Monday, June 30, 2014

Green reasons to breastfeed

By To-wen Tseng. Originally posted on San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's Blog.

In addition to the well recognized health effects of breastfeeding, breastfeeding also confers global environmental benefits. Not only is breast milk free, nutritious, and easily portable, it’s also a waste-free renewable resource. Breastfeeding her baby is one of the smartest and greenest decision that a modern mother can make. Here are five green reasons to give bottles the boot.

Breastfeeding is a renewable resource. Human milk is a natural, renewable food that acts as a complete source of babies’ nutrition for about the first six month of life.

Breastfeeding reduces waste. There are no packages involved, as opposed to infant formulas and other substitutes for human milk that require packaging that ultimately may be deposited in landfills. Formulas and bottles present a costly and excessive packaging problem. Boxes, paper and plastics that take energy both to manufacture and recycle are used to package bottles, bottle accessories, and formula. According to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International (LLLI), for every one million formula-fed babies, 150 million containers of formula are consumed; while some of those containers could be recycled, many end up in landfills. Even recycling the packages consumes energy. Meanwhile, a mother’s milk is waste-free, unless you count a nursing bra as fancy breast milk packaging.

Breastfeeding saves energy. Breast milk is ready to go straight from the tap, while infant formulas must be transported from their place of manufacture to retail locations, such as grocery stores, so that they can be purchased by families. Breastfeeding stops those late-night trips to the grocery store for formula. It requires nothing more than mothers to consume a small amount of additional calories, and breast milk comes at the perfect temperature for the baby, no heating required. Formulas, however, need containers, need paper, need fuel to prepare, and gasoline used to deliver. Breastfeeding may even reduce drives to the pediatrician’s office, since breastfed babies are generally more healthy. Breast milk has its own convenient storage facility. While many parents make a few bottles of formula at once and store them in the fridge, breast milk can last up to 4 hours without ice. Breastfeeding reduces the carbon footprint by saving precious global resources and energy.

Breastfeeding is plastic-free. Many formula packages on the market contain various forms of plastic. Plastic, usually made with oil, is one of the world’s worst environment problems. There are no hard-and-fast numbers about just how much petroleum is used to make plastic, but most studies estimate that it accounts for about 8 percent of the world’s yearly oil consumption. Besides draining fuel resources, plastic produces harmful and toxic wastes such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and more, all of which are take a toll on the air, water, and soil, not to mention human health. Plastic is not part of a closed-loop recycling plan. Instead it is down-cycled into other products, a process that may not be energy or cost-efficient.

Breastfeeding reduces exposures to toxic chemicals. It is not until recent years that many brands of baby bottles have been shown to leach dangerous chemicals such as bisphenol-A(BPA) and phthalates both into babies’ milk and into the air, soil and water. On the other hand, research suggests that parent should not worry about toxins in breast milk. While breast milk can contain low levels of toxins, formula presents much larger ecological problems. Breastfeeding is the most economical, nontoxic choice for babies.

Breastfeeding is the best feeding. It’s the best for the babies, for the families, and the planet, too!

Meet Piglet, my little environmental protection advocate.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Infant formula: what's in that?

A mother facebook messaged me and asked how is baby formula made. It's a tough question to answer with an FB message. I decided to write this blog post about infant formula.

The human species has been breastfeeding for nearly half a million years. It’s only in the last 60 years that we have begun to give babies the highly processed convenience food called “formula.” US formula manufactures spend around 8 million dollars per year marketing infant formula, while La Leche League International (LLLI), the best-known breastfeeding advocacy group, has a 3.5 million annual budget.

No wonder modern mothers are encouraged to embrace the bottle-feeding culture. But what’s really in baby formula?

In US commercial infant formulas are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Three major types are available.

  1. Cow's milk formulas. Most infant formula is made with cow's milk that's been altered to resemble breast milk. This gives the formula a better balance of nutrients, and makes the formula easier to digest. Most babies can tolerate cow's milk formula. Some babies, however, such as those allergic to the proteins in cow's milk, need other types of infant formula.
  2. Soy-based formulas. Soy-based formulas can be useful for parents who want to exclude animal proteins from their child's diet. Soy-based infant formulas might also be an option for babies who are intolerant or allergic to cow's milk formula or to lactose, a carbohydrate naturally found in cow's milk. However, babies who are allergic to cow's milk may also be allergic to soy milk.
  3. Protein hydrolysate formulas. These types of formulas contain protein that's been broken down (hydrolyzed) partially or extensively into smaller components than are in cow's milk and soy-based formulas. Protein hydrolysate formulas are meant for babies who don't tolerate cow's milk or soy-based formulas. Extensively hydrolyzed formulas are an option for babies who have a protein allergy.
In addition, specialized formulas are available for premature infants and babies who have specific medical conditions.

All infant formula try to mimic breast milk, but experts agree that the highly processed breast milk substitutes cannot compete with the real thing.

Baby formula was never intended to be consumed on the widespread basis that it is today. It was conceived in the late 1800s as a means of providing necessary sustenance for foundlings and orphans who would otherwise have starved. In this narrow context, where no other food was available, formula could be a lifesaver.

However, as time went on and the subject of human nutrition in general became more “scientific,” manufactured breast milk substitutes were promoted to the general public as a technological improvement to breast milk.

Breast milk substitues come with risks. Research shows that the use of formula often sabotage and shorten the nursing relationship, not to mention the various health consequences, including five times the risk of gastroenteritis, twice the risk of developing diabetes, and up to eight times the risk of developing lymphatic cancer.

Mary Smale, a lactation consultant from UK’s National Childbirth Trust told Ecologist Magazine, “If anybody were to ask ‘which formula should I use?’ or ‘which is nearest to mother’s milk?’ The answer would be ‘nobody knows.’ Because there is not one single objective source of that kind of information provided by anybody.”

“Only the manufacturers know what’s in their stuff, and they aren’t telling. They may advertise special ‘healthy’ ingredients like oligosaccharides, long-chain fatty acids, or, a while ago, beta-carotene, but they never actually tell you what the basic product is made form or where the ingredients come from,” said Smale.

That said, the known constituents of breast milk were, and are, used as a general reference for scientists devising infant formulas. But, to this day, there is no actual “formula” for formula. In fact, the process of producing infant formulas has, since its earliest days, been a trial and error process.

Modern parents might consider giving their babies formula for many reasons. But keep in mind that formula does come with consequences, and every mother needs to be aware of those so she can make truly informed decision on whether to use it or not.

A little history about infant formula: In 1974, Nestle was accused of getting third world mothers hooked on formula, which is less healthy and more expensive than breast milk. The allegations led to hearings in the Senate and the World Health Organization(WHO), resulting in a new set of marketing rules. Below is the cover of a booklet that blew the lid off the baby formula industry, publish by British human rights organization War on Want.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day to the dad who support breastfeeding!

Thank you for supporting breastfeeding, daddy--And any supportive dad deserves a handmade paper tie as a Father's Day gift! 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Weekly summary: New book published, LO turned 13 mos old, 13 alternative uses for breast milk, plus my first breast milk soap

My weekly summary: One, a book I co-translated, Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton, is now available in both English and Mandarin Chinese. Two, my little one turned 13 months old.

I enjoyed translating Hillary Clinton's new memoir, a book that catches the whole world's attention. Hillary is a great woman.

Meanwhile, my little one turned 13 months old. (Hooray!) Though he is still being breastfed, it is clear that he is not going to finish all the frozen breast milk stored in my freezer. While trying to donate the frozen milk to a local human milk bank, I found some of the milk was actually out of date; which is, more than 6 month old. That surprised me. The milk was no longer drinkable, but I hate the idea of throwing it away. After all, I worked hard to collect the milk.

So I did some research on the alternative uses for breast milk and made a bar of soap out of my own milk. Of course the best use for breast milk is to nourish the baby, but it can also benefit the whole household. Breast milk is anti-bacterial; contains immunological agents and other compounds that take action against viruses and parasites. It is believed that breast milk can be used to treat wounds, cure a few ailments, and even help people heal faster after organ transplants and other surgeries. In light of my little one's 13-month-old birthday, here are 13 alternative uses for breast milk*.

  1. Preventing diaper rash. Breast milk can be used to treat and prevent normal nappy rash ( but not yeast infection).
  2. Treating sore nipples. Putting some breast milk on the nipples can often heal them faster. It can also prevent cracking by keeping them supple. Not recommended for mothers with thrush.
  3. Removing make-up and clean skin . Breast milk can naturally and easily remove make-up, even eye shadow and lipstick, and will leave the skin nourished and soft. Breast milk also gently cleanse skin and its antibacterial properties can prevent acne.
  4. Treating dry skin and chapped, cracked lips. Breast milk can be used as moisturizer but needs to be rinsed off afterwards. It can also keep lips moist for quite some time.
  5. Reducing eye puffiness or redness. Breast milk is wonderful for removing puffiness, and is used just as cow’s milk for the same purpose. Simply dab on with a cotton ball.
  6. Boosting immune system. Older children can be given a class of breast milk or more every day to boost their immune systems and keep them from becoming ill.
  7. Easing cold or flu symptoms including opening a stuffy nose and soothing sore throats. Anyone can get over the cold quicker with some liquid gold breast milk. It is a great, natural alternative to medications. To open a stuffy nose, just squirt a few drops into the patient’s nose while he is lying down and then use a bulb to suction the excess out from the nose. To soothe sore throats, swirling some of the breast milk around in the mouth and even gargling with it can help.
  8. Treating insect bites. Rub a small amount on the bite to relieve the itching and promote the healing process.
  9. Treating eczema, other skin rashes, and warts. Breast milk will keep the skin clean and will prevent flare ups. Just apply a thin layer of breast milk to the area, and allow to air dry. Breast milk can also be applied daily on the wart, until it dries up and falls off. 
  10. Relieving chicken pox itching. Apply the breast milk onto the skin just as using other ointment to relieve the itching. 
  11. Treating mild eye irritation or infection. Breast milk is an age-old treatment for viral conjunctivitis (eye infection). A few drops into the eyes will help keep the area clean and initiate healing. Also see your doctor in case the eye infection is due to a bacteria; you may need other medication as well.
  12. Treating external ear infections. Squirt a few drops inside the ear for healing and pain relief. This can be used in infants and adults. 
  13. Making soap. Check out the recipe and directions here. And yes, I successfully handmade my first breast milk soap!
My first bar of breast milk soap. Made out of 10 oz of breast milk.
*Please note: Although breastmilk can be, and has been used as a traditional folk remedy for many ailments, it is not a substitute for appropriate medical care. The information above is a compilation of historical remedies, mothers" wisdom and some research studies. It is meant as general information, not medical advice.