By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP
Chinese medicine has always seemed like such a logical, common sense approach to medicine, at least to me. It takes what is natural and enhances and supports it to gain the maximum benefits. Whenever I am wondering about something, or how to tackle a problem or health concern, I always go back to nature because while nature may not always be kind, in my opinion, it is always right.
Human beings were brilliantly designed. Chinese medicine believes that the body has its own intelligence (that far exceeds our own which we attribute mostly to our brains), and this is what is really at the heart of the philosophy of Chinese medicine. It is also one of the reasons that it works so well, even now, 4000+ years after its inception. And so, when we look at having babies, it is the same. The body amazingly has everything it needs to create life and nourish it after it comes into the world. All we have to do is support our bodies and give them what they need, and if everything is in balance and working properly, we are able to have babies and feed them everything they need to grow and develop into healthy children and hopefully, adults.
this sweet image from todaysparent.com
Recently, I was reading an article about the results of a study analyzing global trends in breastfeeding. I was surprised when it cited some statistics on the percentage of women who breastfed. In fact, it stated that only one in two hundred women in the UK breastfeed their babies until they are a year old. That is 0.5 percent and is in fact, the lowest rate anywhere in the world. The article continued…
To put that in context: 27 percent in the U.S., 35 percent in Norway and 44 percent in Mexico were still breastfeeding after one year. The rates were remarkably higher in much of the developing world, with Senegal (99.4 percent), Gambia (98.7 percent) and Malawi (98.3 percent) topping the league table.
The interesting thing to me as I read the article was that breastfeeding rates were far higher in countries that were poor compared to wealthier countries where breastfeeding rates were much lower. The truth is, that women in poorer countries breastfeed because that’s what they have always done, for generations. Breastfeeding is not only free but has immense health benefits for both mama and baby. In wealthy countries like the United States, Canada, and Europe pharmaceutical companies have managed to work their way into hospitals and very often new mothers are offered free formula and told it has many added benefits and that breastfeeding is inferior. Out of a desire to do what is best for their babies, mothers often take the formula and never look back. The formula company has now gained a customer, which, at least in my opinion, is the whole point.
I remember in my first pregnancy, I got offered more formula than I could ever want. It felt like every time I bought anything baby related, I ended up receiving boxes of formula on my doorstep, and I kept having to give it away. I actually found it pretty aggressive they way it would show up at my door, and I would receive email after email asking me to redeem my coupon for free formula because it was the best thing I could give my baby. I ended up taking all of the formula to the birth centre and offered it to the midwives. They said they didn’t want it and politely asked me to take it away. Their thinking was that if a woman CAN breastfeed, she should. And I agree.
Breastfeeding is Not Always Easy
It has been humbling for me to have studied and practiced Chinese medicine for many years, and having treated many pregnant patients because I had some very definite ideas about things, like breastfeeding. I was all about the breastfeeding and knew I would breastfeed my children for as long as I could. But when I had my first baby, I had a really hard time with it. We both struggled, and he finally gave up after five months. At that point, I had to supplement with formula which was devastating, and at the time, felt like a failure. With my second baby – who is now two months old – breastfeeding is going smashingly. I thoroughly enjoy my time feeding her (it is a wonderful time to bond with her cuteness) and she is gaining weight and growing like a weed. A completely different experience from that with my first baby. Why has it been so different? Am I more confident as a mother? Yes. Do I still have anxieties about my ability to be awesome and provide for their every need? Of course. Am I under different stresses than I was when I had my first baby? Certainly. Does common sense and intellect go out the window when your hormones are all over the place and you haven’t slept for more than 3 hours at a time? Absolutely. The answer is probably a combination of the above as well as the fact that every baby is different. I am just grateful that this time things are easier, for both mama and baby. If being a parent has taught me anything, it is not to be too rigid with my ideas. Being flexible is how you maintain your sanity. It is a constant battle. 🙂
So, why is it that the numbers of women in wealthy countries who breastfeed are so low?? Well, let me be honest. In my opinion, pregnancy and especially childbirth have been so medicalized (if you would like to watch a sobering film on the subject, watch The Business of Being Born) – that women are taught that they cannot trust their bodies and that doctors always know better. And when it comes to breastfeeding, the pharmaceutical companies now have their formula in hospitals where it is pushed on new mothers who are often overwhelmed, unsure of what to do and wanting to do what is best for their babies. The problem is, and I will be frank, pharmaceutical companies have a profit motive and are more interested in making money than making sure your baby is getting everything it needs to grow and develop into a healthy toddler. So, if you must use formula, please do your research. Below is an excellent recipe for a homemade formula as well as a very good store bought formula with clean ingredients.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
Mother’s milk is the best thing you can feed your baby. It has everything the baby needs nutritionally (granted mama has a good diet), and gives baby immunity to infection and disease. Colostrum, the fluid that mother’s produce in the first days after birth, is the best thing you can give your baby and is an important part of building up their brand new immune systems. Ideally, breast milk is high in fats which your baby needs to nourish their growing brain and nervous systems. Breastfeeding also serves an important emotional purpose as it is a time for bonding between a mother and her baby which releases hormones that strengthen that bond like oxytocin. Breastfeeding helps the new mother lose her baby weight as well as protecting her from osteoporosis and breast cancer later on. Breastfeeding is also inexpensive (although your investment is in your diet to ensure your breastmilk is the healthiest it can be for your babe), as well as being convenient (you never run out) as well as highly portable (you have a supply everywhere you go!).
Breastfeeding and The Mother’s Diet
There is a misconception that new mother’s don’t need to worry about what they eat and that their breast milk will have everything that their babies need. This is simply not true. What a mother eats has a huge impact on the quality of her milk and ultimately, how her baby will grow and develop. Mother’s milk should contain long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCP) which are important for a developing nervous system and cognitive health. Because these long chain fatty acids are stored in the retina an brain, a deficiency can lead to visual problems and learning disabilities. Some of the best sources of LCP’s are arachidonic acid (AA) of the omega-6 family, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) of the omega-3 family and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), also of the omega-3 family. Vitamins and minerals are also of vital importance for breastfeeding mothers and the best way to get everything you need is a healthy and varied diet. Eating organic (foods free of genetic alterations, pesticides and such), foods that grow locally and are in season and that are fresh are the best foods to consume – when you are breastfeeding and at all times for good health. Breastfeeding mothers also need to be getting at least an extra 500 calories a day when they are breastfeeding as it is depleting, so eat up mama! Processed foods should always be avoided, especially processed oils, soy (which is a hormone disruptor amongst other things), and processed sugar (which is in so many processed foods). Also be sure to take caution not to be around any environmental toxins, or things like commercial paints, cleaning products or airborne pollutants. Think of your diet during both pregnancy and breastfeeding as the best investment in your child’s (and your) overall health.
The Importance of Water
If you would like this sassy bottle, you can buy it here
One thing that the midwives drilled into me when I was breastfeeding was how important it was to get enough water. Their advice was to always have a very large glass of water beside me wherever I was breastfeeding and to finish it all. Every time your baby eats, you need to be drinking water, and the cleanest and purest water possible. When I was a child, I fondly remember going with my grandparents to a nearby spring to collect drinking water in clear jugs. I remember how amazing it tasted and am so glad that I was able to drink such wonderful, pure water when I visited them (they lived in the Laurentian mountains in Quebec). When I was living in the U.S. I remembered this and found an awesome website – Find A Spring – where you can do a search for the location of a natural spring where you can get clean water near you. I believe that they post springs from all over the world and you are able to submit a spring if you know of one near you. It is a wonderful resource, so please check it out. The water we drink is so important to our health! I am so grateful to this website for the service they offer all of us for the good of our collective health.
One Last Thought
Not everyone wants to breastfeed for their own reasons. Of course, the choice is up to each individual. In some cases, there are women who are not able to breastfeed and must rely on formula to feed their babies. If this is the case, here is a link to what I think is one of the healthiest formulas you can give your child, and you can make it yourself. Homemade baby formula.
If you must use store-bought formula, try to find one that is organic (free of GMO’s) and especially, free of soy. A good one is Earth’s Best Organic Infant Formula.
Despite the good intentions of friends and family members, as well as some doctors and midwives, sometimes new mother’s can receive a lot of unsolicited “advice”. This can be overwhelming and, depending on the delivery, hurtful. Motherhood is wonderful, but often an overwhelming responsibility, especially at first. So let me give you some unsolicited advice. Mother’s should trust themselves and their instincts and that they ultimately know what is best for their babies. If you are struggling with something regarding your baby, speak to someone you trust and who will not be judgmental and talk it through with them. Do not isolate yourself, there are millions of mother’s out there, so whatever you may be struggling with, just know you are not alone. In an environment of information overload, I always go back to nature. Breastfeeding your baby is one of the best things you can do for them, for many reasons. It is also some of the best time you will get to spend with them in the very brief time that they are babies.
**The lovely featured image from motherrisingbirth.com