Before I begin today’s post, I feel like acknowledging that I find it puzzling that we even need to do research on breastfeeding or that it is considered “news” OR that it is something for which the advantages need to be “debunked” OR “proven.” It feels similar to me to seeing journal articles “revealing” that your own blood has special nutrients in it that help your body to function or announcing that having your own blood in your body helps you be healthier and live longer. Or, likewise, if we were to see articles “proving” that it is good for your cells if you drink water or that a special component has been added to a new soda to make it as “close to water as possible.” Some things just don’t really need to be news. And, I’ve observed for over eight years that new, often negative research about breastfeeding often “coincidentally” surfaces right around World Breastfeeding Week, and usually some new campaign also surfaces with a feel-good, but toothless message about “supporting all mothers,” and perhaps some “shocking” reveal article about celebrity breastfeeding will also pop up.
That said, unsurprisingly, some breastfeeding research and general breastfeeding articles have caught my eye recently. The first with regard to weaning and depression:
But the frequency with which women experience depressive episodes when weaning their babies is far less understood. Researchers “The intersection between lactation and mood is important, and it is extremely understudied,” said Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, director of the perinatal psychiatry program at the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders. “There are definitely people who report mood symptoms associated with lactation.”
The second is one that will actually affect the way I practice when helping breastfeeding women and it is about the relationship that may exist between mothers having trouble breastfeeding and early signs of diabetes.
New research has revealed the hormone insulin plays an important part in the production of breast milk – and mothers who are struggling with feeding may have low levels of insulin.
For a long time, insulin was not thought to play a direct role in regulating the milk-making cells of the human breast.
But scientists now know that the mammary gland in breast becomes sensitive to insulin during lactation.
And, not new or surprising or current, but unfortunately of continued relevance is the fact that IV fluids during labor artificially inflate baby’s birthweight:
But when babies lose more than 7% of birth weight during these early days, does this automatically mean they are not getting enough milk? No, according to a recent study.
A greater weight loss may be completely unrelated to breastfeeding and due instead to excess IV fluids mothers receive within the final 2 hours before delivery. According to this study, these excess IV fluids inflate babies’ birth weight in utero and act as a diuretic after birth. Babies whose mothers received more IV fluids before birth urinated more during their first 24 hours and as a result lost more weight. Number of wet diapers during the first 24 hours predicted infant weight loss. This was true whether the babies were born vaginally or by c-section. Another study published earlier this year had similar findings.
This weight loss has nothing whatsoever to do with breastfeeding and milk intake. In fact, the authors suggest that if clinicians want to use weight loss as a gauge of milk intake, they calculate baby’s weight loss not from birth weight, but from their weight at 24 hours. According to their findings, this could neutralize the effect of the mother’s IV fluids on newborn weight loss.
They way we treat women during birth matters for her breastfeeding relationship and the health of her baby! Birth interventions are not benign.
Also, not benign is the way this article from MSNBC chose to describe some research about breastfeeding women having a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease (if researchers were more careful to watch their language, ala Diane Wiessinger, and remember that breastfeeding is the biologic norm, the article would actually be titled, “formula feeding increases risk of Alzheimer’s”):
Amazing news for moms who breast-fed: All that hassle was worth it — not just for your baby (who will likely have a higher IQ), but for you as well. A new Cambridge University study suggests that women who breast-feed can cut their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to two-thirds and calls the link “highly significant.” Those overly precious attachment parents might have the last laugh yet, as the benefits seemed to increase with longer periods of breast-feeding: Women who breast-fed for a year were found to have about a 20 percent lower risk of developing the disease as someone who had breast-fed for only four months. [Source]
Note that this “article” was published during World Breastfeeding Week and inserts little digs about being “overly precious” and a “hassle.” Words matter. They seep into our consciousness and affect our realities and our understandings of ourselves and our babies.
Not coincidentally, we also have to keep “proving” over and over again what many parents often feel in their hearts: that babies need to be with their parents, that they need to be held, and that breastfeeding is good for them.
“Ill-advised practices and beliefs have become commonplace in our culture, such as the use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms or the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby will ‘spoil’ it,” Narvaez says.
This new research links certain early, nurturing parenting practices — the kind common in foraging hunter-gatherer societies — to specific, healthy emotional outcomes in adulthood, and has many experts rethinking some of our modern, cultural child-rearing “norms.”
“Breast-feeding infants, responsiveness to crying, almost constant touch and having multiple adult caregivers are some of the nurturing ancestral parenting practices that are shown to positively impact the developing brain, which not only shapes personality, but also helps physical health and moral development,” says Narvaez.
Studies show that responding to a baby’s needs (not letting a baby “cry it out”) has been shown to influence the development of conscience; positive touch affects stress reactivity, impulse control and empathy; free play in nature influences social capacities and aggression; and a set of supportive caregivers (beyond the mother alone) predicts IQ and ego resilience as well as empathy.
Is anyone else getting tired of these kind of impressive “reveals”? I find it discouraging and frustrating, but maybe I’m just in a bad mood today!
I was less crabby to read this pleasant little story about Selma Blair and her breastfeeding toddler:
Arthur, who just celebrated his second birthday on July 25, seemed to enjoy the tasty snack, smiling and chatting gleefully with his mother and passers-by before the two headed off the train.
Even in more progressive parts of America breastfeeding is still seen as taboo, despite countless studies affirming the list of health benefits for both mothers and their children…
And, from the same publication (not always widely renowned as a respectable source!), we see this interesting article about portraits of breastfeeding mothers from the 1800’s along with a little social commentary:
The seemingly normal image of the nursing mother in mid-1800s America poses a stark contrast against the media storm surrounding California mother-of-two Jamie Lynne Grumet last year, who posed on the cover of TIME breastfeeding her three-and-half-year-old son.
And, interestingly, something else women also feel, but don’t necessarily have “back up” for, is the understanding that it isn’t breastmilk alone that has these effects for women, it is the act of breastfeeding itself, something that is not always differentiated in breastmilk research:
1) Find out what they mean when they say “breastfeeding.” This question by itself can often clear up misperceptions. In many cases, when critics say “breastfeeding,” what they really mean is “breast milk” independent of its delivery method; they do not mean the entire package that is breastfeeding. Breast milk obviously shines when compared to any of its substitutes. But when the independent effects of the milk are teased away from the act of breastfeeding, the differences seem smaller. And that is precisely the point—it’s the milk and the method of delivery that make the difference for both mother and baby.
Along these same lines, but from a personal perspective instead, I was pleased, but not particularly surprised to read this mother’s story about breastfeeding her adopted son:
I am surprised by how not different breastfeeding our son feels compared to breastfeeding our older, biological children.
But because he’s adopted, breastfeeding felt even more important. I wanted him to feel that bond — that closeness and skin-to-skin, to help him feel comforted. Not being pregnant, and not knowing what he felt like in the womb beforehand … I wanted that physical connection with him afterward. And it’s just been really easy so far, although I don’t love the supplemental nursing system [laughs]. There have been moments of trying to get him to latch where, I’m just like, ‘Ok! I’m done!’
But I feel so bonded and attached to him, and I think a huge part of that has been the breastfeeding.
We also see questionable research results that seem to completely overlook the systemic context in which women make their feeding “choices”:
Brown found extraverted, conscientious and emotionally stable mothers were more likely to try breast-feeding. But being agreeable or open to new experiences made no difference, according to the findings published Tuesday (Aug. 6) in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.
Many try, but many quit
More than 80 percent of the women in the study tried to breast-feed, but less than half who tried were still breast-feeding six months later. And women who switched from breast to bottle tended to switch quickly. About 73 percent of the women who stopped breast-feeding did so within two weeks after giving birth.
Women who were conscientious — for example, detailed-oriented and punctual — were likely to start, but also likely to stop breast-feeding.
Mothers who kept breast-feeding during the first six months were more extroverted and less anxious than mothers who always bottle-fed or switched to the bottle. The effect was particularly strong within the first six weeks after birth. [Blossoming Body: 8 Odd Changes That Happen During Pregnancy]
It is a huge mistake to reduce breastfeeding decisions to a “personal choice,” when it is a public health issue made in the context of a society that treats formula like the norm (as with the breastfeeding reduces risk, rather than formula increases risk research, as referenced above), pays excessive attention to celebrity breastfeeding experiences or public breastfeeding encounters, makes snide remarks under the guise of presenting new, duh-based research, that tolerates disparities in survival rates of black babies, and interferes with the birth process to the extent that we do not even have an accurate starting birth weight to gauge the “success” of breastfeeding by.