Monday, June 20, 2016

Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact (It’s for Dad, too!)


The other night before bedtime story, my three-year-old pulled up his pajamas, put his stuffed piggy on his chest, claiming, “I’m breastfeeding Piggy!”

“Oh that’s sweet!” I said, “But I’m not sure if you can do that—boys don’t have milk.”

“I’m a big MAN!” He corrected me. He likes to call himself a big man these days.

“Okay, big man. Still, men don’t have milk, either.”

He paused, then announced, “I’m skin-to-skin Piggy!”

I laughed. That was cute. I snapped a shot with my cellphone. I have no idea where he learned about the term “skin-to-skin.” But he was right—while skin-to-skin (baby naked, not wrapped in a blanket) contact between mom and baby helps breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact between dad and baby can be beneficial, too. It is the easiest way to form a secure attachment and does a lot more than promote bonding.

It helps baby adapt
Thermal regulation is a very common problem with infants, especially preterm babies. When the baby was in the womb, he didn’t need to regulate his own temperature. Since parents’ skin is the same temperature as the womb, baby will find it easier to adapt to his post-birth environment.

It boosts baby’s mental and brain development
Skin-to-skin contact is a multi-sensory experience. Holding baby on parent’s skin increases the development of essential neural pathways, which accelerates brain maturation. According to a Canadian study, preemies who received skin-to-skin contact had better brain functioning at 15 years old—comparable to that of adolescents born full term—than those who had been placed in incubators. The research shows skin-to-skin contacted babies spend more time in quiet sleep, which stabilizes their heart rate, enhances organizational patterns in the brain and helps the brain develop better.

It promotes healthy weight
One Cochrane Library review concluded that skin-to-skin contact dramatically increases newborn weight gain. When babies are warm, they don’t need to use their energy to regulate their body temperature. They can use that energy to grow instead. Plus, skin-to-skin touched babies enjoy increased breastfeeding rates, which can’t hurt healthy weight gain.

It reduces baby’s stress and pain
Just 10 minutes of skin-to-skin contact reduces babies’ level of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases levels of the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin, which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to make babies feel calm and safe, according a research published in AACN Clinical Issues. “When preterm infants are held chest-to-chest, they react less to heel sticks, a minimally invasive way to draw blood, and a common source of pain among preemies,” said Dr. Susan M. Ludington, the lead author of the research.

It helps baby sleep Less stress equals to better sleep. Preemies who were cradled skin-to-skin slept more deeply and woke up less often than those who slept in incubators, reported the journal Pediatrics.

There are now a multitude of studies that show that mothers and babies should be together, skin-to-skin immediately after birth. After that, continued skin-to-skin can still be beneficial, either between mom and baby or dad and baby. The baby is happier, the baby’s temperature is more stable, the baby’s heart and breathing rates are more normal, and the baby’s blood sugar is more elevated.

From their time in the womb, babies recognize their fathers’ voice. Babies find skin-to-skin contact with dad calming, and it helps dad and baby bond. So get snuggling. Happy, happy Father’s Day!

This is an original post to San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition by To-wen Tseng.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Making of Breastfeeding Controversy

Last summer I had a chance to sit down in a indoor playground cafe and share my unfortunate workplace nursing story with Jennifer Grayson, an author, journalist, columnist, and a leading expert on environmental issues. She is also a mother of two. At that time she was working on a book about the breastfeeding debate.

Surely breastfeeding has been a hot topic and there were already plenty of books out there revolving around this topic. But I was happy to see one more book adding to the list. Not because I’m a crazy breastfeeding activist as Wikipedia labeled me, but because I see the fact that we have so many books, articles, discussions about breastfeeding points out another fact: breastfeeding, the bond that makes us human, is not deemed a nature and normal thing, but a topic worth debating. And this is exactly why breastfeeding mothers in today’s society aren’t getting the support they deserve. A book that explore the roots of the controversy is exactly what we need at this moment.

So I’m excited to know that Grayson’s book is finally coming out this July, titled “Unlatched: The Evolution of Breastfeeding and the Making of a Controversy.” And Grayson and I agree on at least one thing: while the benefits of breastfeeding have been well documented by many researchers, breastfeeding itself is not normalized in our society.

“The very fact that we refer to it as the ‘benefits’ of breastfeeding makes it very clear that breastfeeding is not normalized in our society,” Grayson told me in an earlier chat. “It seems more like formula is the norm and the natural elixir that our bodies have provided for eons is now seems as some sort of ‘boost’—like the one you might get from a pack of vitamins.”

Human milk is supposed to be the human norm, but since the rise of artificial formula, it has became the center of a never-ending controversy. Grayson believes that the root of the current mommy wars is the utter lack of support for most mothers in American society. She pointed out, “Nearly 80 percent of US mothers now start off breastfeeding, yet half give up entirely or start supplementing with formula after just a few weeks.”

And why is that? “We’re one of pitifully few countries in the world without paid maternity leave, there is scant medical support for nursing mothers, and there are zero regulations on formula advertising in the country,” said Grayson. “Many governments around the world have taken dramatic steps to rectify this, in the name of public health. But more and more in the US, being able to exclusively breastfeed for the six months recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization boils down to a question of economic privilege. These are harsh truths, and I think it’s been easier to point fingers at each other than uncover the deal with the real issues.”

Grayson thoroughly explored the real issues in this book. The book is inspiring, well researched, and beautifully written. I sincerely think it’s a must read not just for mothers, but for anyone. Like I always said, breastfeeding is a human right. You don’t need to breastfeed--you don’t even need to be a mother--to support a human right issue.

I told Grayson that I’ll save the book for my now 3-year-old son when he becomes a father. She said, “Here’s hoping that by the time he becomes a father, he can’t imagine a time when a book like this would have ever need to be written!”

So we hope.

This is an original post to MomsRising by To-wen Tseng. Photo credit to HapperCollins.

Friday, June 10, 2016

"Your child is too big to be breastfed"


When my son was two months old and I was breastfeeding, everybody told me, “that’s great. Breast is the best.” When my son turned two years old and I was still breastfeeding, everybody told me, “your child is too old to be breastfed.”

Breastfeed a baby beyond age one is known as extended breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth, and breastfeeding in combination with solid foods until at least age one. Extended breastfeeding is actually recommended as long as the mother and her baby wish to continue, but, still, mothers decide to nurse their babies beyond age one often face unwelcome opinions and judging looks. Here are some questions I've heard and how I responded.

Aren’t you tired of watching your diet for such a long time?
“In fact, you don’t need to have the perfect diet to breastfeed. Of course, we need to take a bit more precaution when nursing, and we can’t be completely reckless with our bodies. But no breastfeeding mom should feel bad about eating the occasional doughnut or burger or drinking the once-a-while cup of coffee or tea.”

How long are you going to breastfeed?
“A lot of the time, women don’t know how long they’re going to breastfeed. Maybe a few years, maybe a few days. A lot of the time, extended breastfeeding is not planned, it just happened because both the mom and her baby enjoy the relationship.”

You’re still breastfeeding? Why?
“Yes, I’m still breastfeeding. I’m doing this because my baby and I wish to continue the relationship, also because of the many health and emotional benefits of extended breastfeeding.”

Once you give your baby solid food, you should stop nursing. Breast milk over 6 month is not nutritious. “This is a common myth. The truth is, breast milk is the gold standard for infant nutrition. As your baby gets older, the composition of your breast milk will continue to change to meet his or her nutritional needs.”

Aren’t you afraid your boobs are going to get stretched out? “I’m not thinking about what my boobs are going to look like in the future. I’m thinking about feeding my baby. My breasts are for babies, not a sexual organ or an object of fetishes.”

I never breastfed my kids, and they turned out fine. When I asked for lactation accommodation upon my return to work after giving birth, a supervisor told me “Just give him formula. We feed our kid formula and he went to Harvard.” I told him I think it’s great that his son went to Harvard, “But your kid is your kid, mine is mine. And breastfeeding is a human right.”

Your child is too old to be breastfed. “The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively until my baby is six months old and then to continue breastfeed until they are two years of age or older. That’s two years of age OR OLDER.”

Breastfeeding a toddler is a controversial topic, as any mom who’s done so publicly can attest. When my son turned 18 months old and was still being breastfed, I stopped nursing in public. When he turned two years old and was still being breastfed, I let both my mom and mother-in-law believe that I had already weaned him. By so doing saved me some arguments. But in an ideal world, every mother chose to continue breastfeed her baby beyond age one should be able to proudly nurse her toddler!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Evolution Of The Breastfeeding Controversy

Jennifer Grayson is an author, journalist, columnist, and a leading expert on environmental issues. UNLATCHED: The Evolution of Breastfeeding and the Making of a Controversy is her first book and her global exploration of the breastfeeding uproar and the bond that makes us human. I am honored to be featured in chapters six and seven of the book!

A conversation with Grayson:

What inspired you to write the book?

I had a few epiphanies that ultimately led me to write Unlatched, but the first one happened when I was pregnant with Izzy, my older daughter. One afternoon, I went to get the mail, and there was one of those maternity marketing “gift” packages waiting for me, with a large container of infant formula inside.

I had planned on breastfeeding, but like a lot of expecting moms I was nervous at the prospect of being my baby’s sole source of nourishment for the first six months. Could I really make it that long? So I went to the pantry to stash the formula, just “in case.” But before I could, my husband stopped me to look at the ingredients on the back of the package. I’m usually an obsessive label reader, so I was shocked when I turned over the container and saw corn syrup, soy oil, a plethora of unpronounceable ingredients… I had never even considered what was in this substitute that we so readily offer as an alternative to the breast. And then I realized: Hey, this is what I was exclusively fed as a baby! Those printed ingredients, on the back of that plastic package, were the building blocks of my life. I’ve struggled with chronic health issues since adolescence, and for the first time in my life I considered that there could be a connection.

The book is subtitled “The Evolution of Breastfeeding and the Making of a Controversy.” You explored some amazing and even shocking history about breastfeeding and bottle feeding. What impressed you the most?

One of the most surprising discoveries had to do with when, historically, the shift from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding first occurred. I had always thought it was during the 1940s and ’50s—the whole “better living through science,” post-war consumerism era where breasts became hypersexualized and Marilyn Monroe became an icon in a pointy bullet bra. But the shift actually began an entire half-century before, in the wake of America’s Industrial Revolution, in the late 1800s. For the first time in history, women were working in factories for long hours away from home, and they were living in big cities or even an ocean away from their own mothers and grandmothers who would have taught them how to breastfeed in generations past. It was these women—out of desperation—who first began experimenting with artificial breast milk substitutes, and to disastrous results. In fact, death by artificial feeding was one of the greatest public health issues of the early twentieth century.

And what’s really fueling the “mommy war” controversy?

I truly believe that the root of the current mommy wars is the utter lack of support for most mothers in American society. Nearly 80 percent of US mothers now start off breastfeeding, yet half give it up entirely or start supplementing with formula after just a few weeks. Why? Well, we’re one of pitifully few countries in the world without paid maternity leave, there is scant medical support for nursing mothers, and there are zero regulations on formula advertising in this country. Many governments around the world—like Taiwan’s, as you know—have taken dramatic steps to rectify this, in the name of public health. But more and more in the US, being able to exclusively breastfeed for the six months recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization boils down to a question of economic privilege. These are harsh truths, and I think it’s been easier to point fingers at each other than uncover and deal with the real issues.

Throughout the book we see that the benefits of breastfeeding have been well documented by many researchers. Do you feel, however, that breastfeeding is normalized in our society?

Well, I think that the very fact that we refer to it as the “benefits” of breastfeeding makes it very clear that breastfeeding is not normalized in our society. It seems more like formula is the norm and the natural elixir that our bodies have provided for eons is now seen as some sort of “boost”—like the one you might get from a pack of vitamins. But human milk is the human norm, and there are very real risks associated with not breastfeeding a child—including increased incidence of gastrointestinal and respiratory infection, obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, leukemia and SIDS.

As an environmental journalist and a mother who breastfed her oldest for four years, surely you’re aware of those benefits of breastfeeding in the first place. Did you learn anything new when writing this book?

One of the most profound things I learned was how little we truly know about breast milk—which is not merely a foodstuff but an extremely powerful human tissue packed with complex nutrients, hormones, bioactive molecules, ancient microorganisms, and thousands of other compounds that scientists have yet to understand or even discover. We finished sequencing the human genome more than a decade ago and yet we still don’t have a comprehensive library of what’s in breast milk!

As you point out in the last chapter, human milk is becoming a big business. Why is that unfortunate? What would breastfeeding be like in an ideal world?

As any nursing mother knows, breastfeeding is more than just the transfer of a “liquid gold” of nutrients; it enables a profound connection between mother and child—one that has persisted throughout human existence. So yes, as science continues to discover more exciting things about the compounds present in breast milk, hopefully society will be encouraged to prioritize breastfeeding. Still, we have to be careful not to fixate only on breast milk itself, which is already happening: Formula companies and biotech startups are racing to distill human milk down to its essence, and it is now one of the most valuable commodities in the world, worth four hundred times the cost of crude oil. But do we really want what is free and available to nearly all mothers to be sold back to us in a bottle one day? In an ideal world, alternatives to a mother’s own milk would always exist for those who need it, but mothers would have the critical support they need to be able to breastfeed their children as long as they want to.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by To-Wen Tseng. Photo courtesy HapperCollins.