Weird Findings

 In the era of the International Breastfeeding Conference, Cindy Turner-Maffei and Karin Cadwell would present their beloved Weird Findings segment on the last day of the conference. I always found it delightful and now wistfully reminisce about the session sometimes.

One year, we learned about pink yak milk, spider milk, goat wet nurses and donkeys with “good moral reputations” with the alleged ability to cure distemper and poisoning. That year, I was also introduced to the jaunty tune “I’m a Mammal”.  It was all great fun; entertaining and educational.  

So, this week’s post is my attempt at a Weird Findings collection, a nod to all that is quirky. I landed on quirky as the best word applicable to most of the items below, but quirky and weird are really just umbrella terms for those things that might also be totally awesome, maddening, perplexing and all of the things in between and just outside of these descriptors. 

 

The artificial womb 

My high school biology teacher once asked our class to contemplate a riddle about the Nacirema people. Part of it contained a description of their reproduction which read like an excerpt from a science-fiction novel. Really, it described Americans. 

Reading about the development of an artificial womb to support premature birth had me thinking back to this exercise. 

Like any technology,  great promise and great unknown surround “advancements”. Because this womb is not available to humans yet and because of my overall skepticism, I thought it necessary to point out that we have a means to help very premature babies right this very moment…our bodies.

 

Be inspired, maddened, saddened, weirded out by the remainder of the comments here

 

Exercise and breastfeeding 

This study found that adiponectin concentrations increased in breast milk after high intensity interval training (HIIT). “It has been postulated that higher breast milk adiponectin concentrations may prevent rapid weight gain in infancy,” the authors write. The real-life implications of this discovery?  South China Morning Post’s coverage on the study points out how exercise has physical and mental benefits for mom and baby. 

 

Tomatoes and erectile dysfunction 

Around three minutes into this amazing video, Katie Hinde points out: “When we zoom in on the number of articles just investigating breast milk, we see that we know much more about coffee, wine and tomatoes… We know over twice as much about erectile dysfunction.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t know about those things — I’m a scientist, I think we should know about everything. But that we know so much less about breast milk — the first fluid a young mammal is adapted to consume — should make us angry.” 

 

The disgraceful CMF industry 

As sophisticated as the commercial milk formula industry’s insidious marketing tactics are, they are truly a disgrace in the event of pregnancy loss or stillbirth. The authors of an ABM blog post share the perspectives of mothers who endured pregnancy loss and stillbirth and subsequently received infant formula samples. 

 “‘It feels like a slap in the face, a punch to the gut,’ Caitlin C. says, after discovering formula samples at her door following two second-trimester losses. ‘If [the formula company] somehow knew I was pregnant, couldn’t they also know I’m not anymore?’”

 

Amphibian milk 

It wouldn’t be a proper Weird Findings collection without the inclusion of a creature that challenges our Linnaean classification system. NPR reported that “a species of worm-like amphibian has been caught on camera feeding milk to its young…The creature, known as a caecilian, lives underground. Researchers believe that the animal developed the ability to produce a milk-like substance independently of mammals…” Weird. 

 

Milk composition 

There’s weird and then there’s WEIRD: Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic.   

Klein’s, et al work found variations in milk composition across populations classified by four subsistence patterns: urban-industrialism, rural-shop, horticulturalist-forager or agro-pastoralism. The authors synthesize: “Populations living in closer geographic proximity or having similar subsistence strategies (e.g. agro-pastoralists from Nepal and Namibia) had more similar milk immune protein compositions. Agro-pastoralists had different milk innate immune protein composition from horticulturalist-foragers and urban-industrialists. Acquired immune protein composition differed among all subsistence strategies except horticulturist-foragers and rural-shop.” 

It was found that “When compared with western populations, some of these groups have genetic profiles that favor… immune responses and elevated levels of immune molecules throughout life…” 

 

Microbiome and breast cancer 

Other examples of the microbiome and immune connection come from Nikki Lee’s ponderings.  “This new world of research is astounding!” she shares. 

In Microbiome and Breast Cancer: New Role for an Ancient Population, the authors show “a significant difference in the microbiome composition of nipple aspirate fluid between healthy individuals and patients with BC suggested the potential role of the ductal microbiome in BC incidence.”

In L-asparaginase from human breast milk Lactobacillus reuteri induces apoptosis using therapeutic targets Caspase-8 and Caspase-9 in breast cancer cell line the authors conclude that “Breast milk L. reuteri L-asparaginase induces apoptosis via Cas8 and Cas9 upregulation in the breast cancer cell line. L. reuteri L-asparaginase treatment may be the hopeful approach for the management of breast cancer. Furthermore, the results may highlight the fact that the presence of L-asparaginase-producing L. reuteri isolates in human breast milk may aid in breast cancer improvement or even prevention.”

“Could the microbiome be a reason that breastfeeding reduces the chances of breast cancer?” Lee asks.  

 

Choose and embrace breast milk

The Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health created a mass communication campaign to increase awareness of the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for infants in their first 6 months. This video features a Nigerian celebrity and family. Watch it here

The final element of a Weird Findings segment is song and dance! 

This video is a public health announcement rolled into song by Rodah Amakal, a gospel musician from West Pokot County for the Pokot community in Kenya. Enjoy! 

 

 



Nurturing care is critical to improving health outcomes

Photo by Greta Hoffman

A friend recently told me, “I vowed to never use the word ‘diet’ in front of my daughter.” She explained how as she was growing up, her mother was fixated on dieting, and how that affected her relationship with food and her body image. I sympathized. My grandmother was a model, and I grew up in a ballet school, so body image was always at the forefront of my existence. My friend and I discussed the challenge of modeling healthy eating for our kids when we ourselves have been inflicted with such detrimental habits; things like eating in secrecy and restricting calories. 

Our conversation segued, soon chatting about convenience and ultra processed foods, what exactly are healthy choices?, and this incessant feeling of being rushed. We lamented about the after-school pace: hurry-up homework, hurry-up mealtime, hurry-up extra-curriculars, hurry-up bedtime.

Photo by August de Richelieu

The time to model healthy eating and the ability to engage socially over a meal is so condensed, families often forgo the art of dining and sharing meals entirely. Many of us have fallen to “the packet apocalypse”, propped bottles, hurled yogurt tubes to the back of the van, and scarfed- down burgers from the drive-thru.

Checking my email later this day, I was pleased to find Global Health Media’s recent announcement of their Nurturing Care Series.  While the 10-video collection is intended for health workers and not necessarily for direct family use, the resource felt like the perfect reminder of the importance of prioritizing responsive, nurturing and reciprocal interactions in all of our behavior, including meal time. 

Photo by Keira Burton

Global Health Media’s series is in partnership with USAID’s Responsive Care and Early Learning (RCEL) project which focuses on “good health, adequate nutrition, safety and security, responsive caregiving, and opportunities for early learning” as critical components to improving early childhood development (ECD) outcomes. 

“Integrating responsive care and early learning messages into existing nutrition counseling has significant potential to improve both nutrition and ECD outcomes,” the organization’s Advancing Nutrition page states. 

Over the years, Our Milky Way has produced quite a collection highlighting responsive feeding and interactive relationships. Stewed in a bit of irony, as I write to you from the glow of my computer, I’d like to spend this week resurfacing these pieces. 

 

 

 

  • Photo by Luiza Braun

    Mother and bab(ies) attend and respond to one another facilitating nourishment, the flow of hormones, immunity, learning and bonding, comfort, fun, an all-encompassing sensory experience that has generational impacts on social, emotional and physical health. Breastfeeding is collaborative covers the intimacy of the breastfeeding dyad up to breastfeeding as a collaborative global food security system. 

 

 

  • Cindy Turner-Maffei’s coverage of the “Nutrition and Nurture in Infancy and Childhood: Bio-Cultural Perspectives” conference… well, it’s really all in the title. 

 

  • Humans are carry mammals, not nest or cache animals. Baby-wearing facilities things like  the development of healthy physiological functions to providing a interactive social interactions for infants and young children, where they are included in the “action” rather than strapped into devices with little stimulation. Babywearing as a public health initiative  highlights Rebecca Morse’s work and further explores the importance of baby wearing.

 

 

  • Finally, we couldn’t close out without noting skin-to-skin, where connections are first fused outside of the womb. Find Our Milky Way’s collection on skin-to-skin and kangaroo mother care here and here

Medical librarian to perinatal services manager, LCTC participant strives to improve Black maternal health

Christian Minter, MSLIS is the eldest of twelve siblings. Her mother gave birth both at home and in the hospital, and she breastfed all of her children, so Minter says she was accustomed to seeing the full range of options when it comes to maternity care.

About ten years ago, Minter became interested in maternal and child health after hearing friends share their often less than ideal birth experiences. She discovered that informed choice was a rarity in their care. As Minter learned more about the disparities in birth outcomes among Black women and babies, she became passionate about working to improve Black maternal health.

At the time, Minter worked as a medical librarian supporting families with access to health information. 

“There was only so much I could do as a librarian to support maternal and child health,” Minter reflects. 

Her work evolved and in 2019, Minter began her public health graduate studies. As a project for the course Introduction to Health Disparities and Health Equity at University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health, Minter created a beautiful mini-documentary about doula care for Black women. 

Minter also served as the manager of maternal infant health initiatives for March of Dimes Nebraska, Black maternal health organizer for I Be Black Girl and collaborated on the Omaha Reproductive Well-being Project

Now, Minter works as the perinatal services manager at Community of Hope in Washington, D.C. She is currently on maternity leave with her first baby who is three months old and cooed sweetly during our phone call. 

“Breastfeeding him has been an eye opening experience,” Minter shares.  “It’s one thing to talk about maternal and child health, and another to experience it firsthand. It’s giving me a greater appreciation of the breastfeeding journey of families.  It’s  increased my passion to support other families.” 

Minter shares that she had her eye on the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) for quite some time, but could never sacrifice the time away from work for the week-long, in-person training. As one of the most recent awardees of the Accessing the Milky Way scholarship, Minter says she’s enjoying the online, self-paced format and learning about the physiology of breastfeeding. 

Minter plans to use her training to support their patient population at Community of Hope. Additionally, she says she’d like to make lactation education and support more accessible to those living in Prince George County, Md., as families often need to travel outside the county for community-based support. 

Minter encourages readers to follow Community of Hope on social media. Their breastfeeding classes are open to the general public. The organization also accepts donations of supplies for families like diapers, maternity clothing and books. Check out their wishlist here and learn about other ways to support their work here.  



Fatherhood advocate facilitates paternal involvement, positively affecting children’s and mothers’ lives

Doug Edwards, Director of Real Dads Forever, a Fatherhood Strategies Development organization, is a firestarter. Inside every father is something of value, an ember, as Edwards describes. Edwards sees it as his mission to clear away any ashes so that the embers can burst into flames, to become energy and atmosphere, to help fathers come into the space where they can truly radiate.

“I want to change the world!… More realistically and substantively I want to get dads to understand their unique and specific value and articulate it and change behavior so their relationship is meaningful to their child,” Edwards said in a 2013 interview.

Paternal involvement positively affects child development and wellness; further when fathers are positively involved in their infants’ lives, mothers’ stress decreases.

Edwards was propelled into this work nearly three decades ago when he volunteered with a development center working with teen parents.

Since then, he has worked with over 20,000 men.

When he started this work, Edwards says the national focus was on deficit and absent fathers; today, he sees more awareness and an understanding of the importance of fatherhood as it relates to the needs of the child.

Photo by Keira Burton

Real Dads Forever boasts an impressive list of clients including Centering Pregnancy, UCONN, public school systems and departments of public health.

About a decade ago, Edwards found through a father-friendly site survey,  that only 30 percent of programs enrolling new parents–whether that be at a school or through a maternity program, etc.–  asked for the father’s name.

“We don’t encourage [fathers] to step up and then we wonder why they don’t show up,” Edwards commented in a 2013 interview.

In many cases, this continues to be the trend today.

Recently, Edwards conducted a Fatherhood Friendly Site Assessment with Connecticut WIC. He investigated: Were fathers included in their policies? If so, was this being translated into their practice? Was the physical environment welcoming to fathers? Were fathers pictured in their educational and promotional materials? Edwards found that fathers literally had no chair at the table. When consults were held, there was often no chair for the father to be included in the discussion.

Photo by Anna Shvets

Edwards helped the organization implement changes specifically through staff training and professional development.   The training included sensitivity training on how to respectfully ask the question : “Where is the father?” when he is not present, taking into account many of the realities that families may be dealing with: death, incarceration, deployment, abuse, and absence under other circumstances.

Edwards suggests that those working with young families take stock of our biases as well as acknowledge and address any systemic barriers present.

Fathers are often forgotten in the experience of infant and young child death too. Through his work with the Fetal and Infant Mortality Review in Hartford, Conn., Edwards found that fathers were getting little to no support after the death of a child.

He recalls one father who shared that he listened to the heartbeat of his baby, felt his baby’s movements, sang to the baby, and attended all of the prenatal visits. Around eight months gestation, the family was involved in a car accident. The baby was born prematurely and ultimately died. The father shared with Edwards that he lost the ability to become the father he didn’t have. “My fetus knew her dad,” the father told Edwards.

Photo by Laura Garcia

It was this poignant story that led Edwards to create the curriculum, “Paternal Prenatal Early Attachment”. The program is designed for expecting couples with a focus on strengthening fathers’ capabilities to enhance their support of mothers and babies during pregnancy beyond. He has facilitated the program in Connecticut and with 17 different states for National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ), which provides Technical Assistance for National Healthy Start.

Prenatal education offers the “biggest bang for your buck,” Edwards says of fatherhood advocacy.

“This is when [fathers] are keenly aware of something outside of themselves that’s going on,” Edwards comments. “They want to do a good job… Guys like jobs… I turn that into more than a job; I turn that into a relationship. I want them to fall in love with their unborn child and fall in love with [the mother of their child]. That’s a great setup for the child to thrive.”

Edwards’ work challenges fathers to explore and feel their own childhoods.

“This is an eye opening experience for them,” Edwards comments.

He calls it “backing into empathy.”

Edwards has watched the transformation of self described “thugs” and “black hearted” individuals to softened men when they go through the “magical epiphany” of becoming a father.

Photo by Ксения

Edwards explains that fathers gain new insights and experience out-of-body sensations due to the flood of oxytocin during the birth of a child. Skin-to-skin contact deepens this bond between father and child. [More at Facilitating the bond between children and fathers or male-identifying partners]

Reflecting on the course of his work, Edwards says “It’s just getting better with time. We didn’t have these discussions years ago.”

He highlights fatherhood legislative work in Conn., the first state to pass legislation on fatherhood.

“The Connecticut Fatherhood Initiative (CFI) is a broad-based, statewide collaborative effort led by the Department of Social Services, focused on changing the systems that can improve fathers’ ability to be fully and positively involved in the lives of their children.

First implemented after the passage of legislation in 1999, state and local partners have been working together … to make changes to policy and practice in order to better meet the needs of fathers…” [Read more here: https://portal.ct.gov/Fatherhood/Core/The-Connecticut-Fatherhood-Initiative]

Photo courtesy of the Gaynor family

Edwards was previously featured on Our Milky Way in Unsung Sheros/Heros in maternal child health.

Edwards also recently completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC).

‘Full pandemic mama’ becomes full spectrum doula

Allysa Singer was, as she describes, a “full pandemic mama.” Singer became pregnant with her first child in the winter of 2019. As she became aware of the threats and the consequences of COVID-19, she started researching her options and her rights in the delivery room she’d find herself in August 2020.

What started as personal preparation– How many support people would she be allowed? Would she be allowed a support person at all? What restrictions would she encounter? How could she advocate for herself? What were her options?–  propelled her into a world of birth support and autonomy advocacy.

“I was just dumbfounded by the disparities that exist in maternal health,” Singer begins.

In 2020, Alabama, where Singer and her family live, had the third-highest Maternal Mortality Rate in the nation, at 36.4 per 100,000 live births.

BIPOC families suffer from massive disparities in maternal and infant deaths. In a recent piece, Childbirth Is Deadlier for Black Families Even When They’re Rich, Expansive Study Finds, Tiffany L. Green, an economist focused on public health and obstetrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is quoted: “It’s not race, it’s racism…The data are quite clear that this isn’t about biology. This is about the environments where we live, where we work, where we play, where we sleep.”

Still, unlike so many of her peers, Singer reports having had an amazing birth experience.

Inundated by birth horror stories, she decided to change care at 27 weeks in hopes that she would be better supported in her choices at a different institution.

Here, she was allowed a doula and support person to accompany her during her birth.

“Not a lot of women had that luxury,” Singer comments.

Knowing well that birth support is a right and not a luxury, she started her own doula practice in December 2021. 

Singer shares that she experienced severe postpartum depression, but she was able to divert and ultimately reshape this energy into her doula work.

“My doula training was the lifeboat that saved me from drowning in my PPD,” she says.

And now her practice, Faith to Fruition, has become the lifeboat for many of the birthing people Singer supports.

She shares: “I don’t believe that a birther’s desire to have more children should be dictated by their birthing experience. I have heard so many stories from people who had one kid but say, ‘I would never do this again because my experience was so traumatic.’ One of my biggest missions and goals is to support birthers to feel empowered in their process; not as bystanders of their process.”

Singer also holds a full time position as an industrial psychologist where she channels her advocacy work, pushing for organizational change and understanding of proper maternal support.

In fact, as part of a public speaking course for a training curriculum, Singer presented on why it’s important to support breastfeeding. She reports that her audience of roughly 25 was engaged, especially as she pointed out the absurdities of infant feeding culture in our country: How would you feel if I asked you to eat your meal in the bathroom? How would you like to eat with a blanket tossed over your head? for instance.

Singer also points out the “insanely amazing public health outcomes” breastfeeding affords.

If 90 percent of U.S. babies were exclusively breastfed for six months, the United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess 911 deaths, nearly all of which would be in infants ($10.5 billion and 741 deaths at 80% compliance). [Bartick, Reinhold, 2010]

“Not only is there a personal investment, there is a public investment and value to understanding the larger implications,” Singer comments. “As a taxpayer, [breastfeeding] impacts you; as someone who utilizes our healthcare system, [breastfeeding] impacts you.”

With the recent passing of the PUMP Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act coming soon, Singer says “We still have a long way to go.”

Organizational policy doesn’t support motherhood; instead it fuels detached parenting which goes against nature, Singer goes on.

“Mothers feel the brunt of that more than ever,” she says.  “[We aren’t] supported to be able to care for our children the way that we want to.”

Singer says she sees it as her mission as an organizational psychologist to encourage change that supports parenthood, so that women don’t feel threatened to care for their children the way that they want to. This means ensuring that women are provided with ample space to pump their milk while away from their babies and empowering them to approach HR when there aren’t appropriate accommodations.

“Outside forces shouldn’t be able to dictate how you care for and feed your child. The end of one’s breastfeeding journey should be a personal decision.”

She continues, “It’s amazing that legislation is catching up. The thing that I fear with any law, there are still people behind those laws that have to enforce them and carry them out. Education and garnishing an understanding of what this looks like is a key component to implementation. The people behind those policies have to make them successful, but this is  moving things into a very good direction, and I hope that more changes to legislation follow suit, especially with paid parental leave. It’s a catalyst for change; I am hopeful but cautiously optimistic.”

Singer says she owes her personal success continuing to breastfeed her two-and-a-half year old to Chocolate Milk Mommies, where she now serves as a board member.

Through Chocolate Milk Mommies, Singer started a subcommittee to focus on education for individuals within the breastfeeder’s support system.

“The people in the village need to be supportive. When you don’t know better, you can’t do better,” she explains.

Singer recently completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) as part of Chocolate Milk Mommies’ mission to best support their constituents and as a way to benefit her doula clients with more well-rounded support.

“I really loved the training because I already thought that our bodies are amazing, but learning more science was great. I would text my friends the ‘Boobie Fact of the Day’,” Singer shares. “[The science] allows me to really appreciate my journey that much more and how impactful I’m being with my daughter.”

You can follow Singer’s work here and here.