On Becoming Transliterate: An Interview with Diana West, BA, IBCLC

June is Pride Month, a time to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots and celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community. Originally published in 2016, this piece by Guest Blogger, Nikki Lee RN, BSN, MS, IBCLC, CCE, CIMI, ANLC, CKC remains relevant in the spirit of identity, acceptance, inclusion, and progress.

From dianawest.com
Diana West BA, IBCLC       From dianawest.com

Diana West BA, IBCLC, LLL, is a co-author of many important works, (the 8th edition of the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and Naptime Strategies for the Breastfeeding Family,  Breastfeeding after Breast and Nipple Procedures, The Clinician’s  Breastfeeding Triage Tool, and The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk) , as well as the sole author of Defining your Own Success: Breastfeeding after Breast Reduction Surgery and editor of her father’s autobiography, In the Line of Duty.   In addition to her websites, she is well known as an educated, lively, and passionate public speaker. Our Milky Way blog is grateful for the chance to interview Diana about her research article, “Transmasculine individuals’ experiences with lactation, chestfeeding, and gender identity: a qualitative study,” co-authored with Trevor MacDonald, Joy Noel-Weiss, Michelle Walks, MaryLynne Biener, Alanna Kibbe and Elizabeth Myler.

The universe works in wonderful and mysterious ways. Several years ago, Diana received an email from a would-be author asking her to read a book that he had written. There was something special about this letter that captured her attention. In it, Trevor MacDonald, a trans man wrote of reading her book Defining Your Own Success: Breastfeeding After Breast Reduction Surgery, and then of being inspired to chestfeed his own child.

As the right of all people to their own identity is one of her core values, Diana entered into a relationship with Mr. MacDonald, first as a mentor guiding him towards publication, and then as a friend, sharing a room with him at an ILCA conference, and then as a collaborator, working together.

He was appreciative of and patient with her respectful approach; he taught about this new world, where an untold number of people struggle without help, staying underground as they fear the judgments of the helping professions.

They thought of publishing a case study but changed their minds to do a research study instead. While they initially envisioned a quantitative study, after consulting with others, including Canadian Professor Joy Noel-Weiss, they decided to do a qualitative study.  Dr. Noel-Weiss helped them to see that the data in a qualitative study would be richer, giving insight into the motivations behind lived experience; this would be far more valuable than evaluating numbers.

After developing research questions and obtaining clearance from an ethics committee, the merry band applied for a modest CHID (the Canadian version of the US’s National Institutes of Health) grant.  In an amazing affirmation of the value of this research, they received $100,000, far more than they had requested, because the agency was so impressed with the topic!

The 3 goals of their study were: to understand the lived experience of the transgender men who chose to birth and to chestfeed, to understand the barriers they encounter, and to provide guidance to healthcare providers.

Many breastfeeding helpers came of age and into their avocations in the 1970s, when women were fighting for autonomy and rights to freedom in birth and breastfeeding. Today, some feel that trans men are encroaching on women and their feminist perspectives. This is why trans women were banned from a women’s festival in Michigan. Instead of saying, “These are more women who have been denied dignity” they were seen as men who were encroaching on a woman’s needs for equality of choice. However, gender identity is not binary, i.e., only male or female.

A cisgender person, one who identifies as the gender manifested by their genitalia may not be absolutely and always female or male.  Gender identity is fluid. We may feel more male on some days, more female on others, and there are days when we feel neuter. There are mutational variations of hormones that create variations on gender. Babies are born with ambiguous genitalia. There are cultures where people can be recognized as 2-spirited. Gender, identity, and sexual preference are complex traits, there is a wide range of variation, and consequently, people don’t all fit into a neat “either/or” category.

Thirty-three years ago, I met a great fiddler named Gary. Gary was the most crass and obnoxious man that I ever met. It was impossible to have a conversation with him without his making some gross joke or sexually slanted comment. I didn’t like to be with him, because he was such a cad. He lived in the South; I lived in the North and didn’t have contact with him very often.

Fast-forward 25 years, when I run into Gary at a fiddler’s convention. Only now Gary has breasts, is wearing a dress, earrings and make-up and wants to be known as Marie. We had an amazingly open discussion, where I got to ask all the questions I wanted to ask and she answered them all. She told me that all the deeply difficult work, all the family disruption (before transitioning, she had married and had 2 children), and all the medical and surgical interventions were worth it, as now she felt complete and comfortable in her own skin for the first time in her life.  All was well except for one thing, family and friends continued to use the wrong pronoun; myself included. I got annoyed with her for being annoyed with me when I kept using male pronouns; I said to her, “Gary, I’ve known you for 33 years as a male and it is hard for me to switch gears quickly enough for you.”

After hearing this story, Diana gently suggested,

 “Oh yes you can, and here is why. For a trans person to come out to the world as someone who is a different sex than the world has known them before, is one of the most difficult situations imaginable. It is difficult to be brave enough to be one’s true self out in the world. Acceptance is what is craved, in order to have dignity. When we who are cisgender do not recognize that change, we are denying that person their dignity. We can make the effort to honor the pronoun they choose.  Everybody has the right to the pronoun of their choice. It is simply a matter of respectfully asking them what pronoun they prefer.” (This means adding new terms, understanding, and words to our vocabulary.)

Diana goes on to say, “We don’t know people’s paths, and we don’t know their hurts. When we accept people choosing the path that meets their needs, we recognize their right to be who they are. “

She paraphrases Mr. MacDonald in saying that many people find the concept of being transgender disturbing because they picture themselves having to act and dress differently than their true selves. But really, it is the trans folks that have had to act differently to who they really are until they transition. Putting it another way, was there a day that you consciously chose to be cisgender? Or, do your feelings about your gender identity flow from a place inside you, where the truth of who you are has always lived?

Society is presently a challenge, as there is anger about trans gender.  Some people believe that sexuality is a choice and manifest their fear in attacks that fill our feeds and screens. The rudeness and brutality of the Internet and the rhetoric of today’s political debates is painful to those struggling for recognition.  It behooves us all to post and tweet with courtesy and respect.

Science and technology have made possibilities real that were hitherto unimaginable. Think of the suffering that has gone on for millennia, where differently gendered folk could only dream of the pharmacy and the surgery that would enable them to have their physical bodies match their inside spirits. Today, these dreams can come true; now, everyone in society needs new skills and new understanding to catch up to the new reality.

Another barrier is the public attitude about children who are being parented by trans men.  Diana responds,

Children raised with love and respect and healthy growing environments, have the best chance to be wonderful adults. We don’t have to be perfect parents; the only ideal for a parent is deeply loving a child and taking care of them.  There is NOTHING about being transgender that precludes them from being a good parent. In fact, they may have more understanding to teach about the importance of treating everyone with dignity.”

Most trans people are not activists as they are too busy living their lives. The trans experience is really about self-actualization, a concept younger folks may not yet appreciate.

So far, what is most helpful is social support from family and friends. (This is true for breastfeeding too!) The people who donated a lot of the milk that Mr MacDonald used to chestfeed were Mennonites and Mormons. Although they knew who he was, their priority was on feeding the child human milk, and they didn’t judge him nor withheld their gift.

As healthcare professionals, we need to become transliterate, so that we can be helpful and respectful to anyone that we care for. This means educating ourselves so that our clients don’t have to explain everything over and over again with each one of us. The new research article has great information about how healthcare professionals can help transgender clients more effectively.  Diana also has a FAQ on her website to aid the transgender person in finding the help they need for birth and breastfeeding, and for healthcare professionals to educate themselves.

Ask about preferred pronouns and “what would you like your child to call you?” There is no need to apologize for what we don’t know; “I want to be helpful, how can I help?” is a lovely way to start a discussion.  People make mistakes; those who are transgender understand this. Our responsibility is not to be stuck on our mistakes, and to make the transition to helping and not to impose our own struggles.  We also want to avoid overcompensating to prove how cool and current we are.

If transgender issues aren’t comfortable for you, remember that as healthcare professionals, we are ethically bound to take care of people that we may not like. We have an obligation to provide best care; this requires only an intention of respect. We need to treat people in a humane way, as we should be treating ourselves.

Grammar is another stumbling block, as language locks old societal attitudes into our unconscious, where they are negative influence on our interactions with others.  Diana says, “ ‘They’ has been a plural noun; we have to let go of old grammar rules and use ‘they’ as a singular noun.”  (Facebook is doing this.) This will get rid of the gender binary view, and bring us forward into the 21st century. Language is a dynamic, changing thing; language change fuels our intention and is manifested in our actions.

A mistake that I made in this interview was to talk about the “transgendered” This noun is similar to the term “colored”, it is a subtle way of expressing the terrible attitudes towards “those people who are different to and inferior than us.”  Diana encourages the use of the word “transgender”.

Diana reminds us that of the need for acceptance, dialogue and welcoming all points of view; she is collaborating with transgender speakers to introduce her talks on that topic. Her goal is to be a cisgender Ally; the capital ‘A’ is intentional and reflects the importance of a new social advocacy role in supporting human rights. Her dream is for all people to become self-actualized and lead the best and healthiest lives possible.

We applaud Diana for breaching this barrier, and educating us about human rights. We can use this information in our own communities, and together, build an inclusive and respectful world.

Nursing an Adopted Baby

By Guest Blogger*, Donna Walls, RN, BSN, ICCE, IBCLC, ANLC

Donna Walls


Whenever I mention the topic of breastfeeding an adopted baby, people always look surprised and puzzled and usually have lots of questions. So, here are some answers.

How does it work?

Adoptive nursing is also referred to as induced lactation- meaning the production of milk without the initial start-up process of pregnancy.  In the simplest terms breastfeeding happens between the brain and breasts. Pregnancy starts the process by sending the message to begin milk (colostrum) production, but when the infant begins nursing the real magic happens.

Many women who are in the adoption process have been through a lot–hormonal medications, surgeries and disappointments–so the possibility of nursing can be a very emotional decision.

Do adoptive mothers make enough milk?

As a lactation care provider for many years I have had the privilege of working with many adopting mothers and the most important aspect is not the volume of milk, but the mother and baby breastfeeding relationship. Adopting mothers look forward to sharing the closeness and joy of breastfeeding their baby which is the focus, rather than ounces.

What are the best strategies for getting off to a good start?

Physiologically, pregnancy “primes the pump” preparing the mother’s body for full milk production when the baby arrives. So, many adopting mothers choose to begin “priming the pump” by pumping their breasts before the arrival of the baby. But, how much? How often? It all depends on the mother, her individual situation and whatever works for her and her lifestyle. There are no “rules”, just the idea of sending some messages to the brain that there soon may be a customer for their milk.

Some mothers choose to work with their healthcare provider for medications which mimic pregnancy as preparation for lactation. Others may begin a combination of medications and pumping days or weeks ahead of the expected birth.

It is ideal for the adopting mother to hold her baby skin to skin during the hours after birth and offer the breast as soon as feasible. Whether or not this is possible depends on the contracts drawn between the birth mother and adopting parents and/or birth site policies. Discussion between the birth site staff and birth mother prior to birth of the baby is recommended to work out any concerns or questions that might arise in the first hours and days.

Just as with milk production after pregnancy, early and frequent skin to skin and breastfeeding is the key to optimum milk production and early bonding and attachment.

Since many adopting mothers will not produce a full supply of milk there needs to be a plan for supplemental feeding for the newborn. An at-breast supplementer such as the Lact-Aid or Supplemental Nutrition System provides needed extra milk or formula to the nursling while the baby is at the breast stimulating the mother’s to make milk. Other supplementation methods can be offered such as cup feeding or bottle feeding can be offered, whichever works best for the adopting mother and family.

Too often when developing a plan for adopting mothers we concentrate on the process of inducing milk, and we sometimes forget to teach the breastfeeding basics: correct latch, feeding cues, normal feeding patterns, resources for support and anticipatory guidance for the first days and weeks of lactation. Some adoptive mothers may want to attend a prenatal breastfeeding class (I have seen such women leave the class with a whole support group), while others prefer individual discussion and education.

How can I learn more about adoptive nursing^?

Some resources for information concerning adoptive nursing are the books entitled Breastfeeding Without Birthing by Alyssa Schnell or Breastfeeding the Adopted Baby by Debra Stewart Peterson, both with lots of practical strategies.

Other sources of information and support include:

In summary

Adoptive nursing can be a great opportunity for new adoptive families and reminds everyone that breastfeeding is so much more than a food delivery system, it really is about the sharing, caring and finding love between a mother and her baby.



^Please note: Some of these texts and websites may recommend medications, including herbal preparations. It is recommended that women consult a professional health care provider to evaluate the safety of such substances for their own health. Medications, including herbs, can have significant side effects.



*(Ed. Note: Our Milk Way blogger Jess Fedenia is on parental leave for the months of July, August, and September, 2016 to welcome a third child into the family. During Jess’s leave, members of the Healthy Children Project circle are taking up the blogger role.) Thanks to Donna, and all of our guest bloggers for pitching in – we look forward to welcoming Jess back!

Why do Women Choose to Breastfeed (or Keep Breastfeeding)?

By Guest Blogger* Donna Walls, RN, BSN, ICCE, IBCLC, ANLC

Donna Walls

The reasons women choose are as varied as the women themselves. As a clinical lactation consultant for 29 years now I have often wondered and talked with women and their families about why they chose to breastfeed and even more important why they continue to nurse when problems occur.

There have been many promotional programs over the last decades. Traditionally these have focused on lists of the benefits of receiving human milk for babies, including enhanced cognitive development, reduced risk of allergies and asthma, lower incidence of obesity and diabetes, childhood leukemia and SIDS. More recently breastfeeding advocates began also including the benefits to mothers as well, including lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease among those who choose to breastfeed.

The Department of Health and Human Services has set breastfeeding goals for the nation. In 2010 the goal was to have 75% of mothers beginning to breastfeeding and have 50% still breastfeeding at 6 months and 25% still breastfeeding at 1 year. Now the goals we are currently working toward are 81.9% beginning to breastfeed with 60.6% breastfeeding at 6 months and 34.1% at 1 year by the year 2020. We haven’t met these goals yet but we are closer than ever- yay- the message has been heard.

What have pregnant women said was the message that made sense to them? Of course the health benefits are important, but what are some of the other reasons women give when deciding to breastfeed?

Years ago I had a patient who came to my breastfeeding class, seemed interested and asked a lot of good questions. After class was over and everyone was gone she approached me and said she never planned on breastfeeding, she even thought it was a bit gross and messy but her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer and she read that breastfeeding can reduce her risk of breast cancer. She breastfed for about 2 years and after a couple months called me to confess that she had, despite her previous opinion, fallen in love with breastfeeding.

Laney,Bella, bf 017

Another mom whose husband was diabetic was breastfeeding as a preventive treatment for her baby. She was never a warm fuzzy person and often talked about feeling blue and being easily stressed, but while she was breastfeeding she noted how much better she felt, how breastfeeding was a welcomed surprise to lift her mood and spirits.

Cost has always been a motivator as well. The cost of purchasing formula can be a deciding factor for many families. According to Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC, the cost of formula feeding an infant for the first 6 months of life can range from $428.96 to $1662.22, depending on type of formula and brand. Some will cite low-to-moderate income families’ ability to get formula through participation in  the USDA Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) but, WIC provides only supplemental foods along with nutrition education, it’s not designed to provide all the formula needed. WIC has also done a great job with providing incentivized food packages to breastfeeding families as a means of encouraging breastfeeding.

Other non-health related benefits can also be a big part of the reason to begin or maybe continue nursing. Convenience is often not touted as a benefit, but I believe it should be marketed more vigorously: no formula preparation, no bottle washing and so much easier for nighttime feeds. Travel can also be made easier when there is no need to figure out a way to mix, warm and store feeds in the car, airplane or in hotels.

In 2011 Avery & Magnus, released findings of their work, reporting that mothers who feel prepared, knowledgeable, and confident about breastfeeding typically have better outcomes after birth. It is so unfortunate that that we have many young women who have never seen a nursing baby, much less spend time seeing how it works. In traditional cultures, learning occurred through children watching mothers breastfeed and asking questions about how this thing really works.

With the improving breastfeeding rates in the US, more children are observing breastfeeding,  and attitudes toward public breastfeeding is slowly changing and we are starting to see more moms nursing in stores, restaurants, airports and sporting events. Do we still have a long way to go- Oh yes- but your women are more likely to at least catch a glimpse of breastfeeding now that 10 years ago. It would be great to reach a point where women don’t feel the need to use covers and “hiders” when their babies need to be fed,

A recent study by Amy Brown found that women are also looking for more education of extended family so they can count on getting support from all family members. In the first weeks of breastfeeding support is key. Negative attitudes can be deadly. Many well-meaning friends and family offer “suggestions”, often based on misinformation or old wives tales. Sometimes when a new mother expresses concerns about her baby nursing frequently the immediate response is that she is “starving” her baby and she needs to give formula. When the baby wants to be held and cuddled (normal behavior for newborns) she is often told breastfeeding is spoiling that baby and she needs to let the baby “cry it out” rather than responding the infant’s cues. If the mother runs across any problems or concerns it seems more expedient to give advice to just give formula rather than helping her to fix the problem!

In my clinical practice working with new mothers I kept a journal of responses of mothers coming in for sore nipples. Most were between 1 and 3 weeks post birth.  I asked them why they continued to breastfeed even though they were experiencing problems, some even pain. The responses were from “they told me it would hurt for a week (we really need to dispel that myth quickly) so I just kept going” to “it’s so much cheaper” to the number one answer, “I knew it was the best thing for my baby”.  How sad that because of misperceptions and bad advice these moms had to live through the first week(s) in pain or dreading what should be a beautiful experience with her baby!

What does real support for our breastfeeding moms look like? In a perfect world breastfeeding would be the normal way to feed babies. Women wouldn’t be harassed for breastfeeding in public and all hospitals would provide the kind of care that ensured early successful nursing.

We can continue to educate professionals, extended families and expectant and new parents on the basics of lactation.

More than anything we need to do all we can to build a new mother’s confidence in her own abilities. We can avoid using negative terms such as “your nipples are not the best for breastfeeding” (nipples come in all shapes and sizes but are designed to feed human babies!), “your milk will come in in 3-4 days” (she has milk before the baby is born-colostrum is milk!) or listing all the problems that could possibly happen. Be there to listen, provide realistic anticipatory guidance, offer only evidence-based care, give positive feedback and refer her onward if indeed she has encounters problems beyond your scope.

So let’s listen to what women need and assure we have programs in place to provide the support and education needed for healthier mothers and babies!!



*(Ed. Note: Our Milk Way blogger Jess Fedenia is on parental leave for the months of July, August, and September, 2016 to welcome a third child into the family. During Jess’s leave, members of the Healthy Children Project circle are taking up the blogger role.)

Connecting to Mother Earth: Toxic chemicals and their impact on maternal child health

By Guest Blogger* Donna Walls, RN, BSN, ANLC, ICCE, IBCLC


Every Day is Earth Day!

Donna Walls
Donna Walls

The first Earth Day celebration was in April 22, 1970. The founders of the movement were smart enough to recognize how important it is to care for our planet and soon we were making the connection between the health of the planet and human health. Since that time we begun looking closely into the effects of harmful environmental substances on pregnant women, the developing fetus, infants, children and families.

In 2013 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine released a joint statement that said: “toxic chemicals in our environment harm our ability to reproduce, negatively affect pregnancies and are associated with numerous long-term health problems.” With this statement came a recommendation for all pregnant women to receive information on avoiding toxic chemicals.

What does research tell us about the impact of toxic chemicals, and what implications do findings have for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers?

The environmental chemical exposures that are “of concern” are all around us, including herbicides and pesticides, plasticizing components in all types of plastic, ingredients of personal care products, food additives and cleaning supplies. The specific concerns range from hormone disruption, central nervous system disruptions, cancer and of particular concern to pregnant women are birth defects and pre-term labor. These nasty little chemicals are, unfortunately, hiding in many of the products we use in our everyday life.

One particularly troublesome group of chemicals are known as xenoestrogens or environmental estrogens. These substances are chemically very much like naturally occurring estrogen produced by females and responsible for many of our reproductive physiology. Thanks to estrogen we develop breasts and begin our menstrual cycles in puberty. Throughout our lives the right amount of estrogen helps us prepare for pregnancy and protects us from heart disease and osteoporosis.

Too much estrogen or foreign estrogens can wreak havoc on our reproductive lives. These artificial estrogen-mimicking chemicals will settle into receptor sites on the cells of our breasts, ovaries and uterus, settle into the sites but instead of the normal reaction our bodies react in a “not so normal” way. We are seeing this especially in young girls, with early puberty, sometimes as early as 8 or 9 years old for breast development and menarche or the beginning of the menstrual cycles.

So is this a problem? Doesn’t sound like it, but in fact it is. Remember I said the right amount or right length of exposure of estrogen is good- too much can cause menstrual disorders, infertility and even reproductive cancers. And this is not just a female problem. We first noticed the estrogen feminizing effects in amphibians and reptiles with disappearing genitals after the concentrated use of herbicides and pesticides in the habitat of the Everglade swaps. The same negative effects have been noted in males with newborn males exhibiting smaller penises, scrotums and distance between the scrotum and anus- a shrinking genitalia, with evidence of eventual lower sperm counts.

Some of the most common sources of xenoestrogens are found in foods, plastics and personal care products. Many lotions and soaps contain parabens- labeled as butyl, propyl, ethyl or methyl paraben. Parabens have been associated with breast cancer and lowered milk supply during lactation. Phthalates (pronounced without the ph!) are in plastics and are associated with increased risk of premature birth. Researchers have found that babies and children with high fetal exposures to phthalates had a 70% increased risk of developing asthma, these exposures were through foods- enteric coatings, gels, stabilizers, personal care products, detergents, plastic toys and products, paints, inks, and pharmaceuticals

Another well publicized chemical of concern is bisphenol-A or BPA. Recent studies associate decreased maternal pup rearing behaviors in rats after exposure to BPA during pregnancy. Other negative consequences to BPA exposures include hormone disruption, altered behavior in babies and children, obesity, diabetes, ADHD and cancer. BPA is found in numerous child-related products. Several states: Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Washington, Wisconsin, and Vermont now have laws restricting or banning the sale of child care products containing BPA, such as bottles and sippy cups. Research supports the concern that children are at more vulnerable to the negative effects of BPA. Other sources of BPA include food can linings and an unlikely source is coating of sales receipts.

Tips for a cleaner, safer pregnancy:

  • Avoid using #7 polycarbonate plastic for food or drinks
  • Minimize handling sales receipts
  • Use fewer canned foods- opt for fresh or frozen
  • Use glass, stainless steel or bamboo containers for preparing or storing food
  • Do not heat any plastic food containers in the microwave
  • Breastfeed to avoid bottle exposures- if feeding your milk in a bottle use glass bottles
  • If you are packing food in plastic bags place an unbleached paper towel between your food and the baggie

What about other substances to avoid?

Cleaning products are another source of chemicals of concern. We have all been indoctrinated into the values of being clean, maybe too clean. Some of the cleaning products we are now using are dangerous to our health and maybe destroying the good bacteria our bodies need to maintain a healthy immune system. We love chlorine bleach and believe it may be the best cleaner available- but there is a dark side to chlorine- with too much use it can release chlorine gas that can cause asthma and other respiratory problems. Formaldehyde (also called formalin) is a known carcinogen and is found not only in cleaners but also in bedding and towels- oh my! Ingredients such as Quaternium-15, Quaternium-24, Sodium Hypochlorite (Bleach), Sulfuric Acid, Ammonium Chloride have also been shown to increase respiratory irritation and asthma.

laney cleaning 2 (2)
Laney helps Grandma Donna mix up an eco-and-human friendly household cleaner

Here are safer (and often less expensive) cleaners:

  • Vinegar – sanitizes and removes stains
  • Lemon juice – works safely to disinfect
  • Baking soda – a great all-purpose cleaner
  • Borax – all natural cleanser
  • Cornstarch – easy, natural de-greaser
  • Olive oil – great for dusting and furniture polishing
  • Pure essential oils – natural germ killers and natural fragrances
  • A basic bathroom and kitchen cleaner can be made by mixing equal parts of distilled water and white vinegar. Store in a spritzer bottle for easy use.

For more information and how to make safer product choices visit the Environmental Working Group’s Cleaning Guides.

What about personal care products?

We love to use them, smear them on, scrub with them, spritz and spray and rub them on. But what are the concerns with these products? Americans use a lot of personal care products, a lot! That’s how we unfortunately get such high levels of toxic chemicals in our systems. So the first guideline is to use fewer of these products.

The second guideline is to use products with fewer ingredients. For example, a simple moisturizer for face, hands, and body is olive oil; coconut oil is also a simple, clean way to moisturize. And what about soaps? You only need one, a natural plant-based soap is best like castile or glycerin. These can be used for hands, bathing and shampoo, no need for different products with multiple ingredients. We want to limit the ingredients we know are harmful to the planet and humans such as: 1.4 dioxane, parabens, synthetic dyes and fragrances, PEGs, lead, nail polish and phthalates.

Avoid hand sanitizers and washes with anti-bacterial chemicals such as triclosan which destroys our friendly, helpful bacteria along with the unwanted germs. An easy, non-toxic hand cleaner is 1 oz of distilled water with 30 drops of lavender pure essential oil- all natural, safe and effective.

Here is an easy, inexpensive recipe for a basic hand and body lotion:

  • 3/4 cup base oil (olive, sweet almond, wheat germ)
  • 1 cup aloe gel
  • 1/2 cup shea, mango or cocoa butter.
  • Mix well. Add essential oils as desired

The Environmental Working Group also provides guidance on personal care products and cosmetics.

Lastly let’s look at our foods:

We are reading more and more in the news about the need to get back to basic, real food and the advice holds true for pregnancy as well. Health reports surface daily on the side effects of food additives such as food dyes which are linked to cancer and nervous system disorders, preservatives, hormones and genetically modified organisms. Current recommendations for pregnancy and breastfeeding are simple:

  • Eat low on the food chain- lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole grains
  • Choose organic whenever possible. Check out the “Clean 15” and the “Dirty Dozen” on the Environmental Working Group web site to help you make cleaner food choices.
  • Minimize processed foods with preservatives, colors and ingredients you can’t pronounce and
  • Avoid synthetic sweeteners- use agave, honey or stevia
  • Avoid genetically modified foods- not listed on labels but choosing organic foods do not allow the use of GMOs
  • Choose fish wisely- go to /www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/guide.asp for current recommendations
  • Avoid pans with non-stick coatings- opt instead for stainless steel or cast iron cookware

Early parenting is a great time to educate yourself about healthy eating habits- it can last a lifetime for your family.

We can’t lock our families up in a pristine bubble but what can we do to protect them?

First, educate ourselves and during pregnancy and breastfeeding we have an extra motivation to learn about the connection between the health of the environment and human health. Then make a plan to make changes: start reading labels, make some simple cleaning products to start using, take a critical look in your kitchen and bathroom cupboards-replace those products that are of concern and talk with family and friends about making simple lifestyle changes. Every positive change you make can make a big difference in the health of your family, and the planet!


*(Ed. Note: Our Milk Way blogger Jess Fedenia is on parental leave for the months of July, August, and September, 2016 to welcome a third child into the family. During Jess’s leave, members of the Healthy Children Project circle are taking up the blogger role.)

“We are here together…I am yours and you are mine”: One family’s experience with breastfeeding

By: Holly Hansen , BFA, Project Manager, Healthy Children Project, Inc.*

Holly Headshot
Interviewer Extraordinaire, Holly Hansen

At my age, finding out that friends of mine are having a baby isn’t uncommon; last summer I was overjoyed at the news that my dear friend, Nora, was pregnant. I knew how excited she was to start a family, so when Nora told me she was expecting, I was over the moon for her!

Then it hit me: Nora’s going to be a mom. She certainly wasn’t the first of my friends to get pregnant; a handful of friends from high school had gotten married and had children years earlier. But Nora was the first really close friend I knew who was about to make a tiny human and then raise it.

When I was asked to write a couple of blog posts (as Jess herself produces a tiny human), interviewing Nora was one of the first ideas that came to mind. She’s a first-time mother living in New York City, and one of the most compassionate and brave people I know. Talking to Nora about her experience with Baby Price helps continue my education into what motherhood means, and I’m glad to share it with you!


Did you always know you would breastfeed?

My mom breastfed both my brother and I so I always knew I would someday.

What was your previous exposure to breastfeeding like?

I worked as a babysitter and my mom had a daycare in my house growing up, so I was incredibly familiar with moms who breastfeeding. I was very lucky to have many families I babysat for who breastfed and so I was exposed to how they did it in New York City. One mom in particular would breastfeed in her carrier while we would walk around the city. She was such a role model for normalizing breastfeeding as a normal, on the go, part of her day.

I also watched a lot of YouTube videos and documentaries on breastfeeding right before I gave birth. Reading articles on Kellymom.com so that I would feel confident when starting breastfeeding, or at least know where I could find help if I needed it.

What was it like the first time you were able to breastfeed your child?

Watching my son do the crawl towards my breast was amazing. He needed a little assistance to latch for the first time, but seeing him figure it out and experiencing us figuring it out together and our new relationship was so rewarding. My milk came in fairly fast, and with the help of my midwives, doula, and husband we were able to find success and I felt confident that I was able to create this relationship of breastfeeding.

What (if any) challenges did you encounter while learning to breastfeed?

My left nipple had always been inverted, and so my son would get frustrated when it was time to nurse on that side at first as it would take time to get the nipple to stay for him to latch. So I did experience a couple of plugged ducts on that side and some engorgement which I was able to remedy with a warm wash cloth and Epson salt bath. I loved that I had online resources that helped guide me in clearing up the problem so that I wouldn’t panic. Looking back on it now, it did take time for my nipples to not feel uncomfortable and thank goodness for ice packs and nipple cream! But I knew those minor uncomfortable moments were so worth giving my baby the best nutrients possible.


Nora City Hall
Nora and Price nursing on the steps of NYC City Hall

Have you ever had to feed/pump in a less-than-ideal place/situation (i.e. subway, audition, etc.)?

My friend gave me a book called The Places You’ll Feed which is a take on Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go and oh my, was she right! I quickly learned to feed anywhere and everywhere. I got really good at feeding him in the front pack. I’ve fed him on the subway, in the middle of rehearsal–my favorite memory is doing a reading of a new play in which I was feeding him in the front pack while standing still as a “tree”. I was recently on my way to catch the Amtrak train from NYC to Albany and we were on the go and baby needed to eat, so I carried him in my arms with my boob popped out of my sun dress charging down 8th Ave near Penn Station! A police man gave me a double take when he realized I was nursing and then smiled, gave me a thumbs up, along with a “good for you” nod of approval.

There have been a couple of rehearsals I was at where baby did not come with me, and I actually had to hand express milk into a toilet in a bathroom. That was poor planning on my part; I quickly learned to carry little freezer bags and would hand express my supply if I was at a long rehearsal. Most of the time I had my husband or a friend come hold the baby at rehearsal, and would feed him on a break or while I was not immediately working.

How do you balance breastfeeding while working/travelling for work?

I feel very lucky to have two professions that allow me to bring my baby with me, for the most part. As an Independent Consultant for Arbonne International, I can set my own hours of work which entails video conferences from home, coffee dates and group meeting that not only allow me to bring my baby with, but are encouraged. I have lead trainings over video conference in which I tip up my camera and keep baby in my lap while breastfeeding. I also bring him along to my one-on-one consultations over coffee and when he’s hungry I feed him. I’ve also had the chance to travel on the plane and train and car which has led to some interesting places to feed as well. I quickly took on the motto I once heard a Lactation Consultant say,” Boobies are for Babies, if you don’t like it you can put a blanket over YOUR head,” and so I confidently feed whenever we need. I find that when you feed with love, people respect that it’s you loving your baby. I also pump at night to keep a supply at home for those days he’s with Daddy or those days we need coverage for shows and date nights. We have gotten really good at packing freezer bags and milk in our luggage!

Breastfeeding is sadly still not 100% publicly accepted; have you ever found yourself in a situation where you have faced any negative responses?

I have not had any direct negative comments when I feed. I’ve sensed that some people feel uncomfortable when I do, but I think it comes out of a wanting to respect me and my child; I used to do the same thing when I was around women breastfeeding and now I can’t help but think, “Why was I soooo awkward.” I usually give people permission if they feel like they should give me privacy, that for me, I’m okay if they are okay. I feed my baby with that attitude as if this is an everyday, normal activity, because it is! I think I’m so comfortable doing it now, that sometimes people don’t even realize that I am nursing my little guy. That being said, I do love our one-on-one nursing sessions at home or somewhere quiet and alone for us to connect. I love that I have the freedom to be where I need and want to be, and most importantly be where the best place for my son to eat is and I realize that is going to be different for each Mommy and baby. For Price and I, that is usually on-the-go and no covers or blankets because we like to see each other and not feel tangled up and sweaty.


How (if at all) has your partner been involved with breastfeeding?

My husband has been so incredibly supportive. He propped pillows up around me in the early days to find the right position, watched YouTube videos on positioning before our baby got here and has told me there is not a more beautiful picture than his wife feeding his child. Those loving words, make me feel like a Mommy Goddess and that has given me so much confidence in my ability as a mom. I know breastfeeding has brought us even closer. Those simple words of encouragement not only make me all happy and twitterpated inside, but I actually have witnessed that when I’m pumping in the living room, if he walks in my let down comes faster! Ah, oxytocin the love drug, how fab is that! He also would rub my feet while I would nurse in the early days, and run my ice packs back and forth.

How long do you plan to breastfeed your current child, and will you breastfeed future children?

I feel incredibly confident in listening to my son and his needs and know that breastfeeding is a relationship, but I am hoping to go for at least a year if not 2 years of nursing with my son. We hope to have more children in the future and I’m excited to see the relationship I will get to build through nursing with them. I am also open to the idea of tandem feeding if we have children close in age.

What has been the greatest help to you while navigating these first few months of breastfeeding?

I was a huge fan of Kellymom.com and my doula and midwives were great at prepping me before the baby was here. I also found support in our local mom’s group led by a lactation consultant and sleep coach.

What advice/knowledge do you wish you had known before starting breastfeeding that you would want to pass on to others?

Know that your breasts are going to take a couple weeks, if not a month to get adjusted. I also didn’t realize how many breast pads I would go through. Invest in some really good, comfy sleep/nursing bras to live in. Having to sleep in a bra again was something I wasn’t thinking about pre-baby. I am a huge fan of double layering my clothes. A tank top you can pull down, and a flowing shirt you can wear on top to pull up makes feeding in public feel less exposed. I also highly recommend having nipple cream and cold freezer packs ready for engorgement as your body adjusts to its new function! And most of all, be patient with yourself and your baby. It’s not just about a LATCH, it’s a relationship between two people, it takes time to establish, but that time and focus dedicated to finding out your perfect position is so rewarding. Hang in there and surround yourself with positive people: lactation care providers, moms’ groups, and online support groups are all great to have established before little baby gets here!

How has breastfeeding changed you, your relationship to your partner, etc.?

I feel more confident as a woman, mom and wife breastfeeding. It’s a powerful, yet calm, feeling to be able to be your little one’s sole provider of nutrients. It’s amazing that nature creates the perfect food for our little ones. I feel such a sweet and close connection to my son when we have a nursing session. The way he looks up and smiles at me, that feeling that, “Hey, we are here together! I am yours and you are mine,” that bond is like nothing else I’ve ever felt in my life. To include Daddy, we sing our son the same three songs every night right before bedtime while he nurses. Daddy holds me, while I hold our baby. It’s a great family memory we are creating.

I know many partnerships and cultures avoid feeding in public or don’t even consider breastfeeding because of the sexual nature and association we have with breasts. I’m very much of the mindset that why can’t they be both? I think breasts can be functional and sexy. Life doesn’t have to be black and white. We are flexible beings, and just as a Mom can be strong she can also be vulnerable and I think if we as a culture empower women to follow their instincts, we will begin to release this “shame” about our parenting, birthing, or feeding choices. If we simply just remove the judgement of each other, we can all start to feel strong, confident, and sexy while still being our soft, open, and sensitive selves.

Thank you, Nora, for sharing your experience and insights!



*(Ed. Note: Our Milk Way blogger Jess Fedenia is on parental leave for the months of July, August, and September, 2016 to welcome a third child into the family. During Jess’s leave, members of the Healthy Children Project circle are taking up the blogger role.)