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.
Share Button

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!
Share Button

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?
Share Button

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.
Share Button