Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nourishing Traditions and breastfeeding

This is the third post in the series about the book "Nourishing Traditions". To read the first part, click here. The second part is here.

Disclaimer: this post focuses only on the section on infant feeding in "Nourishing Traditions", which is just a small part of the book

As I approached the section on infant feeding in Nourishing Traditions, I was looking forward to a detailed survey of breastfeeding practices in traditional cultures, including perhaps a comprehensive list of foods which are thought to be beneficial for nursing mothers. Perhaps detailed suggestions of milk-boosting diets, meals, beverages etc.

I was severely disappointed. At the beginning of the chapter, the author says that the importance of breastfeeding you baby "cannot be overemphasized." However, I felt that the rest of the chapter contradicts this statement, by concentrating mostly on recipes for preparation of homemade baby formulas, and by providing some advice which is outright detrimental to successful breastfeeding.

Are homemade "natural" formulas better than commercial formulas? Perhaps. Let's even assume so. But no formula will ever come close to breastfeeding, either in nutritional content or otherwise. Mother's milk is the food God designed for babies; cow's milk is the food God designed for calves. It's as simple as that. Cow's or goat's milk protein is unlike the protein in mother's milk and is less well suited for human infants. Yes, it is possible for a baby to grow up just fine on formula, but on all points – nutrition, emotional and immunological benefits, convenience, protection from exogenous diseases – the score of breastfeeding is infinitely higher. Therefore, whatever possible under the circumstances must be done to ensure that the baby is breastfed.

The author flatly and unequivocally states that the optimal duration of breastfeeding is six months to a year. This essentially means that some babies should be completely weaned as early as six months of age! This is just plain wrong, both according to the current position of the WHO, which states that 

"Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond"

– and according to wisdom of most traditional cultures. As a matter of fact, I find it astonishing that a book which takes such an obvious stance of learning from traditions of various people scattered throughout the world, blatantly ignores the fact that in said cultures, breastfeeding normally continued well beyond one year of age and certainly beyond six months! In the Jewish tradition, the standard length of breastfeeding is two years.

The statement, "remember that babies should be chubby" (page 601) really grated on my nerves. Is there no room for diversity, no role for heredity to play in the baby's body build? This expectation from two tall lean parents to produce a fat little butterball baby, makes mothers anxious about their milk supply when in fact they have plenty, and causes them to rush to supplement with formulas and artificially fatten up their babies. There's a little one living nearby who's just of age with Shira, and much chubbier. But when my husband lifted him, he was surprised to find out that he in fact weighs less. I suppose that's because our daughter has good, dense bone and muscle structure. Her growth sprouts always result in height and never in chubbiness. Yes, she's lean – and healthy. And so are we.

When I came to the final page, titled "Tips for Successful Breastfeeding", I was severely dismayed to read much of the same counter-productive advice you often hear from doctors whose knowledge on breastfeeding comes close to zero. Yes, good nutrition and proper rest play an important role in maintaining good milk supply. But the author neglects to mention that the most important factor in boosting milk supply is nursing on demand, which usually means often. Again, where is the analysis of practices of traditional people?

I remember, in our final year in university we ran a class for Ethiopian women on nutrition and cooking (now that I think of it, I realize how foolish of us it was to introduce them to the Mediterranean diet without encouraging them to also retain their own, traditional and very healthy diet). Some of them came to class with their babies. The babies were always wrapped in slings close to the mother, and nursed whenever they wanted. I never heard a peep from them.

How about this: "If you have any qualms or fears about not having enough milk, assemble the ingredients for homemade formula…" not "check if you really have cause for concern"; not "contact a lactation consultant and/or a La Leche League representative", not "nurse more often." Prepare to give formula!! According to the author, "having the supplies on hand can be enough to give you the peace of mind that allows your milk to keep flowing". Well, you know what? This very strongly reminds me of the well-meaning doctors and nurses who tried to persuade us to keep a can of formula at home, just in case. Does having formula around help to keep the milk flowing? On the contrary, it provides an additional breaking 
point for a mother in a moment of weakness or despair. 
 Supplementing may be necessary sometimes, but it is just about one of the most critical steps towards diminishing your milk supply.

And this: "Lack of adequate milk supply sometimes does occur, especially as baby grows and his appetite increases."  Yes, sometimes during a growth sprout it does seem as though the milk supply is inadequate. However, by nursing more often, eating well and resting, milk supply can usually be increased. Mother and baby are hormonally tuned to one another. Infant suckling stimulates milk supply. Lack of adequate supply doesn’t just "occur" (it's maddening that an author which is all for encouraging natural processes in the body, allows her readers to think that a basic bodily function like lactation just stops or decreases out of the blue). It has reasons which can often be traced to things like abrupt night weaning, introduction of solids, spending time away from your baby, giving a pacifier, a new pregnancy, etc.

I'm not saying that mothers who couldn't breastfeed, for whatever reason, should feel guilty. But I do think that authors should feel guilty if their advice might have undermined breastfeeding for thousands of women.

My final conclusion? Eat the apple and spit out the seeds. "Nourishing Traditions" is a fascinating book with lots of material for thought and valuable advice, and it will certainly be kept at a place of honor on my shelf, and often referred to. However, on this matter of breastfeeding I quite plainly disagree with a lot of what the author has to say.  


Gothelittle Rose said...

Let me just be a sort of devil's advocate here on the baby's 'chubbiness'. I believe that my baby is chubby. She has the beginnings of fat rolls on her thighs and dimples in her elbows and knees.

She does not have the marshmallow hands of her butterball baby cousin. She seems to have my more slender genes. Still, you can tell that she eats well. Somewhat similarly, I don't have rolls, but I could lose a good 10lbs before I hit my optimal weight. (I gained them in pregnancy and it's been hard to get them off! Anyways...)

Before the marshmallow look and the fat rolls is an entire range of 'chubby' which a healthy baby can be, and beyond that is a type of 'slender' that a baby should not be. I've seen pictures of Shira, she's fine. Look at the lines around her wrists. (And then give her a hug, because you can't get that close to a little one without giving them a hug. :) )

Some parents don't understand that a baby should not look like a supermodel, and they think the baby is healthy when she is what they would call thin and what we would call starving. For them, "babies should be chubby" is very good advice. A better rule of thumb may be, "Babies should be chubbier than their parents." (than their parents are, not were... anyways...)

The breastfeeding duration, though... First they say that older and better civilizations space children three or more years apart, and then they say that breastfeeding should stop between 6 months and a year. How exactly do they think that those women kept from getting pregnant for years after their previous child?

Mrs.Rabe said...

I like how you put it "eat the apple, spit out the seeds." That is a great way to talk about gleaning the helpful and useful from a book and leave the rest!

I agree with you about the breastfeeding...I nurse all of mine as long as they wanted. I think overall, it is not really encouraged. Everyone says it is better, everyone knows it is and yet women often don't want to be tied down to nursing.

I loved it and the time I got to spend with my child, one on one!

Mrs. Anna T said...

"First they say that older and better civilizations space children three or more years apart, and then they say that breastfeeding should stop between 6 months and a year. How exactly do they think that those women kept from getting pregnant for years after their previous child?"

I've wondered the same thing. Sure, in some primitive cultures the husband and wife simply didn't cohabit for years, but I know many women who don't have their period back until they stop breastfeeding entirely, which naturally spaces out their children (sometimes even for longer periods than they would have ideally wanted). I'm not one of them though. :o)

About the chubbiness, though, of course a baby shouldn't look like a supermodel, but still, a large degree of diversity can exist even in the same family. For example, when I look at my mother's childhood pictures, she looks like a concentration camp survivor. I kid you not. Her sister, on the other hand, is what one would call chubby. Same family, largely the same food for each child, yet such a huge difference. And both girls were healthy.

LeAnna said...

I totally agree with you! My sister was TINY all through her childhood, my Mom even had people accuse her of starving her, which just broke her heart. She was just a small baby, with a small build. She had severe food allergies also. My own son is very lean, as are my husband and I. I get so angry when people question "whether or not we feed him" because he is just built that way. Our societies have become so desensitized to obesity, especially the US.
My son self weaned at 9 months, and to this day is not a big eater. He loves a variety of foods, but doesn't eat much of them. But, he's healthy, happy and perfectly on track for his age. You can't judge a baby by their cover. :)

Rachel said...

My mother has been to see/hear Sally Fallon speak through the Weston Price Foundation and I believe she says that she had difficulty nursing her babies. I think often time the guilt involved in that struggle, makes a person find alternatives that help relieve that guilt. Now there is regret maybe that she didn't try harder, but rather than acknowledge that, she clings harder to what she did do. Just my mother's perception.

Goldnrod said...

I agree with the others thoughts on 'chubbyness'. Believe me, there are people here in the US who would put their baby on a diet if they weren't warned that 'babies are supposed to be chubby.' However, I have to agree that she should have put it in a clearer way.

Also, it is good to have natural formula recipes available. While in the minority, there are still quite a few people who can't breastfed successfully. I know of 2 hsing moms who tried everything, & then struggled to find a healthy homemade formula.

Kristy said...

I heartily agree. I love Nourishing Traditions and it has been the door to a new world of thinking for my husband and myself, nutritionally speaking, but there are certainly things peppered throughout that give me pause. I love the way you phrased that -- eat the apple and spit out the seeds.

Anonymous said...

I was told over and over again by well meaning mothers that my milk supply drying up doesn't just "happen." Somehow, it was my fault. Here's the facts. I breastfed my daughter exclusively and on demand. My fertility returned 2 months post partum and within a month, I was lucky if I could produce an ounce of watery milk a morning! I followed all the advice of bed rest, dietary changes, mother's milk tea, supplements and even feeding my daughter every hour. NOTHING worked. My daughter's skin literally sagged from the loss of fat. She began rejecting the breast knowing that she wasn't getting much of anything. I had NO CHOICE but to reach for those cans of formula my doctor gave me. My daughter was visually starving! I did look into Sally Fallon's formula recipe, but found it cost prohibitive.

I understand why the Breast Feeding movement (of which I belong despite my limited ability to breast feed) doesn't want to encourage formula feeding by handing out formula to new moms, but in my case, it was a godsend. I am a smart enough women to know that breast is best and to avoid the temptation of just filling up a bottle with "powdered ease." It broke my heart to stop breast feeding and I've been praying this entire pregnancy that I can successfully breast feed this baby AND produce enough to give to my daughter who is 2 now and was sorely cheated out as an infant.

Anonymous said...

My sister and I were both very thin babies. My mother was always pro-breastfeeding, and I think this is why neither my sister or I have ever had to struggle with our weights as we got older. It may seem like harmless "baby fat" when a child is an infant, but chubby babies grow into hefty toddlers, into overweight adolescents.

My family was also very active. As soon as we could toddle along, my parents ditched the stroller. My mom would always have my sister and I walk wherever we went, even if this meant her errands took longer because we weren't as fast. Not only did this make us good and tired at the end of the day, but made us much more athletic than our peers. I think too many parents stuff their toddlers into strollers just for the sake of convenience. They should be up and walking, getting some healthy exercise!


messy bessy said...

I join you in astonishment over the lack of basic common sense about breastfeeding and milk supply. It's so easy to understand a child can learn: your body (if healthy and ordinarily constructed)makes however much milk your baby requires, as long as you allow your baby to have access to nursing whenever he wants. It is a demand-driven function, but your body can't know how much demand there is through your brain -- it knows through the amount of suckling your baby does.

Countless times you hear, "I couldn't nurse beyond three months because my milk supply ran out." And when you talk further it becomes clear that three months was when you weaned your baby from night-nursing, or when you went to work part-time, or when you began introducing solids or bottles of anything other than breastmilk.

There's nothing morally wrong with any of those things, either. But nature requires what it requires. It seems so simple, yet is so little understood.

Thanks for the perspective on this issue in the book.

Everly Pleasant said...

Hello there,
I'm in the early stages of research for a book about a young woman's role in both the home and society. Would you be willing to let me interview you? I have made up a brief list of questions that I could email if you were interested! Thank you,

Katie V. said...

Dear Anna,

I agree with all the points you brought up about breastfeeding. When it comes down to it, breastfeeding can entail sacrifice. But with any sacrifice, given in love, comes many fruits. Also, I ihave seen many families where children come n aturally spaced out because of breastfeeding. God designs the best for our children, our families. We just need to trust and give generously! Katie

Mrs. Anna T said...

taighbeag, I do realize some women are physically unable to breastfeed - however, these cases are VERY rare compared to the number of cases women are told they "don't have enough milk", or indeed, that it's common and normal not to have enough milk, making us feel as though successful lactation is some sort of a lottery.

Everly, you can email me at domesticfelicity@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Your criticisms are very well stated, and absolutely accurate. Well said. You are a wonderful breastfeeding advocate, which is so very important in this age we live in. Bravo.

Jan Hatchett said...

I so appreciate your willingness to take the parts of the book that are logical and discard the rest. Today, most young people don't seem to have the discernment to choose the important information. Too many people will either accept it all because it is in print or refuse it all. It takes wisdom to produce discernment.

I have enjoyed your reviews of this book even more for this reason.

Anonymous said...

As Rachel said, Sally Fallon has talked a lot in various places about how much trouble she had with nursing, being able to nurse less with each child. I think she feels really distressed about it still and because the Weston Price Foundation is not exactly big, there are not enough other voices to counteract her not well thought out writing on the BF topic.

In general I love the Weston Price website and books, but it is a small organization so I do have to weigh everything against other sources. On the bright side, I doubt that many people reading NT are ignorant about breastfeeding - at least where I am, anyone who gets to the point of reading that book tends to alreay have been learning and putting into practice more healthy things like naturally breastfeeding babies. So I think most people are already familiar with La Leche League, etc., before reading NT.

I really do love their general dietary recommenations - cod liver oil got me out of a severe depression (almost suicidal) and raw milk, grass fed meat, etc. are wonderful! Expensive, but I get them whenever I can afford it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,

I agreed with your review of this book, which funny enough, I just read myself for the first time. I have been looking for sometime for nutrition advice. When I have gone to nutritionists I get the standard "Here is a portion size, eat such and such amount of fruit and vegetables a day.." but if I say "I am losing enamel on my teeth and having skin problems..what can I eat?" They look at me like I am from Mars and hand me a brochure on milk products...which I am allergic to and tell me to include a snack twice a day ...like a diet soda and pretzel...WHAT!

Then I read in this book that certain symptoms (say loss of tooth enamel) is caused by a deficiency of something (like magnesium) and you can up your intact by eating these three things.

YES, that is what I am looking for. It would seem that Nurtitionists should be able to almost be like a doctor and listen to your symptoms and point you towards the right food..but here in the USA they do little more than make you play with plastic foods and tell you to eat a certain amount of calories a day (and many of them are overweight to boot!)

I agree on your take on the nursing advice she gave and have run into this over and over.

I find that women who chose not to nurse, had a hard time nursing because they were not educated on how to or just plain got tired of it...try to tell everyone else how long and how much they should nurse. It does come off as a guilt thing. I am sure there are some examples going the other way, but it this has been my experience.

And, of course there is that one in a million (yes, I bet it is that high because not too long ago your children would have died if you couldn't nurse them) women who has a medical problem that makes it hard...but then that person doesn't really have much advice to give to someone. I mean, that is like me having a leg amputated and going around giving jogging advice.

I may have told you this before, but I was confronted while nursing my one year old a long time ago by an astoundingly ignorant woman who had four children (does the whole midwife/natural birth thing so I am not sure what planet she got this information from), nursed them all, but told me that breast milk turns to water upon the first Birthday of the baby. She wasn't kidding and had been telling people this for years.

I laughed thinking she was kidding. She wasn't. She got mad and tried to "educate" me.

I told her that I had never heard that women turn into water fountains on their children's first birthdays and that I know for a FACT that my milk didn't do that and that their are scientific studies that researched the milk of women nursing toddlers. I also offered to squirt her to prove it. She just stopped speaking to me.

I kind of thought if she had any common sense at all she would have THANKED me for correcting such an insane opinion. But hey, that's me LOL.

Many Blessings :)

Jamie said...

It was the breastfeeding information that put me off Sally Fallon and Weston A. Price.

Some might say I am not 'discerning' enough because I have written them off, but I would rather receive nutrition advice from those who are accurate in areas I do understand, rather than perservere despite this inacurrate information and wonder what other incorrect information they are giving me for topics I don't understand well.

I am enjoying your review, Anna.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Jamie, as a matter of fact Dr. Price mentions extended breastfeeding among traditional cultures in his book. It's just that Sally Fallon glosses over it for some reason and sets a new, apparently arbitrary line at 6-12 months.

Everything we read should be read with discernment. No book or theory should be followed blindly!

Anonymous said...

I have come here reading for awhile...may an old grandma tell her story? I only was able to have 3 children, though I would have liked at least one more. I had only a little encouragement to nurse my babies, beginning with my first, born in 1975. But my husband was always very supportive so that is the most important. One must eat well and not worry much about calories (of healthy stuff especially) and my supply of milk was plenty. I nursed each one a different length of time, ending up at 6 years between them all. The last one was nursed 3.5 years. I never intended to go that long (my hysterectomy ended it too), but she was not a well baby after we began immunizations. Many times she could not keep anything down but what she got from me. Our little lady doc (who was from Taiwain) thought I could not have milk so long...I never offered to prove it either...but I believe it is what allowed my daughter to live. My advice to young women is to do what comes naturally to most of us moms...that which is best for our child. And they do grow up. I miss nursing babies and wish I was young enough to have more. Blessings on you and I do enjoy reading what you share here!! Thanks.

Karen H said...

this is a reply for taighbeag....hopefully she will see it. I had a low milk supply with my frist child who is now six years old. By the time she was 8 weeks old it was evident she wasn't getting enough despite the fact I was doing everything right and nursing around the clock. Fortunately, I didn't have to use formula, but that was because when she was 8 weeks I started taking Reglan...it is a prescription medication for reflux, but one of it's off-label uses is to increase your milk supply.... and within a few days of taking it my milk supply trippled. I had a horrible first 8 weeks of breastfeeding, but after starting that medication, breastfeeding took a turn for the better, and I ended up nursing her til she was 2. But then I had my 2nd child...she is now one... and I had no problems with my milk supply. She nursed well from birth and is still breastfeeding and probably will still be by the time I have this baby that I am currently pregnant with! So hopefully, you will have no problems the 2nd time. I encourage women to not be discouraged from a bad experience the first time.... it doesn't mean that you will have trouble the 2nd time. I pray that this is the case for you!

Anonymous said...

I read the same book 'Nourishing Traditions' years ago, before I became a mother, and like you I was totally perplexed when I got to the part about infant feeding. How bizare! Although the rest of the book was very edifying, for the breastfeeding nonsense alone I would not buy it. It's so interesting to see that you had a similar reaction to the book.

Thanks so much for your blog and keep up the good work!