AABN was founded by Angelia Wilks-Tate and Dalvery Blackwell who set out to address breastfeeding disparities through a community-led organization. Blackwell now serves as the organization’s first executive director and Wilks-Tate serves as the President of the Board Directors.
Yesterday, the organization and its partners hosted their ninth annual Lift Up Every Baby! Celebration. Lift Up Every Baby “is all about the blissful happiness we experience when our community comes together to celebrate, securing our collective power to help create spaces of health and wellness!” the organization shared with their social media followers. Pregnant people and young families were invited to experience a community-drive and “family-centered afternoon of festivities, celebrations, good food and positive vibes.”
It was a whopping 102 degrees during the day with plummeting temperatures at night in Shiprock, New Mexico on the sacred land of Navajo Nation. The soon-to-be new parents’ camp was set up completely off grid with no running water or electricity.
Indigenous Doula, student homebirth midwife, and New Mexico Doula Association birth equity co-chair Natasha Bowman and her colleague Indigenous Doula and the Executive Director for The Navajo Breastfeeding Coalition Amanda Singer, CLC got to chatting about how they could best serve their client who desired a traditional Navajo birth under these conditions.
Considering their own well-being and the safety of their clients, Bowman and Singer initially joked about hauling Bowman and her fiancé LaDarrell Skeet’s fifth wheel out onto the land. But Skeet helped make it a reality.
The team was able to set up a mobile birthing suite for the new family and their care team complete with air conditioning, clean water and a bathroom. What’s more, the certified professional midwife attending the birth brought along her small trailer too.
“When we do births on the Navajo reservation, we have to think outside of the box,” Bowman explains.
Bowman, who has always been interested in labor and delivery, realized while working with the University of New Mexico’s Birth Companion Program, the lack of Indigenous birth workers. During one training, in a roomful of 40 participants, three were Indigenous.
“I was shocked,” Bowman says. “There has to be a change. There has to be more Indigenous birth workers.”
Later, Bowman attended another training with the Changing Woman Initiative, where she first met Singer. Since then, they’ve been realizing their vision of more Indigenous doulas and birth workers.
Bowman and her partners are continually learning the traditional Navajo ways of birthing and bringing those rituals to their clients.
“Some [clients] are for it, and some are against it because they have always been told they should be birthing in a hospital,” Bowman begins.
She goes on to explain that some of her clients have been scolded and ridiculed by pediatricians, other health care providers and even family and friends for planning a home birth despite the evidence confirming that among low-risk women, planned home births result in low rates of interventions without an increase in adverse outcomes for mothers and babies.
Bowman describes some of the elements of traditional birth which include integrating song, herbal remedies, teas and tinctures, and traditional dress in sash belts and moccasins.
“We believe in the exchange of energy and thoughts,” Bowman continues. “Good intentions, pure thoughts, and lots of prayers.”
It is customary for birth workers to tie a bandana over their heads as well as a Sani scarf, sash belt, or rebozo with an arrowhead tucked inside around the waist to protect the reproductive system.
“It is to protect us from the powerful energy the laboring parent is releasing,” Bowman explains. “It is like armor for us.”
Bowman and Singer and their partners are confronting the health realities in their community through other collaborations too. Their funding partners are The Kellogg Foundation, The Brindle Foundation and United HealthCare. Partnering organizations include Indigenous Women Rising, New Mexico Doula Association, Bidii Baby Foods and Saad K’idilyé, a grassroots organization dedicated to providing traditional teachings to the urban Diné communities around Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“A language nest is a community site-based language program for children from birth to three years old where they are immersed in their Native (heritage) language,” as described on their website. “SKDLN is a safe, home-like environment for young children to interact with Diné Bizaad speakers, often elders, through meaningful activities.”
Bowman was able to witness the interactions.
“It was amazing!” she exclaims.
Eventually, Bowman says that she and her colleagues would like to create their own Indigenous Doula training with teachings specific to Navajo birth culture.
In the meantime, they’re celebrating National Breastfeeding Month with Indigenous Milk Medicine Week: From the Stars to a Sustainable Future during the week of August 8 to 14. The breastfeeding coalition will reveal a Navajo translation breastfeeding art piece during this celebration.
And while the fifth wheel doula mobile has stirred up great interest within the community on social media, for the time being, there won’t be an expansion of this service. Bowman and Skeet’s fifth wheel remains on the move though, helping keep the birth team comfortable. Follow its tracks by following the Navajo Breastfeeding Coalition on Facebook.
My oldest daughter was perusing through her baby book the other night and discovered an exhaustive list of the gifts we’d received at my baby showers. Without dismissing how incredibly generous our guests were, looking back, I’d deem 90 percent of the items we received (many of which I’d registered for) useless.
Then I remembered a dear friend of mine who participated in and later facilitated a wonderful, meaningful baby sprinkle activity.
The invitation’s poem read:
Bring two matching beads
We’ll put them on a string
For Super Mom _____ to the hospital to bring (tweak for other birthing spaces)
Armed with our bead string, she’ll have our thoughts near
When she brings forth a child…. So dear!
One of the beads was strung onto a necklace for the mother and the other beads were strung onto bracelets for the guests to wear until the baby was born as a way to send prayers or manifest positivity during pregnancy, birth and beyond.
How I wish I had an artifact such as this to cherish in exchange for the heaps of plastic I’d acquired at my shower!
Now, as a baby shower guest, as tempting as darling baby outfits and beautifully printed blankets are, I generally opt for gifting some of my favorite breastfeeding books like Gill Rapley’s Baby-Led series. Knowledge is an incredible gift and it will never make its way to a landfill.
Pondering more about meaningful gifts for expecting parents and their babies, I got to thinking about how the baby shower is a microcosm of parenting culture. The avalanche of baby bottles, pacifiers, swaddling blankets and other gadgets and technology instigate detachment from baby rather than bonding. So, this week, we’ve compiled suggestions on how to make a baby shower breastfeeding-friendly along with ways to use this celebration as a source of education for parents and their guests.
Provide seed paper or other stationary for guests to record birth and breastfeeding affirmations to be gifted to parents.
This feeding cues game can be adapted for baby shower guests. Not only is it important for new parents to recognize feeding cues, other caregivers need to understand when it’s ideal to feed the baby as well. If those attending the shower understand feeding cues, they’ll know just when to hand back the baby to be fed!
Help for parents sign up
Use the baby shower gathering to post a meal train, house chores, or childcare for older siblings sign up sheet. You could also use this opportunity to gather other helpful postpartum resources.
Decorating and desserts
Swap baby bottles and other gadgets for breasts. Please note, it is advised to exercise care when dealing with breast models in childbirth and breastfeeding education as the symbolic dismembering of the female body can carry powerful negative messages, and the same care should be considered in this case. That said, these colorful, cloth breasts could be used to decorate or given out as party favors!
Try making breast cupcakes in all shapes and sizes or these fun cookies for a special treat.
Similar to popular taste testing games at baby showers, this game was inspired by Gill Rapley’s activity at an International Breastfeeding Conference to bring attention to babies’ autonomy.
Ask participants to partner up. Set out several pureed baby food jars in front of each pair. Each partner takes a turn spoon-feeding the mush to their partner. Open up a discussion about what it was like to be the feeder and what it was like to be fed. For more information about baby-led weaning visit https://www.ourmilkyway.org/the-baby-led-way/.
It is becoming increasingly popular for books to be requested in lieu of cards.
Denise Reynolds, a doula and Birthing From Within Mentor, wrote Labor as a Labyrinth inspired by a Birthing From Within concept developed by Pam England. Pass out or have participants design a labyrinth to follow along with mother’s journey.
Please tell us what other ideas you have for making a baby shower educational and meaningful. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or write in the comments section below.
Green Feeding practices should continue beyond exclusive breastfeeding. When complementary foods are introduced at six months of age, guidelines include:
foods which are naturally occurring foods (such as plants and animals),
minimizing processed (foods prepared with salt, sugar, oils such as canned fruits or vegetables or simple cheeses),
culturally appropriate, family foods which rarely contain concerning levels of sugar, salt, fats, and toxic additives,
and the avoidance of ultra processed foods (foods altered by processing and additives not normally found in foods like dyes, preservatives, stabilizers). Infant formulas fall into the category of ultra processed foods.
Human and planetary health interplay
Breastfeeding is a frequently ignored topic by global climate action leaders despite it being an almost cost-neutral intervention with a huge impact on human and planetary health.
“Recent studies have highlighted the environmental cost of decades of disinvestment in services to support breastfeeding,” the authors of Support for breastfeeding is an environmental imperative write. “When breastfeeding is encouraged and supported the associated infant and maternal health outcomes produce healthier populations that use fewer healthcare resources.”
By contrast, breastmilk substitutes leave an ecological footprint and require energy to manufacture, materials for packaging, fuel for transport distribution, and water, fuel, and cleaning agents for daily preparation and use, and numerous pollutants are generated across this pathway.
Human health is often sacrificed for business interests and profits; the “bottom line” is about dollars and not families’ precious health.
The Green Feeding advocacy document continues to spell out the interplay between human and planetary health through the lens of healthy infant and young child feeding (IYCF).
As a renewable natural food resource, mother’s milk contributes to local food and water security and biodiversity.
Differently, the run-off of waste from dairy farming used in artificial milk development, threatens our water supply with contamination by toxic chemicals, pesticides and harmful microorganisms.
Not breastfeeding poses the risk of multiple avenues for exposure to toxic heavy metals like contaminated foods and artificial baby milks and contaminated water. Municipal tap water, groundwater or well water is used to reconstitute powdered formulas and cereal foods and can contain high levels of toxic chemicals. This same water is used for cleaning feeding equipment and for drinking. The risk is increased because powdered formulas and foods prepared with water are the sole or the major source of food and drink at the most vulnerable stage of infant and young child development.
“Exposure to toxic heavy metals causes permanent decreases in IQ, diminished future economic productivity. Toxic heavy metals endanger infant neurological development and long-term brain function,” according to a 2021 IBFAN report.
Plastic pollution is a huge environmental concern made worse by the need for bottle feeding supplies and consumption of single-use articles.
Green Feeding contributes to the work of social justice and poverty reduction, offering protection to the most vulnerable infants and their families, creating a “level playing field” for family budgets. It challenges inequalities in marginalized households and communities that are most negatively impacted by climate change. The high cost of infant formula and ultra-processed baby foods can overwhelm low and middle income households.
Green Feeding begins prenatally
There’s a growing body of research connecting prenatal and early life toxic exposures to poor health outcomes.
Things like air pollution, heavy metals, phthalates, plasticizers (PCB) and per- and poly-fluoroalkyl acids (PFASs) which are produced during industrial manufacturing and are widely used in consumer items such as food packaging and non-stick cookware have been known to lead to childhood liver disease, development of diabetes and developmental delays in children.
Endocrine disruptor exposure prenatally and early in life also present a major concern to children. Dozens of these endocrine disrupting chemicals are found in pesticides, personal care products, flame retardants and are found in the air, water and foods. They mimic the female hormone estrogen and thus interfere with the action of the body’s natural hormones which influence reproduction, immunity, metabolism and behavior. More on endocrine disruptors can be found in Endocrine disrupting chemicals and the battle to ban them.
In studies from the University of Rochester Medical School, it was found that wistar rats exposed prenatally to environmental estrogens resulted in damage to the alveolar cells of the breast to the extent that the mother rats were unable to nourish their offspring, as documented in Dioxins In Food Chain Linked To Breastfeeding Ills.
Authors LaPlante and Vandenberg note reduced milk production in mice exposed to 17α-ethinyl estradiol, and less “mothering behaviors” in rats exposed to environmental estrogens, including reduced nesting behaviors and pup retrieval have also been documented. These, and other studies, show a concerning trend in the future care of offspring.
Eliciting change from the top down
UNICEF’s 2022 report Places and Spaces: Environments and Children’s Well-Being calls on national, regional, and local governments to make protection of children’s environmental health a priority. Clean air, water and food make up an essential foundation for infant and childhood health. Creating a cleaner, healthier environment begins with the cleanest first food, breastfeeding, and continues with toxic-free foods throughout childhood and adolescence. Taking these steps now reduces the risk of food-induced illnesses including childhood obesity, diabetes, hypertension, asthma, neurodevelopmental delays and immune dysfunction. While we continue to see the predatory marketing of altered foods claiming to offer health benefits, there is no evidence that any of these are superior in any way to clean, naturally occurring foods.
Eliciting change from the bottom up
Anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small thoughtful, committed group of citizens can change the world: indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
Advocate for breastfeeding. Join local breastfeeding support groups and talk about the risks of not breastfeeding for mother, infant, and the environment. Connect with “breastfeeding adjacent” groups such as breast cancer advocates or prenatal and infant information groups or toddler play groups.
Talk with local stores selling maternity or infant care products about the opportunity to present this information to customers. Use social media to help spread the word.
Stay politically aware of legislation and contact your local, state or federal representatives and let them know why and how you support breastfeeding and climate-friendly actions. The United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) is a great launching pad for this type of activism.
If you, your family or friends need to use infant feeding bottles, teats and other products, find safer alternatives like non-plastic infant feeding bottles and plant-based food storage containers.
Connect with local health food or natural food stores, local organic farms or community assisted agriculture groups to brainstorm ways to distribute recipes and meal ideas for cleaner, healthier foods. Local food pantries can also be a great starting point to connect with community resources to encourage healthier family foods.
Local childbirth education and doula groups can also be a great resource for connecting with pregnant or new families to discuss feeding choices.
Many local gardening groups may have information on growing and preparing natural, organic foods.
Join food cooperatives wherever possible and offer education to families on breastfeeding, clean foods and safer food storage/preparing/serving utensils.
Join civic groups in starting community gardens in public spaces, schools, churches and housing complexes.
Breastfeeding is an opportunity to learn. Although breastfeeding is an ancient practice, there is still so much to learn about the lactating breast, breast function and the process of breastfeeding, especially as our modern lives continue to change.
“…Few studies have actively investigated the anatomy of the lactating breast despite the obvious importance a clear understanding of the lactating mammary gland has to both mother and infant,” Geddess writes. “Perhaps this lack of information is a part of the greater reason why many women continue to experience breastfeeding problems.”
Stroke is a growing global health problem. It is the third leading cause of disability adjusted–life years (DALYs) worldwide and the first leading cause of DALYs in China, Ren, et al point out. Stroke imposes a financial burden on patients, families, and society. The cohort study found that lactation duration significantly lowers the risk of stroke.
Up until now, most research has focused on the association between lactation and cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), but this piece lays out the association between lactation and stroke subtypes.
Specifically, the study found that parous postmenopausal women with lifetime lactation duration of at least 7 months had lower risks of ischemic stroke and intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) compared with women who never lactated. For subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) though, such associations were found only in participants with lifetime lactation duration of longer than 24 months. In addition, the authors found that those with an average lactation duration per child or lactation duration for the first child of at least 7 months were less likely to develop stroke and its subtypes.
The systematic review and meta-analysis demonstrated higher rates of low birth weight (<2500 g) and small for gestational age (<fifth percentile), lower mean birth weight, preterm delivery (<37 weeks’ gestation), higher rate of admission to the neonatal intensive care unit, poorer Apgar scores at 1 minute, and smaller head circumference in those exposed to marijuana.
The prevalence of marijuana use during pregnancy is significant, and many people cite the belief that marijuana use is relatively safe during
pregnancy. This work may help to raise awareness and be used to educate patients about adverse outcomes with the hope of improving neonatal health.
More on cannabis during the perinatal period here.
The authors of Childhood Obesity and Breastfeeding Rates in Pennsylvania Counties-Spatial Analysis of the Lactation Support Landscape examined the relationship between childhood obesity and breastfeeding rates in Pennsylvania (PA) counties, the relationship between geographic access to professional lactation support providers (LSPs) in PA counties and breastfeeding rates, and the relationship between geographic access to professional LSPs and childhood obesity in PA counties. They found a significant, inverse relationship between breastfeeding rates and childhood obesity prevalence at the county level and a significant, inverse relationship between the number of CLCs and the number of all professional LSPs and childhood obesity rates at the county level. Thus, the authors conclude, the availability of breastfeeding support is significantly related to breastfeeding rates and inversely related to childhood obesity rates across Pennsylvania.
More specifically, the algorithm provides a tool to help reduce delays or decrease interruptions during skin-to-skin contact (SSC). The authors note, “Not suckling in the first hour after birth places newborns at higher risk for neonatal morbidities and mortality. Examining patterns and developing strategies for change optimizes patient outcomes.”
Acknowledging the social determinants of health
Pregnancy and the origins of illness(2022) by Anne Drapkin Lyerly begins by acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic has induced a collective trauma that is expected to be felt for generations after the virus is contained. The study of epigenetics has shown that children gestated or born during times of great tragedy, carry a genetically coded and inherited imprint of their mother’s experience with lifelong consequences to their health.
Recognizing the “maternal-fetal interface” as the “nexus of inter-generational trauma” raises the question of how we should think about this implication of maternal bodies, especially in light of the current pandemic.
The author explores the growing field of developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) and its use of epigenetics. Thinking about the tools of history, philosophy, and gender studies of science, the author advises we proceed with caution as we consider maternal effect science which raises several concerns that can impact practice and the well-being of mothers and consequently their children.
Namely, there may be a tendency to ascribe blame on pregnant people for the health outcomes of their offspring that are well beyond their control. This approach doesn’t adequately weigh the effects of paternal, postanal, and other social and environmental factors that also influence the long-term health of children.
Analyzing epigenetics can eventually contribute to the erasure of the mother as a person, and further, characterizing the maternal body as an environment may excuse women from being appropriately considered in public health policies, clinical care and health research.
The author considers DOHaD research a corrective approach to near-sighted fetal origins science and urges that we expand our understanding of the gestational environment from not simply the womb, but to the broader environment in which a person gestates, marking the importance of acknowledging the social determinants of health. To best direct our efforts during the current pandemic, the author suggests shifting the focus off of maternal behavior and choices and instead focus on limiting the harm of climate change, racism, and other structural inequities.
As part of our celebration, we are giving away an online learning module with contact hours each week. Here’s how to enter into the drawings:
Email email@example.com with your name and “OMW is 10” in the subject line.
This week, in the body of the email, tell us: What fascinates you about breastfeeding and/or what do you wonder about breastfeeding?
Subsequent weeks will have a different prompt in the blog post.
We will conduct a new drawing each week over the 10-week period. Please email separately each week to be entered in the drawing. You may only win once. If your name is drawn, we will email a link with access to the learning module. The winner of the final week will score a grand finale swag bag.
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