

Thicker, stickier creams—including lanolin creams don’t glide on well. They can be difficult to get out of the tube or tub, and to get off your hands. They can also leave greasy stains on your clothing.

Be sure the lid is kept on fluid products between uses

Okay, thicker-textured products can be difficult to get out, but those with a lighter texture can make create a leaky mess.

And beware of contamination issues, if you are somehow using the same product on the baby’s butt.

Keep it simple

It’s only in the last half-century or so that special creams for sore nipples have been developed.

Rather than reach for something from the pharmaceutical aisle, why not reach for something safe and available in your kitchen cupboard—olive oil. You can apply it to cracked nipples, and even on the inside the flange while pumping. It has been used to dress wounds for centuries. It glides on smoothly, and research has shown that it has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, and poses no threat to nursing babies. (And I suggest using olive oil on the inside of the flange.)

Olive oil readily sinks into the skin, and there’s no need to wipe it off prior to breastfeeding. While it’s possible to have an allergy to anything, including olive oil, I’ve never met anyone who did.

Petroleum jelly (the popular brand here is Vaseline) can also be highly effective in healing cracked nipples. Wow! It’s effective, simple, cheap, and has multiple uses! (I learned this from Wendy Jones, too! There’s a wealth of information on her website.

Beware of essential oils.

To be clear, I like essential oils, and use them myself. However, as we learned from my interview with expert aromatherapist Lea Harris, there are a number of essential oils that should be avoided while breastfeeding, so be careful.

I hope you’ll consider these factors before using any nipple cream, ointment, butter, or balm. There are dozens of products to choose from which may be less objectionable and more effective than the popularly-known ones—including your own milk! And, very often, the first strategy should be getting professional help to achieve optimal positioning and latch.

Have you used a nipple ointment or cream? What was your experience?
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6 Reasons It May Be Time to Go Pro with a Career in Lactation

Listen to the podcast, “Know When to Go Pro: Is a Lactation Career in Your Future?”

Did you enjoy breastfeeding your child? Are you passionate about the importance of breastfeeding? Has it been a life-changing event for you? Do you talk breastfeeding with new moms you meet? When one of your friends (and possibly even your friends’ friends!) have questions about breastfeeding, are you the one they come to for help?

Whether you’re currently breastfeeding your child, or you weaned him several years ago, here are 6 reasons it may be time for you to go pro:

It brings in some income.

I can’t think of anyone who has gotten rich because of their expertise in breastfeeding and lactation. Yet, I believe it’s possible! Consider others who make a comfortable salary by being a bingo manager, winemaker, horse exerciser, elevator inspector, or enterostomal therapist. You could do the same!

You can work anywhere on the globe.

Breastfeeding mothers and babies are everywhere! Mothers will need your help in the pediatric clinic in Missouri, the hospital in Hawaii, the village clinic in Ghana. It doesn’t matter wherever you land.

Volunteer opportunities abound.

Every day accountants, teachers, architects and others who are qualified for a paid position offer their services as a volunteer. There’s a great satisfaction in giving your high level of expertise to those who may need it most, but cannot afford it. As a lactation pro, you could do the same!

It’s hard to imagine any greater satisfaction than engaging in volunteer work for breastfeeding mothers and infants in your community.

You can work in multiple settings.

Do you like change? If you find that every now and then you like the freshness of new settings and different work, maybe becoming a lactation pro is the way to go. You can work in a hospital, a public clinic, a private clinic, a private physician’s office, a milk bank … you could even teach classes for an organization, or own your own consulting practice!

You can also integrate your lactation work into your existing work, whether it be as a doula, a childbirth educator, or something else. Amber Thomas spoke on my show about how she did that. She wanted to create packages to give clients, and this add-on was perfect for increasing her income and at the same time, meeting her clients’ needs.

You can support moms in life-changing ways.

About thirty years ago, I helped a mother in my care to get her few-hours’-old baby to breastfeed. This was one of many, many mothers I have cared for over the years, and I don’t remember anything especially remarkable about what she needed or the help I provided.

So imagine my surprise and joy when I received a call from the “baby”, now a 30-year-old mother of a newborn. When she experienced some difficulties, her mother told her – “Call Marie!”

I don’t doubt for a second that when you “go pro” in doing this work you love, you’ll have similar things happen!

Because you love it.

As the old saying goes, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Are you on fire with a love of breastfeeding? Are you eager to help mothers and babies in your community, or in the world? Are you eager to help anyone who needs help with breastfeeding?

Take it from me: Your passion will give you an unquenchable thirst to learn more for yourself, reach out more frequently to others, and move more boldly to establish breastfeeding as the societal norm. You’ll do whatever it takes because you’re on fire, and you can’t sit still or keep quiet.

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions I’ve posed, it may well be time to consider going pro!

How do you help breastfeeding mothers you know? Have you ever considered going pro?
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Can You Have Laser Hair Removal While Breastfeeding?

It’s been four months since the birth of your baby. You’re doing well, and so is he! You’re getting into a rhythm, and life is starting to feel a bit normal. You even have time for some self-care—maybe some visits to the gym, maybe an occasional massage, maybe a shower! And maybe you’re even thinking about laser hair removal.

Good luck. While there isn’t research to suggest that laser hair removal poses any particular risks for a woman or her baby, most laser hair removal centers refuse the procedure to any woman while she is breastfeeding. Those that will do the procedure usually ask for a doctor’s note.

So what are they thinking? What’s the harm of having it done while breastfeeding? Let’s back up and look at the big picture.

How does laser hair removal work?
Laser hair removal works by a process called selective photothermolysis. That means that the laser light is used to heat up and selectively destroy the hair follicles on the skin.

Certainly, the light spectrum can be absorbed by the hair follicles and the skin. That might be uncomfortable for you—it’s a similar effect to a sunburn—but it doesn’t pose a risk to your baby. (And no one would ask you to get a doctor’s note before your trip to the beach, in spite of your exposure to light!)

Is breastfeeding a contraindication of laser therapy?
There are some contraindications to breastfeeding. Certain antibiotics and other drugs can increase skin sensitivity to sunlight and laser light, hyperpigmentation (including suntan), hypopigmentation, and possibly other skin-related issues. (For example, having a suntan may increase the risk of blistering and pigment change.) But I’ve looked at several leading expert sources, and breastfeeding is never mentioned as a contraindication.

Are there any studies about laser hair removal and breastfeeding?
No, there are no studies about laser hair removal and breastfeeding infants. Why would there be? There are no studies on the effects of a mother’s trip to a sunny beach on her breastfeeding infant, or—to think of another close-encounter of the mother’s skin with light—on blowing out the candles on a birthday cake! Yet two experiences/events are just as likely to cause harm to the breastfeeding baby as the laser treatment!

So what’s the hype?
Hyperpigmentation–During the childbearing cycle, hormones are more likely to cause hyperpigmentation of the skin (melasma). Hyperpigmentation may be an undesired effect in itself, but it also may cause some otherwise-invisible scarring to show.

Hair regrowth–It’s also possible that the hormones may cause the removed hair to grow back more quickly. It may be that it’s not worth your while until you’re done breastfeeding.

Anesthetic–The other concern I’ve heard has to do with the topical anesthetic that is used in conjunction with laser therapy. There’s a chance that it may cause an allergic reaction for you, or for your baby.

The bottom line: There are no studies showing a risk of having laser hair removal while breastfeeding. The hype is more about the possible risks, or the waste of time and money. Want to get this done, anyway? Talk with your doctor.
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Good, Better, Best—Your Baby Needs Your Colostrum

Listen to the podcast, “What No One Ever Told You About Your Colostrum”

Bigger, Shinier … But Not Better
We Americans have learned to think that bigger is better. Bigger cars. Bigger houses. Bigger servings of food. (Have you ever been in a fast-food restaurant where the smallest size drink was a medium?)

We think that technology and automatic-everything is better than the old-fashioned way. (Remember the days when you used a rotary dial for the phone? How about a hand-operated can opener?)

We have it in our heads that certain things should look or perform in a certain way. (Admit it; if the waiter brings you a bloody-looking steak after you order it medium-well, you’ll send it back, right?)

We often assume that once something is good or acceptable or popular, it will get better and better thereafter. (How many ads do we see for a “new and improved” laundry soap or shampoo?)

In essence, we have developed expectations or values about things in our everyday life. But sometimes, we need to sit back and ponder a little. Such is the case with colostrum.

Bigger isn’t always better.
Maybe you think you won’t have “any” milk or “enough milk” during the colostral phase, but is a big volume really what you want? If your baby had to cope with a greater volume of colostrum, he’d have a tougher time learning to coordinate the suck-swallow-breathe sequence—an entirely new skill for him to master!

We might wish that a greater volume would help him to gain weight. But it doesn’t work that way. Colostrum isn’t a body-builder! It’s more like a painter! It paints and seals the gut to protect it against harmful, invasive germs.

Technology isn’t always better.
If you are pumping your colostrum, it’s entirely possible that half or more of your “dose” ends up on the flange of the pump. And when using a pump, the colostrum is usually collected into a bottle, so you are likely to lose a milliliter or so there, too. Bottles with artificial nipples are clearly the default in our culture, but maybe you’ve already discovered how inefficient this method is during the colostral phase! A better idea, as Mary Foley RN IBCLC explains, is to use a spoon to collect the colostrum, and to feed it directly to the baby. That’s a great way to use every drop! And, of course, the very best way to get colostrum to the baby involves no technology at all—just offering the breast—and that has virtually no waste!

Things don’t always look as we might expect them to.
We expect that the observable characteristics of something are what we’ve seen before, or what someone has told we will see. Colostrum is a bit of a nonconformist. True, most times, colostrum is an orange-yellow or an orange-gold, due to the betacarotene. However, colostrum can be white or clear or blood-tinged or any other color you can think of, as I described in today’s show {LINK}, or last week’s show {LINK}. Color isn’t that big of a deal.

Not everything is new, or improved.
Finally, volume doesn’t always increase each time you express your milk. Sometimes you get a little, and next time, you might get nothing! If you express 7 ml during the colostral phase, that’s a lot! Mothers make as little as 10 ml and a much as 100 ml of colostrum in a 24-hour period. The average is about 30 ml in a 24-hour period, about 4 ml every 3 hours. That’s less than a teaspoon.

Colostrum is a literally life-giving, life-sustaining substance. It protects your baby against all sorts of health problems, especially infections. Colostrum is a low-volume, high-nutrient substance that literally sticks to the baby’s gut that is a more miraculously powerful first “immunization” than we could ever manufacture in the lab! Be sure your baby gets it, and be sure to hear tips from Marie and her guest, Mary Foley, for getting every last drop!
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Top Ten Tips for Breastfeeding Mothers in a Disaster or Emergency

Listen to the podcast, “Emergency Preparedness, New Milk Storage Guidelines and More”

1. Think ahead and pack a bag.

Alcohol-based wipes and hand sanitizers aren’t as effective as soap and water, but you might not have water. Bring both. Diapers and baby wipes are critical. Gribble and Berry recommend packing 100 diapers and 200 wipes for an exclusively breastfed baby.

2. Remember that stressed mothers can make plenty of good milk.

Certainly, there are stories about mothers being so stressed in a disaster that “they have had their milk scared out of them.” These stories get attention because they are alarming, and sad, and more attention-getting than the stories of mothers who keep on lactating in these circumstances. You just don’t hear about those mothers.

Might you have difficulty achieving a let-down reflex in a stressful situation? Absolutely. It can help to take some deep breaths or use a meditative technique that works for you to promote relaxation–some mothers find it helpful to practice mindfulness, centering their thoughts on their baby and the immediacy of satisfying baby’s needs. Breastfeeding will help you both–the act of breastfeeding causes the release of some hormones that help you and your baby to feel calm.

3. Remember that malnourished mothers can make plenty of good milk.

Let’s face it: The human species is programmed for survival! Your milk has everything your baby needs, even if you are underfed. How so? Your body will draw on your stores of nutrients. (This might not be true in situations where there is profound starvation.)

4. Find ways to express your milk without using an electric pump.

If you need to express your milk during a disaster situation, don’t be stumped by no electrical power. (Many pumps can be used with a car charger, although fuel may be hard to come by, so use this with caution.) Be prepared by learning how to hand-express your milk long before disaster strikes. This simple skill has many advantages, costs nothing, and since you always have your hands with you, it’s convenient!

A manual (cylinder or other) may also work for you. Since they are lightweight and usually have only two parts, they may be easier to care for in a limited-resources, disaster situation. Sure, you might not want to use it on a regular basis, but these can be a good back-up, especially in this situation.

If the problem is engorgement, and if you have what you need to boil a wide-mouthed glass jar, such as a mayonnaise jar, you may be all set. As explained in this World Health Organization manual, a boiled and then cooled (but still warm) jar or bottle placed on your breast can help to draw out the milk.

5. Consider relactating to provide your baby’s nutrition.

If you have lactated before—whether it’s two weeks ago, two months ago, or two years ago, it’s very likely that you can re-establish lactation by stimulating your breasts every two hours. The best way to stimulate the breast is to offer it to your baby directly. Don’t be discouraged if you do not get a full supply right away, but this is entirely doable, and often much safer than using formula.

You can breastfeed even if you are pregnant. However, if it’s late in your third trimester, you may not get much milk volume because of the hormones of late pregnancy.

6. Prevent your frozen milk from thawing.

Prevention is the best strategy. If you suspect that power loss is imminent, make sure your freezer is full. If necessary, add some containers of water or crumpled newspaper to fill the empty space. Why so? Because everything stays frozen for a longer period of time in a full freezer.

Here’s another thing: Find out if any neighbors still have power (or have a generator) and are willing to store your milk. This won’t happen in a widespread emergency situation, but it might work if the power outage is very localized. Just be sure to label your milk!

7. Consider, before discarding your unfrozen milk.

According to the USDA, frozen items will stay frozen for up to 48 hours if the freezer is full and the door is kept closed, even if the power is off–and 24 hours if it is half-full. Also, if ice crystals are still present, the milk is still considered to be frozen. (You can start using it, but be mindful of the effect that giving it, instead of feeding directly, might have on your milk supply.)

8. Avoid using formula, even if it is distributed for free.

It may seem easier to pass the baby to someone else if ready-to-feed bottles of formula are available. It’s not. Formula could have a number of adverse effects on a breastfed baby, including diarrhea or other gastric distress, and it may put him at risk for other health conditions. Also, every time your hungry baby takes formula for a feeding rather than your milk, the lack of stimulation may reduce your milk supply.

Starting an feeding method that relies on clean water isn’t a good idea during an emergency, when your water supply may be compromised.

9. Consider cross-nursing or milk-sharing.

Having your baby nurse from another mother, or consume milk expressed by another mother, is not without risks. But in a disaster situation, you may find yourself weighing the risk/benefit situation in a different light.

Certainly, if you have an abundant supply, and no known infections, you might volunteer to share your milk, especially if another mother is separated from her baby, or if she has died in the disaster. In 2008, a Chinese police officer (who was a breastfeeding mother of a 6-month-old infant) was instrumental in ensuring the health and well-being of several infants in just such a circumstance.

10. Seek help if you need to dry up your milk due to infant loss.

It’s a heart-wrenching idea, and nothing you’ll want to prepare for. But if this happens, and if you do not wish to express your milk, there are steps you can take to dry up your supply. You may want to wait until conditions are sanitary, but if you have access to jasmine leaves (the most well-studied), or cabbage leaves, sage tea, you can try.

Do you have any disaster experience or insight you would like to share?
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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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