Thursday, October 6, 2011

Taking good care…

“Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” We all seem to know this intuitively when we are nursing our babies. Read any breastfeeding or parenting board and you’ll see scores of suggestions for using breastmilk for ear infections, pink eye, burns, candida, diaper rash, cradle cap, stuffy noses, eczema, cuts and so on. Moms advise one another to feed their milk to older children when they are ill and mention hearing of breastmilk being used to treat cancer and other illnesses. We encourage one another to nurse through fevers, teething, infections and injuries. We nurse our babies to sleep and into a new day, we nurse them in new situations and around new people, we nurse them to quiet them on airplanes and at public events, after a nightmare and at the end of a long day. We know we have in our milk the power to nourish, to comfort, to heal, to take good care.

Many common difficulties mothers might face while nursing are also discussed on these boards and pages. We know that babies who are “colicky”, refluxing, vomiting or have eczema might well have food allergies. So, mothers encourage one another to eliminate certain foods from their diets—thus manipulating the nature of our food as medicine. We know that we can increase levels of certain nutrients--vitamin D, for example or change the fat composition of a mother’s milk by changing her dietary intake (or Sun exposure). Our milk is food and it is also medicine.

We know we have the means of taking good care of our little ones while they’re nursing, but we rarely turn that awareness toward developing our innate skills in taking good care of them into childhood. Suddenly, the advice on parenting boards becomes limited primarily to over-the-counter medications, a few comfort measures or a trip to the doctor when children aren’t feeling well. How is it that we do not know the simple means of taking good care of our own human bodies, our own human beings?

To be fair, many mothers also struggle to trust their own bodies, their own milk and their ability to fully nourish their babies as well. Maybe, even most mothers face this struggle. Certainly, nursing has yet to return to us as the biological norm it was designed for, and is far from being the cultural norm either. Even so, when moms put babies to breast, they commonly realize they have something pretty amazing going on. They begin to trust, begin to realize the value of the vast resource at their disposal.

The lesson that nursing offers us here is that taking good care is usually simple, based in nutrition, amplified through nurturing, and offered as a kind of common knowledge, mediated through intuition. But, just as we as a culture have lost both the art and common sense of feeding our babies for several generations, so, too have we lost the art of taking good care of our own families. We have lost the wisdom of our food, the knowledge of its healing properties and the use of plants and common home remedies as medicine. We have lost our energetic connection to taking care of one another and so energy medicine is dismissed as quackery or a placebo by many of us. While nursing, we begin to claim our birthright, our ability to know our bodies, to trust their wholeness, but in the process of weaning, we most commonly turn away from this very same right to knowledge and wisdom. We turn towards an external, rather than an internal guidance system.

In my work as a parent educator and lactation consultant, I have found that once mothers come to trust their bodies and their milk, they are often eager for the knowledge and confidence that comes of learning the deeper art of taking care. But, while nursing our babies offers us wisdom through the very act of doing so, mothers have no such guide in learning to parent holistically throughout their babies’ childhoods.

Yet, I have found that given the choice of using holistic approaches in taking care of their children, rather than over-the-counter medications, more often than not mothers will choose natural remedies if they can feel confident in their use of them. In working with mothers, I am able to guide them through their insecurities in learning to use holistic practices, such as nutrition, homeopathy, home remedies, herbs and in seeking other supportive therapies from holistic providers.

For example, a mother who has come to trust that she can nurse her baby through a fever, relying on the antibodies and digestibility of her milk to help her baby get well, has been prepared by her experience to trust in the body’s innate desire for homeostasis. Once weaned, when her child is not well, she has the option to use “fever-reducing medications” and hydration solutions, or she can continue to trust in the body and choose from among simple supportive therapies such as homeopathy, coconut water for hydration, essential oils or Bach Flower remedies for comfort and herbs and nutrients (such as vitamin C, zinc or vitamin D) for immune support. She can choose supportive foods that encourage healing and restrict foods that do not. It’s a much simpler leap to get there than most parents realize.

During the past six years, I have been developing a project to help parents gain the knowledge, learn the skills and grow in the confidence it takes to use holistic therapies in taking good care of their families. Through my workshops, I have been teaching parents to use holistic therapies within a supportive context with other parents, while offering a Home Remedy KIT ( What's in the KIT?designed to make it easy to access the products most commonly relied upon. Through long-term support via a yahoo group, parents who have taken my workshops have been able to try new therapies while learning from one another, finding confidence in their successes, and in turn, supporting and teaching other less experienced parents. In this project through which I am converting my workshops to webinars, adding a fully functional website and producing other supportive materials, I can turn a small, successful experiment into a full-fledged, large-scale endeavor.

Just this week, a mother new to holistic therapies posted to the yahoo group, looking for a way to avoid the probability that her doctor would prescribe antibiotics for her baby’s ear infection. Several mothers posted my favorite treatment—onion juice in the baby’s ear. Other supportive suggestions included castor oil compresses and immune support. The mom posted the next day that the onion juice “worked like a dream”. The baby’s fever had done its job, broken on its own and the baby was recovering. All of this was new to the mom, but because she had the support of other mothers at her disposal almost 24 hours a day, she gained confidence in trying this new therapy. Through support knowledge becomes wisdom.

Each time, it get easier and easier and as the mother gains wisdom, she will offer that wisdom to others. This is my vision, on a much larger scale. This mom, as do we all, knows we have the option of seeking medical care should we or our children need it, and that as well empowers us. The more we gain confidence in our own skills, the better we know our children and ourselves, the better we are at managing both home care and care from our practitioners. It has been my experience that empowered mothers have better relationships with their health care providers. To see the comments and reviews of the Home Remedy KIT, click here: reviews

This project, the KIT Project, is the foundation of my work in helping parents raise their children holistically. I will be taking the Raising Children Holistically webinars live this Fall. Parents will soon have the opportunity to access the workshops from anywhere on the globe, but a strong support system is essential in ensuring that the information gained is much more than an intellectual exercise; that parents have the confidence to put into practice the skills they learn. 

There are only two more days to my IndiGoGo fundraiser, designed to support the expansion and success of this project. In the past weeks of upheaval, this project has not had my attention. Given that there was amazing support when I initially launched the fundraiser, and that many who expressed support have yet to donate, I am making this final two-day effort to come as close to my goal as possible. If you are as passionate as I am about helping parents gain the confidence to take good care of our families, then I hope you will see the potential in this Project and make a donation in support.  

Please click here to learn more and to donate to the KIT Project: IndieGoGo Fundraiser

Thank you for your support!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

So, What's in the KIT?

Some folks have asked me for more detail about the Sumati Home Remedy KIT, which I am actively promoting as part of my IndieGoGo Project.  I have reprinted the information on the development of the KIT here, followed by some additional information:

BIRTH OF THE KIT: One day six years ago, after a particularly hectic group in which moms were eager to have another discussion about natural healing remedies, I sat down with two friends and we made a list of all the natural healing products we had been using for years in taking care of our own families. We brainstormed, included everything we could think of, then eliminated the ones we would not consider essential if stranded indefinitely on a desert island. We eliminated the products we thought duplicated one another. What we had when we were finished was a pretty amazing Home Remedy KIT. The KIT contains approximately 40 products from homeopathic remedies, to herbs, first aid treatments and immune support. It addresses all of the common ailments you might encounter such as minor injuries, colds, headaches, stomach aches, sore throats, fevers, rashes, sunburn, insect bites and much more. Because the KIT contained the very same products we would suggest when  advising our own friends and families, we called it the Sumati (sanskrit for “good advice”) Home Remedy KIT.

In designing the KIT, we began by selecting 12 homeopathic remedies, choosing those most commonly used with children, those for common ailments such as ear aches, teething, respiratory infections, burns, wounds and injuries and those you might want while away from home. We added supplements that have acute applications, such as magnesium, zinc and vitamin D. We rounded out the selection with topical treatments such as the luxurious but supremely healing rainforest tamanu oil, two essential oils, stabilized oxygen, the amazing sangre de drago, made from a rainforest tree sap, perhaps our most versatile product--a calcium bentonite, a silver hydrosol and a soothing chest rub. Rescue remedy is included to ease emotional stress. In addition, we selected home remedies and herbs from among both Eastern and Western sources.

For example, among the topical treatments, we have included the Chinese herbal liniment zhen gu shui, (translated as "bone setting solution), which I learned to use liberally during my ten years training as a martial artist. This simple liniment can bring immediate relief to pulled and strained muscles, while also providing equally effective deep healing to torn ligaments and bruised bones, a fact to which any martial artist can attest.

From a completely different modality,  the homeopathic, anti-inflammatory ointment Traumeel is included because it can be applied liberally to bumps, bruises, scrapes, sprains and strains. The products blends 12 botanicals and 2 minerals as active ingredients, found by many to enhance the healing properties of arnica alone. It's a wonderful remedy for children, who don't tend to resist its application, such as they might with the strongly-scented zhen gu shui, which is often preferred by adults, athletes or those who fancy themselves to be! There are topical treatments for sunburn, wounds, insect bites, rashes, inflammation, scars, fungal infections and respiratory infections.

To support the immune system when the body is under stress or under viral attack, we have included supplements, herbs and homeopathic remedies. From the ever-popular homeopathic remedy oscillococcinum to zinc and vitamin D, which I boost when my family is sick, to one of the most well-researched immune-supporting herbs elderberry, as well as one of my personally favorite Chinese herbs yin chiao. In addition, the workshops provide additional information on the use of a variety of common kitchen remedies, such as garlic poultices for inflammation, onion for ear infections, mustard poultices to relieve chest congestion and apple cider vinegar for any number of ailments.

The KIT, along with the information presented in the workshops/webinars is designed to be a first aid tool and first line of defense when we find ourselves contending with any manner of discomfort, injury or ailment common to our everyday lives. The information is educational in nature and is designed to provide a basic understanding of the role holistic remedies can play in maintaining physical and emotional well-being. It is not designed to replace appropriate medical care or to diagnose or treat disease. Rather, it is designed to support he body in in its innate desire to maintain well-being and restore homeostasis.

Following are some testimonials I have received about the KIT and the workshops (which are discussed more thoroughly below):

"I met Jennifer about 5 years ago, she was always caring and making sure I followed up on her suggestions so I could achieve desired results about my breastfeeding challenges. Less than two years later I went to the Home Remedies Workshop and still use the remedies in my kit, I always use it at home and it always goes with us on short and long trips. I feel blessed to know Jenn and thanks to her I belong to a Healthy Minded support group of wonderful Moms that are always supporting each other on this wonderful parenting journey, thank you Jennifer for always been there for all of us, no matter what the issue we are facing."...Deidy Hernandez-Forte, CT, USA

"I recently purchased Jen's Home Remedy Kit and took her intensive course on the use of the remedies. It has been absolutely life-changing! I use it on literally a daily basis-- for cuts and scrapes, bug bites, illnesses, stomach-aches, teething, everything imagineable! Even my medicine-loving husband swears by our kit and raves about it to anyone who will listen. "...Tammy Outlaw-Miller, CT, USA

"I took Jen and Elisabeth's Holistic Family Wellness workshop over two years ago and continue to use the irreplaceable tips on achieving and maintaining optimal health on a weekly, if not daily basis. The kit turned out to be worth it's weight in gold and makes it easy to take on my travels --I feel I have most everything I could want for any situation. I am so grateful to myself for realizing I could not possibly 'know it all' and to these ladies for teaching me to be the best caregiver possible to my kids, right here in my own home. We haven't seen or needed a doctor in more years than I can count! Many blessings upon you and all the ladies I met there and good luck in your continued business ventures :)"....Liberty C Liscomb, CT, USA

"Jen's Sumati kit is an excellent and empowering collection of products and her class teaches one how to use them. There is nothing like making the salve to put on a cut or burn, providing relief for an upset stomach, or helping one find allusive sleep. It was an excellent investment that has more than paid for itself."...Amy Farber Monticello, CT, USA

"Jen also introduced me to wonderful alternative practitioners who have been vital to our health. The holistic first aid kit I purchased from her is used constantly and my family has been amazed at what we've accomplished with alternative medicine. I've only scratched the surface of all there is to learn but with Jennifer and the network of women she has set up, I am inspired to learn more all the time. "...Cori Roy Griswold, CT, USA

I met Jennifer about a year and a half ago and she opened my eyes to my own power to heal myself and my children. I bought the full kit and since then, I’ve grown and learned so much about holistic living. This project is so exciting because it will allow her to share her knowledge and experience on such a broader scale...K Salsa, OR, USA

“…The kit has empowered me; I feel confident that I can care for my family’s health and well-being using this arsenal of knowledge Jen has given me. Before I had the kit, when my children were sick I would feel helpless to ease their symptoms and help their bodies heal, but now I have tools at my fingertips to help them to feel better and recover quickly. I highly recommend this kit, and I highly recommend Jennifer”…..Kate Cordick-Burns Heiser, CT, USA

The workshops/webinars designed to provide the knowledge and skill to effectively use the KIT and other holistic remedies and modalities are described here:

WORKSHOPS: Next, I wrote a curriculum for a full-day workshop on Home Remedies and offered the course to my clients, in combination with offering the KIT. I taught the use of simple household medicines such as garlic, onion and other kitchen herbs, as well as common products that could be purchased. The project was a resounding success. It accomplished exactly what I had hoped, allowing mothers to immediately implement the new information, rather than storing it away for future reference. In particular, having the Kit made using the remedies immediately accessible and participating in the yahoo group allowed moms to try things, ask questions and learn quickly.

I repeated the workshops, but incorporated them into a three-day series entitled Raising Children Holistically, including Nutrition and Energy Medicine. Moms loved them! They found they gained enough solid information to feel confident in taking care of their own children, in supporting one another, in educating their families and in finding the motivation to explore these topics well beyond the basics offered in the workshops. You can read reviews about the KIT and my work here. 

Now, this same series is being adapted into a 12-hour webinar series, so as to reach enough families that we may experience this ripple of parents actively engaged, intuitively connected and skillfully prepared to care well for their children as it becomes a tidal wave of self-confidence and wisdom. 

To support the KIT Projrect:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Breast is Best" Cultivates a Western Mythology

The Breast Milk Cure by Nicholas D. Kristof was published in the New York Times on June 22, 2011:

Nicholas Kristof was recently in Niger, where he wrote a piece,
published in the NY Times about the country's surprisingly low breastfeeding rates. In that piece, he also addressed the challenges he perceived might account for such low breastfeeding rates, as well as why the situation is so dire in the region.

As if taking the words straight from the pen of the esteemed Gabrielle Palmer, who wrote in The Politics of Breastfeeding, "If a multinational company developed a product that was a nutritionally balanced and delicious food, a wonder drug that both prevented and treated disease, cost almost nothing to produce and could be delivered in quantities controlled by the consumers' needs, the very announcement of their find would send their shares rocketing to the top of the stock market. The scientists who developed the product would win prizes and the wealth and influence of everyone involved would increase dramatically. Women have been producing such a miraculous substance, breastmilk, since the beginning of human existence..."

Kristof similarly writes, "What if nutritionists came up with a miracle cure for childhood malnutrition? A protein-rich substance that doesn’t require refrigeration? One that is free and is available even in remote towns like this one in Niger where babies routinely die of hunger-related causes? Impossible, you say? Actually, this miracle cure already exists. It’s breast milk."

He continues: "When we think of global poverty, we sometimes assume that the challenges are so vast that any solutions must be extraordinarily complex and expensive. Well, some are. But almost nothing would do as much to fight starvation around the world as the ultimate low-tech solution: exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of life. That’s the strong recommendation of the World Health Organization."

There are some errors in his column, such as his comment that the artificial infant milk manufacturers have become more "restrained" in their marketing tactics (babymilkaction) or that artificial infant milk is "pretty safe" in America, where only 13% of babies are exclusively breastfed by 6 months breastfeeding duration in the US. In Niger, the rate is only 9%. The problem is not unique to Niger either. He writes, "Next door to Niger in Burkina Faso, fewer than 7 percent of children get breast milk exclusively for six months. In Senegal it’s 14 percent; in Mauritania, 3 percent."

Kristof writes that the "biggest problem is that many mothers believe that breast milk isn’t enough, and that, on a hot day, a child needs water as well." Usually, as there is no safe source of water, infants are given water from mud puddles or other unsafe sources.

Kristof clearly gets it---that for some reason, in a country where breastfeeding until the age of two is still quite common, exclusivity is virtually non-existent. He accurately reports that babies should be exclusively breastfeed for 6 months and that malnourished mothers can still nurse their babies. He provides some excellent statistics:

"A 2008 report in The Lancet, the British medical journal, found that a baby that is partially breast-fed is 2.8 times as likely to die as a baby that is exclusively breast-fed for at least five months. A child that is not breast-fed at all is 14.4 times as likely to die."

"Over all, The Lancet said, 1.4 million child deaths could be averted each year if babies were breast-fed properly. That’s one child dying unnecessarily every 22 seconds."

He states very clearly that "The challenges with breast-feeding in poor countries are not the kinds that Western women face, and many women in the developing world continue nursing their babies for two years. The biggest problem is giving water or animal milk to babies, especially on hot days. Another is that mothers often doubt the value of colostrum, the first milk after childbirth (which is thick and  yellowish and doesn’t look much like milk), and delay nursing for a day or two."

In spite of the fact that the article draws very clear distinctions regarding the life or death consequences of making such uneducated errors in Niger, whether they be steeped in myth, have some historical intent or other cultural implications, these distinctions seemed to be lost entirely on many of Kristof's readers. In one stunning response after another, readers who were primarily American women, ignored these facts both in the NY Times and on his Facebook page.

In response to Kristof's very legitimate concerns that the practice of withholding colostrum followed by supplementing with animal milks and often-contaminated water are causing morbidity and death among millions of babies, readers argued over and over that breastfeeding is draining, difficult, painful, hard to learn and that you have to have a lot of help, clean water and good nutrition to do it and that such stress all but makes success impossible. And, of course, according to them, women with HIV cannot breastfeed.

How did they so effortlessly miss the glaring point that these mothers do not have access to clean water, much less the money to purchase powdered artificial infant milk. That not breastfeeding is the absolute risk factor here, no matter what other factors there might be. Not breastfeeding is the risk if the mother has HIV, if the mother is poorly nourished, if she is exhausted, if she is overwhelmed. Not breastfeeding means infant illness and possibly death. Not breastfeeding means a return of menses and the subsequent monthly iron loss and more pregnancies. Not breastfeeding means greater risk of HIV infection for the baby. Not breastfeeding means more family resources spent on feeding the infant instead of the mother, who can in turn nourish the infant.

How is it that intelligent people read both the facts and Kristof's conclusion and yet posted as they did? It was this question that gave me pause, that really made me ponder the implications and that gave impetus to this post.

I was curious that the reader responses were extrapolated from their own Western experiences and then applied to the mothers in Kristof's piece, who themselves never express such concerns. Yet, as if they never read the piece, those commenting make their assumptions as to how impossible it must be for these mothers to breastfeed for the very same reasons that they themselves have found it difficult. Rather than understanding that breastfeeding is the only safe option in Niger, they wrongly imagine the situation as if their own challenges have simply been transferred to a more hostile environment. It never occurs to them that it is this very hostility that makes breastfeeding essential, not optional.

One reader wrote: "I essentially agree with the logic of the article. Yes, breastmilk is superior. Yes, it has all of those good antibodies. Yes, it's free. But, from a pragmatic standpoint, there is one element that is missing: it is hard for some women to breastfeed and, often, it doesn't work no matter how hard you try." And another: "Those of you reading this who champion breastfeeding, please continue to do so, but please remember to keep your militancy and judgmentalism bottled up. Not everyone can do it."

I have no idea what those commenting imagine mothers, immersed in poverty, with very limited access to clean water, should feed their babies instead of their own milk. What seemed clear to me is that Western biases make it difficult for us to view anyone else from beyond our own paradigm where infant feeding is concerned. Perhaps American women, who assume that the challenges they themselves may face are universally inherent to breastfeeding, rather than bound in cultural bias, are at a loss as to why they experience breastfeeding the way they do.

Another comment follows: "Kristof is right to underscore the value of breastfeeding for all newborns, and particularly for those in developing nations where safe formula is unavailable, in short supply, or prohibitively expensive. ....Successful breastfeeding takes considerable work, time, patience, and loads of assistance from fellow family members and even, perhaps, outside sources."

Many mothers come to assume that breastfeeding is universally a struggle few can overcome. If we perceive the challenges familiar to American women as sufficient to warrant most of us abandoning exclusive breastfeeding, and we recognize how much more intense challenges might be in developing nations, then there is certainly a linear logic in expecting even fewer women in Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania or Senegal to succeed.

A common myth, frequently repeated in the comments was the belief in the need for extra food to make breastmilk:

"Breast milk is great, but it is not free. The mother needs extra calories, extra nutrition, extra fluids." 

Several writers tried to correct this myth, explaining that the body is more efficient after birth and while extra calories are used, extra food is not necessary. But, Americans, so quick to judge the cultural myths of others--such as feeding babies water that the Koran has been dipped into, held fast to their own, even in the face of new information:

"Several commenters claimed that milk-producing women require no more water or nutrients than non-milk-producing women. If this idea is true, then the water and nutrients in the milk are coming out of nowhere. The idea is as absurd as a perpetual motion machine."

Another myth they held fast to and repeatedly argued was how difficult it is for mothers to make enough milk.

"Of course breast is best, and it is especially important to encourage breastfeeding in countries where sanitation is poor, but Mr. Kristof seriously underestimates how difficult breastfeeding can be, even when the mother is highly motivated to do it. I gave birth recently, and always intended to breastfeed exclusively for at least 6 months. It didn't work out that way. I simply did not produce enough milk."

"I just want to throw out there the fact that women pay a price for constant and exclusive breastfeeding."

Interestingly, the readers tended to ignore the fact that most mothers in Niger continue breastfeeding for two years.  These mothers are not throwing in the towel. They do not, however, seem to understand that some of their choices--religious or cultural--are terribly dangerous to their babies. In the same way, American women do not seem to understand that their own feeding choices are just as likely to be culturally mis-driven, albeit more commonly by Big Pharma and the marketplace.

"I feel the author does not have a real sense of the obstacles many mothers face in producing enough milk to keep a baby satisfied and the mother in good health. I know from my own experience, as a pampered non-starving North American, that when I would so much as skip a meal, my milk supply would dwindle in a very marked way." Physiologically speaking, mothers will not be risking their milk supplies by skipping a meal. When we view breastfeeding as so fragile, we can easily find cause to expect failure.

In  general, breastfeeding was viewed in the highly touted, artificial-feeding mindset that has been the prevailing marketing strategy of artificial infant milk manufactures for the past twenty years--"Breast is best, but when you can't..."

"So my humble, non scientific opinion as to why women aren't thrilled to nurse is that it makes them feel physically terrible, and it impairs their ability to function. Like a good workout, it can be emotionally satisfying, but it's not without a steep physical toll." 

Most interesting to me is that few of the responses to Kristof's article focused on problem-solving, as they were so immersed in their own experiences and the belief that "breast is best...but when you can't" (however one might decide that), you simply don't.  If we can possibly believe that breastfeeding is just icing on the cake, nice if you can do it, but no big deal if you cannot in developing nations with no other options, it is no surprise that we think it's readily expendable in the West. 

So long as we continue to believe that milk production is a fragile process, that we need to never skip a meal, have plenty to drink, never be uncomfortable, that breastfeeding depletes us, that artificial feeding is a "safe" alternative, that we are immune to marketing and cultural biases, that breastfeeding advocates must be wary of inducing "guilt", then we will continue to view breastfeeding as optional, rather than the fact of life it is meant to be.  

Given the prevalence of reader comments imposing a Western perspective on Niger, external of the Western realities responsible for that perspective, such as medicalized birth, artificial feeding as the cultural norm, paltry parental leave policies and a pounding marketing and misinformation campaign that has lasted for 50 years, it is no surprise that the rates of exclusive breastfeeding are so poor in the West. That there can be such a significant disregard for the facts in favor of Western mythology is powerfully instructive. Consider the implication when readers draw the almost absurd conclusion that women who have no safe choice other than their own milk just cannot manage to exclusively breastfeed. If we think they cannot, even when it is a matter of life and death, it is easy to see why we have such such widespread acceptance that few American women can indeed succeed with breastfeeding, let alone exclusive breastfeeding.

Yes, we need to address the underlying issues: birth practices, misinformation, marketing, cultural biases and the lack of parental leave that all work hard against breastfeeding success. But, until mothers are given all the facts--including just how vital breastfeeding is--and how risky the alternative is--then it's a wonder that anyone would wade through the enormous challenges to find success.

And, if we continue to believe that our own experiences are universally inherent to breastfeeding, rather than culturally designed, then we are less inclined to be terribly vigilant in recognizing and avoiding the misinformation that subtly guides our decision-making. Marketing strategies, myths, lies, misinformation and other practices that cause us to struggle so much in our own efforts to breastfeed probably bring little cognitive awareness to our beliefs. The fish cannot see the water in which he swims. I suspect that this may well be the overwhelming success of the marketing strategies designed by the artificial infant milk manufacturers.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The KIT Project: Knowledge Growing into Wisdom

With increasing frequency, friends and clients have been asking me to post a detailed description of my services on my blog. Given that my work is somewhat unique, I am going to try. I am a lactation consultant. That’s how I meet most of the mommas I help; they come to me to help them feed their babies. Over the years, I have developed a varied client base from all over the globe, many connecting with me through the internet, although the majority of my referrals are still by word-of-mouth. Because I take a holistic approach to lactation, using homeopathy, herbs and home remedies, as well as nutrition to support my clients, I find that many of them naturally become interested in applying this same approach to other areas of their lives, especially in raising their children.

BACKGROUND: Before becoming a lactation consultant, I was a mother learning to trust in and support the body’s innate healing process in raising my own children in an ever-evolving holistic paradigm. Before becoming a mother, I went through an agonizing and ultimately expansive journey in healing my own body. Read my " I Wasn't Born This Way" post. Without a doubt, my personal experiences have informed my passion for educating and supporting other mothers. I think my perspective on family health has uniquely evolved through the benefit of learning to raise my own children holistically while simultaneously learning to use the same skills with my clients. There is no more effective way to learn than to teach and to so while relying on observation, intuition and trust in the process of healing, I have been able to identify and meet the needs of my clients in an integrative way.

I took the first key step several years ago, while living in Connecticut, when I organized a once-per-week Mom’s Group for my clients, subsequently setting up a yahoo group so that clients from all geographic areas could receive support. The transformation in the women involved in these groups and thus, in their families is nothing short of amazing. The false premise that people do not want information that might challenge their lives and their mainstream world-views cannot hold its own against mothers fed up with seeing their children sick, over-medicated and behaving in ways that make no sense. In focusing on raising healthy children, they find they have evolved healthier families overall.

Most of the moms in my group have been interested in learning about nutrition and gut healing, home remedies, homeopathy and other forms of energy medicine.  In spite of the success of the group, I was constantly frustrated when the same questions came up with each new influx of clients, because it meant that the need and desire for information was universal, but was not being met. I wanted to find a way to provide many more moms with a much broader skill set than I could within the group context.

original products--we have replaced a few and added new ones

BIRTH OF THE KIT: One day six years ago, after a particularly hectic group in which moms were eager to have another discussion about natural healing remedies, I sat down with two friends and we made a list of all the natural healing products we had been using for years in taking care of our own families. We brainstormed, included everything we could think of, then eliminated the ones we would not consider essential if stranded indefinitely on a desert island. We eliminated the products we thought duplicated one another. What we had when we were finished was a pretty amazing Home Remedy KIT. The KIT contains approximately 40 products from homeopathic remedies, to herbs, first aid treatments and immune support. It addresses all of the common ailments you might encounter such as minor injuries, colds, headaches, stomach aches, rashes, sunburn, insect bites and much more. Because the KIT contained the very same products we would suggest when  advising our own friends and families, we called it the Sumati (sanskrit for “good advice”) Home Remedy KIT.

WORKSHOPS: Next, I wrote a curriculum for a full-day workshop on Home Remedies and offered the course to my clients, in combination with offering the KIT. I taught the use of simple household medicines such as garlic, onion and other kitchen herbs, as well as common products that could be purchased. The project was a resounding success. It accomplished exactly what I had hoped, allowing mothers to immediately implement the new information, rather than storing it away for future reference. In particular, having the Kit made using the remedies immediately accessible and participating in the yahoo group allowed moms to try things, ask questions and learn quickly.

I repeated the workshops, but incorporated them into a three-day series entitled Raising Children Holistically, including Nutrition and Energy Medicine. Moms loved them! They found they gained enough solid information to feel confident in taking care of their own children, in supporting one another, in educating their families and in finding the motivation to explore these topics well beyond the basics offered in the workshops.

EVOLVING: There have, however, been significant challenges in getting this information beyond such a small, self-referring audience. First, the KITS need to be produced in sufficient quantity to make them available on an on-going basis and this requires funding. While the workshop can be taught without the KITS, at least 90% of people who take the workshop prefer to have them, given how convenient they are to use. I have even given a dozen or so private tutorials, along with the purchase of the KIT to folks who have just wanted to learn how to use natural remedies and cannot get to a workshop.  Secondly, to reach an audience large enough to significantly make a shift towards what I believe could easily be common knowledge, I need to teach the workshops as webinars, providing on-going support via website and through free follow-up webinars. Thirdly, I need to develop materials that support parents’ ability to integrate holistic practices into their daily lives. Ebooks and phone apps are my first goals on that front. My intention is that our children learn this information and these skills so thoroughly that it becomes their primary healing language. My evidence that this is possible comes from my own family, where my adult and teenage children have grown up with these skills and are adept in treating themselves and others.

WEBINARS & MORE: What I have designed is a webinar series that rolls much of the three individual workshops into one. Over 6 two-hour sessions, I will cover the basics of nutrition and gut health, home remedies and energy medicine. Participants will be offered the Home Remedy KIT for purchase. I will set up two free one-hour webinars per month to provide on-going support. Over the next several month
s, as funding increases, I will activate additional support opportunities such as my website, a variety of ebooks and ultimately a phone app. It has taken me twenty-five years to learn as much as I have because there has never been a good resource—I want to offer other parents the opportunity to learn and integrate this information much more quickly and efficiently.

While the workshops in no way supplant the appropriate use of medical care, they provide attendees with the knowledge and skills to maintain their own and their families’ health and well being through the use of excellent nutrition, self care of common ailments and energy medicine, such as EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). Indeed, they may well support more effective use of medical intervention, when necessary, as healthier people tend to respond better overall to medical care.

Over the past twenty years, I have worked with thousands of families and the most rewarding experience has been in watching families take full control of their own well-being through implementation of this information. My clients have encouraged me for years to take the KIT and workshops to a whole other level, but I thus far I have not had all of the pieces in place to do so. At this juncture, I have made the decision to take this project off the back burner and make it a priority. Given the number of mothers who contact me through the internet asking for this information, I think the time is now. I cannot possibly continue to help enough mothers on an individual basis to reach everyone who is interested.

KNOWLEDGE GROWING INTO WISDOM: Currently, I need to raise capital for product, for development and for implementation. When you consider the difference in a child raised on real foods, not exposed to antibiotics or over-the-counter medications (so often the subject of recalls), taught to trust and know and heal his own body, vs a child raised on the Standard American Diet, living with allergies, asthma, ear infections, behavior problems, often overweight and cognitively compromised, I would think there really is only one choice for parents to make. Raising children holistically does not mean you will never have a sick child by any stretch of the imagination. What it does mean is that you will have children with a strong foundation, better able to manage the reality of living in a world of environmental toxins, ever-evolving microbes and significant physical and emotional stress on so many levels. I can think of nothing more worthy of the effort I have expended in learning these skills over 25 years, than the fact that I have children who now have the innate ability to care well for themselves throughout their lives. 

FUNDRAISER: Right now I am running an IndieGoGo Fundraiser to take this project to its full potential. Folks who donate will be offered opportunities to receive a Kit or attend a webinar. Please stop by my IndiGoGo page and support this project. My current goal is to purchase product for the KITS, launch the webinar series, complete the basic support materials and get the website revisions and phone app underway. That goal is $22,000 with a deadline of October 7.

SUPPORT THE KIT PROJECT!  Of course, you can support the project at a basic level with any amount of money. As a matter of fact, if everyone I know donates only $10, I would be more than 1/2 way there! But, I want this energy to go well beyond simple support—I want folks involved! I want folks excited about this project!
SOMETHING NEW JUST FOR YOU! So, I have gone ahead and done something that’s been brewing in my mind for a while—I have designed a Sumati Mini travel/overnight KIT specifically for this fundraiser. I polled the scores of folks already using the Sumati Home Remedy KIT for their input and I am really excited about the final product. So, for a donation of $200, you will receive the Sumati MiniKIT and the link for an ebook on the use of the remedies.  For a donation of $450, you will be able to attend the webinar series free of charge as well--so the MiniKIT and the webinar series together!.

For a donation of  $700, you will receive the Sumati Home Remedy KIT and a link for an ebook on the use of the remedies. For a donation of $1000, you will be able to attend the webinar series free of charge as well--so the Sumati Home Remedy KIT and the webinar series together!.

But, I want everyone to have a chance to attend a workshop series or have a KIT. So, for every $500 raised, I will draw 1 name from among those who have donated between $10- $200 to receive a free Sumati MiniKIT and when we reach each $1000 mark, I will also draw a name to receive free workshop attendance for the series. Look for additional perks to be added as we get closer to our goal!

The first workshop series is scheduled to launch in September, with a new series launching every few weeks on different days and times, so that hopefully everyone should find a time they can manage. Of course, all perks may be gifted to another person. All products will ship within 30 days of the end of the fundraiser—so well in advance of the holidays. However, we will ship sooner, as we have enough perks ordered to make bulk purchases of products. Shipping to some countries may not be possible due to costs or restrictions. In effect, what you are doing by participating in this project is enabling it to launch. The money you are donating above and beyond the actual cost of products funds the development of the support system, which in my experience, is the backbone of the project's success.

There is also opportunity in my plan for two key investors, in addition to the amazing family who helped me get this whole project underway this past Spring with an investment at the development phase. If you are interested at that level please contact me by email at

And, in keeping the original intent, my description of services, current and under construction is now on my blog.

Highlight on Services


Holistic Lactation Consulting in person or via skype or phone with a focus on complex feeding issues specific to normalizing milk supply, supporting babies in overcoming allergies and slow growth, maternal and infant gut health and healing, and evaluation and support for tongue-tie. –Intake 150euros/ $175. Follow up 60euros/$75 per hour.
Holistic Parenting Consults and Mentoring (via skype or telephone), including one-time consults (usually focused on nutrition or gut healing) as well as multi-week mentoring in supporting families in making overall lifestyle changes including nutrition and gut healing, integrating home remedies and other holistic practices. – One-time consult 175euros/$200, otherwise fee varies depending upon format.
Workshops for Parents on Raising Children Holistically
These can be done in person in a variety of ways, including a one-day introductory workshop, a two-day workshop that incorporates Nutrition, Home Remedies and Energy Medicine or over 3 full-day workshops. --Fee varies depending upon format.
Webinars for Parents on Raising Children Holistically are offered on an on-going basis via WizIQ (12 hours over 6 weeks) and incorporates Nutrition, Home Remedies and Energy Medicine-- $100
Sumati—Home Remedy KIT--$350
Raising Children Holistically Webinar (12 hours over 6 weeks) and incorporates Nutrition, Home Remedies and Energy Medicine) & Home Remedy KIT--$430
Raising Children Holistically Home Remedy personal tutorial (3 hours) & Home Remedy KIT--$475
Customized Webinars can be designed for small groups with individualized focus. Webinars for a group living in a geographic area is an ideal opportunity as it allows the group to continue to work together to facilitate more rapid growth and learning. Fee varies depending upon the material covered and the length of the webinar.
Webinars on Gut Health and Healing offers 3 participants at one time an opportunity to engage in a semi-private discussion (2 hours in length) specific to the needs of their own family while learning from the experience of others and reducing the cost of a private consult. 60euros/$75 per webinar per person.
Heal the Mother, Heal the Baby: Nutrition, Gut Health, the Enteric Nervous System & Breastfeeding
The internal terrain reflects itself in the external terrain in a myriad of ways that may well explain many breastfeeding problems. Gut health and integrity drives the nature of the enteric nervous system, thus the implications for well-being are significant. When the maternal body’s reaction to imbalance results in a pro-inflammatory response, a cascade of disease processes may result. Maternal health and well-being, post-partum depression, food allergies, milk supply, PCOS, tongue-tie, reflux, "high-need" infant behavior, slow growth, failure to thrive and numerous feeding difficulties may all find origins in the integrity and vitality of the mother’s internal terrain. In attending to the health of the maternal gut, while supporting the infant in his own healing, we may find that many breastfeeding problems are resolved both acutely and chronically. In a discussion of maternal gut health, the function of the enteric nervous system and the implications for infant gut integrity, we will come to a deeper understanding of why healing the mother's gut may well be integral to successfully addressing a wide array of breastfeeding difficulties.
Holistic Practices in Lactation: A 2-Day Workshop with Jennifer Tow, IBCLC
More and more mothers are interested in using non-pharmaceutical approaches for treating the most common physical and emotional concerns of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Practitioners who recognize the normalcy of birth and breastfeeding are well-equipped to support mothers in accessing and utilizing holistic approaches to care. Practitioners can easily gain basic knowledge and skills in homeopathy, energy medicine such as Bach Flowers and EFT, herbs, home remedies and nutrition specific to the needs of pregnant and nursing mothers. In using these therapies, mothers are offered an alternative to more interventive care, while the practitioner also models a holistic approach that the mother can integrate into her own care and the raising of her family.
These holistic approaches are simple and practical and can often be integrated immediately. Some are both preventive and therapeutic such as the use of nutrition in pregnancy, while others are deeply supportive such as the use of Bach Flowers or EFT. Most have acutely therapeutic applications such as the use of home remedies, herbs or homeopathy for treating mastitis or plugged ducts, normalizing milk supply or healing birth trauma.
Optimizing Human Potential Through Normalizing Infant Feeding
I have given this workshop at a wide variety of conferences, including those for lactation consultants, chiropractors, pre and perinatal psychologists and birth professionals. The workshop focuses on recognizing and healing compensatory feeding behaviors using an integrative approach designed to restore healthy function. There is an emphasis on healing birth trauma and detecting and treating tongue-tie, including the importance to structural work in normalizing function. A holistic approach to normalizing milk supply and addressing other breastfeeding problems in integrated into the case presentation.
Webinars, a book on Holistic Practices in Lactation, ebooks and a curriculum are currently in development.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Babies Do Come with Instructions

    The kids, the dog, the cats and I live in a tiny furnished apartment in Paris. The weirdness of that reality aside, I am confounded that I still cannot use the appliances properly. I cannot manage the temperature on the convection oven and have yet to even tackle the awesome steamer machine that supposedly cleans everything to spotless perfection. I will admit, I would like to use that wondrous contraption, but aside from taking apart and putting the vacuum cleaner back together when I was a kid, I have no idea how to work objects with knobs or buttons, especially where the possibility of electricity following some alternate route is involved.

There are instruction manuals for every appliance in the apartment neatly tucked into a drawer for my perusal. The thing is, those manuals are all written in French. I speak very little French. I read a lot more French than I speak, but this is technical stuff. Still, I am curious, so one day very soon, I will haul the manuals out and try to translate them into English.

It is a strange experience to live in a world where you feel incompetent to do the things people take for granted everyday. That you yourself take for granted when you live in a familiar place. It has taken me months just to know how much money I am being asked to pay at the market. When I first lived here, clerks would be so annoyed with me because I always paid with large bills, just to make sure I was giving them enough money.

Last year, someone asked me what would possess me to move to a foreign country that includes in the bargain, a foreign language I do not speak. I replied that apparently, I need to experience the sense of disorientation, incompetence and helplessness that allows us to remember that we are flexible, adaptable and thoroughly capable of growing and expanding at any time.

Mostly, these days, expanding takes on the form of fumbling through. Sometimes I ask for help. I hate that part, but when you really want to do something and you can’t figure it out, you have no other choice. And since I really want to thrive, not simply survive, the only real solution is to learn a language I do not know.

Meanwhile, here in my apartment, I am disconnected from the information I need by my inability to read the French appliance manuals. Everything I need is there, but to me it’s all foreign—inaccessible without translation. If it were my native tongue, I would have sorted out all the appliances by now. When I lived in Toulouse, I had to look up the words labeling the washing machine cycles to be able to set the machine correctly. I am certain I didn’t do it exactly right, but the clothes got clean anyway.

I think this is similar to what it feels like for us when we have babies. We are generally so competent in our worlds that we suddenly feel at a loss when a whole new world envelops us, quite literally in a heartbeat. Yet, I doubt we are ever truly left helpless by Mother Nature and I think babies actually come in with a very useful instruction manual. All babies. Hard-wired into their physiology is all the information we need to meet their needs, and the manual that provides access to that information can be had at the breast. In other words, I think breastfeeding is the language of the instruction manual we imagine to be so elusive.

So long as we are able to read the instruction manual, we can find our way—come to know our babies and be responsive. But, for so many of us raised in Western cultures, the manual is like my French appliance manuals—written in a foreign language. I think the hormones of breastfeeding, oxytocin and prolactin are the “universal translator”, if you will. When we are tuned in hormonally, it’s as if we are taking a journey through a foreign land with a translator at our side.

All too often, given the realities of medicalized, invasive birth and the fact that we begin our journeys late in life (it is best to be exposed to foreign languages during childhood when we are more open), we may have a very difficult time navigating, even with the aide of our translator. I know that I can type all of the words from my appliance manuals into Google Translator, but chances are the translation will be incomplete and even inaccurate in parts. I will need a native speaker to clarify the subtleties. Or I can manage through trial and error.

If you grew up in a household or community where French in my case, or the language of infant feeding in the case of a new mom, was spoken during early childhood, you would have an easier affinity with it as an adult. If it had been introduced to you as part of your education, chances are, like me (I took French in school), you’d have some grasp of the vocabulary and grammar. But, if you were told that is was a dead and unnecessary language, or a language only spoken by “other people”, then you might really struggle to learn it and might easily want to give up. Learning a new language is difficult—for anyone—even more so for others.

Sometimes, when a task as simple as mailing a letter or renting a car feels like climbing a mountain, I want to give up. When I can understand enough words to know what I need to do, but not how I need to do it, I get completely frazzled. But, everyday I understand more and more. It can feel like such an accomplishment to do something I once did effortlessly, just like finding the time take a shower feels like an accomplished day for a mom with a newborn. It’s just a language like any other and anyone can learn it. Even me. Even you.

There is nothing more frightening for me than speaking French. I can know all the right words and then they can’t seem to come out of my mouth. Or they come out the wrong way. Or I know enough words to sound really stupid, to feel like a failure or like I should give up. Experienced moms, La Leche League Leaders and lactation consultants are like the native speaker who helps you sort out the nuances and quirks of the foreign language. The baby communicates perfectly, your hormones respond but your fear of getting it wrong can get in the way. Or you are missing a few words and don’t quite understand what is being asked of you and it all seems worse than it really is. It's like me, not wanting to speak French in public--I prefer to do it discreetly so no one sees how uncoordinated I am!

There is no flaw in the instruction manual--the baby, no flaw in the language--breastfeeding. Breastfeeding works. It’s how we are designed to communicate with, understand and read our babies. The baby knows what is needed and once you follow the baby, so will you. It’s like speaking French—in the beginning, a class or book might no be enough--you might need someone to translate for you or you might even need a tutor, someone to be encouraging, but eventually, it begins to be familiar and you make it your own. The more frequently you immerse yourself among others speaking the same language, the faster you learn. Becoming a breastfeeding mom takes support and education. But once you make it your own, you unlock the instruction manual. The baby is all yours to read.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Gut, Microbes and Poop.

There’s a topic I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about. To the point that I think I may be obsessed. To put it into perspective, I live in Paris. Just wandering through the streets of the city in the Spring-time is a visceral experience worthy of song and poetry and of course, blog posts. The other day, I was with my 12 year old son walking the dog, thinking about the way the gut and brain ARE. Not the way they communicate, but the way they are. The way we are.

I caught myself as I hurried to catch up to Leo. I slipped my arm into his and set a pace to match him, as I finally took in the sun, the breeze and perfect beauty of the day. I pushed the other thought away. For awhile. Clearly, it has returned. It always returns because mommas and babies and families are not as well as we could be. Not by a long shot.

As a lactation consultant I used to think about breastfeeding. I thought about my own babies, my clients and their babies, about what I read and observed and learned. I loved nursing my babies and I love helping mommas nurse their babies. So, I am still a lactation consultant, but now I pretty much think about the gut. And all that is associated with the gut—like the brain, hormones, the nervous system, structure, personality, emotions and general well-being.  Because I think about the gut and the brain, I also think a lot about bacteria and inflammation. Not because bacteria cause inflammation, but because more often than not, lack of bacteria does.

In essence, bacteria are the way we are. Today, I took my son to the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle. The building is ancient, of course, but so are the displays. The cursive handwriting on the jars intrigued me as much as the specimens. There were thousands of skeletons and fossils and organs of species long extinct and of those still here. Including homo sapiens.Leo asked me what was here before any of them. “Microbes,” I said. 

Microbes have a 3.4 billion history on Earth and microbial mats are the oldest known ecosystem on Earth. Whatever form life on Earth takes, microbes share the journey with us. They are the way we are; they are the way that life is. NASA and other scientific sources use the term co-evolution to describe the fact that all life has evolved in relation to microbes. Microorganisms can form endosymbiotic relationships with other organisms. Examples are rampant, but the relationship that interests me is the one between the bacteria that live within the human digestive system and the human organism itself.  These microbes contribute to immunity, synthesize vitamins and ferment complex indigestible carbohydrates. They drive our relationship with the world around us.

So, how does this relate to babies, birth and infant feeding? In every possible way, it turns out. While the infant gestates in a sterile environment, the mother’s body is prepared at birth to immediately alter that scenario, exposing the newborn to her own microbes, inoculating him with the flora that will rapidly multiply and populate his gut. As the infant journeys through the birth canal, he is exposed to a medley of microbes, designed to optimize his potential for thriving in the world his mother inhabits. The inner terrain and the outer terrain find perfect balance in the transition from intra-uterine to extra-uterine life.

According to archaeologist and prebiotoc researcher Jeff Leach, “…this cycle links the co-evolution of intestinal "microflora" of the mother to child, and may represent a more significant bond for those who understand it exist(sic). This evolutionary bacterial right of passage has been and continues to be critical to the success of our species, and all mammals for that matter.” Once inoculated in the birth canal, the baby is further populated by the microbes in his mother’s milk, on her skin and in her mouth. In the normal physiologic process of birth and feeding, the infant is being prepared for life in the world the mother’s body has adapted to survive in.

This is where my head starts to whirl. I ask question after question trying to see all the connections. There is no doubt, given the physiology of this process that several things should and should not happen. First, babies clearly need to be born vaginally. At birth they need to be touched only by their mothers and they need to go to breast. And they need to be kissed by their mothers. This process of inoculation by microbes that initiates in the birth canal is given robust life at the breast. The human organism, which contains 10x more bacteria than human cells, has its blueprint for functional health and well-being laid down in utero (that’s another post) and is given form and structure in the birth canal and at breast.

Human milk contains carbohydrates known as oligosaccharides, which are virtually absent in cow milk. They are undigested in the stomach and small intestine and are able to reach the colon intact where they provide food for the bifidobacterium, enabling them to multiply rapidly. Now here are two pieces of interesting information that fit a lot of pieces together for me. First, again according to Jeff Leach, “As the bacteria thrive on this "food" from mother's milk, they grow in number and absorb water, resulting in more regular and soft bowel movements. It's important to know that the bulk of infant feces are made up of live and kicking bacteria.” Secondly, the insoluble fiber in human milk acts as a kind of irritant in the gut, causing the production of a lubricant that further speeds up the process of elimination.

Someday, I am going to write “Confessions of an IBCLC Heretic”, because for almost 20 years, I have been saying that it is absolutely not normal for babies of any age to have fewer than several significant bowel movements per day. Not per week! Per day. The more I learn about the gut and the gut-brain axis, the more I have to learn. But, I am confident that human milk is not “all used up” and that babies are not “efficient enough that there is no waste”.

Such comments do not even bear up under the scrutiny of common sense. If all those babies who stop pooping at 4-6 weeks are using up all the milk, what are the babies who are pooping 6-8 times per day doing? Making it? Babies need to poop.

There is so much that we impose on mothers and babies in our contemporary, invasive birth practices that damages intestinal flora. Frankly, I think disruption of this essential process of gut inoculation is reason enough to avoid cesarean unless there is clear and real medical necessity. And it is reason enough that babies not be touched by anyone who is not the mother before the baby nurses. Introduction of any substance other than mother’s milk damages the gut—this includes artificial milk, sugar water and drugs.

So, the infant gut, pristine in utero, becomes a hotbed of microbe activity at birth and the nature of those microbes will become how and who that baby is. Gut flora determine our relationship to the environment around us, as 75% of the immune system resides with the gut. They determine much about our emotional well-being as 80% of our serotonin is in the gut. The enteric nervous system—often referred to as the ”second brain”--is embedded within the gut. Gut microbes determine our vulnerability to disease and to stress and direct our potential to thrive emotionally, physically and intellectually. 

Given the significance of gut function to the well-being of the infant, I want to see all babies have strong healthy guts. So, when I see a baby who is not on solids, not sick, getting enough food and still not pooping as often as I know healthy babies do, I want to know why.

I will rule out or refer for treatment any tongue-tie and other structural causes of vagus nerve suppression, such as birth trauma. I want to rule out oversupply or over-active milk ejection reflex. I want to know what baby’s poop looks like. Pasty poop is not normal, nor is mucus or poop that soaks into the diaper or is green, simply a skid mark or takes a lot of straining to achieve. And volumes of poop once per week does not indicate the milk has been “all used up”. It means it has been sitting in the colon, going nowhere. Pasty poop has not absorbed enough water. Poop that smells foul indicates an imbalance of intestinal flora.

Other indications of poor gut function include cradle cap, eczema, skin rashes, “baby acne”, a red ring around the anus, thrush, dark circles under the eyes, difficulty organizing states, cognitive delay, difficulty sleeping, poor appetite, poor growth, “colic”, “high-needs” behaviours, congestion, reflux, refusing the breast, arching at the breast, gassiness and infection.

Clinically, I know that gut function is a problem because when babies are treated, gut function is restored. Restoring gut function is a complex topic and is somewhat individualized. Treatment eliminates allergens and food sensitivities and might include use of probiotics, bentonite clay for detoxification, digestive enzymes, slippery elm bark powder and other healing herbs, castor oil compresses on the belly and most importantly healing the maternal gut through elimination of pro-inflammatory foods and the inclusion of healing foods, supplementation, and structural or bodywork or energywork for baby and mom. Remember, the intestinal flora in the mother’s gut ends up in her milk.

The process of microbe inoculation that is clearly a primal imperative is interrupted and incomplete at best in most babies. Within weeks of birth, many mothers are observing the kinds of symptoms I have described. Because common tends to be referred to as “normal”, often symptoms are dismissed by health care providers or labeled as "dairy allergy" (as if there is no other allergy), reflux, GERD or "colic" or worse: "breastmilk allergy" and many moms end up weaning prematurely because the gut damage tends to worsen with time or the "treatment" involves weaning to artificial infant milk. Sometimes, on the other hand, the symptoms seem to disappear and certainly the gut can heal, especially on a diet of exclusive momma milk. But, often, the symptoms have simply changed or are not recognized as such. Ear infections, frequent colds, bed wetting, asthma and “tummy aches” often replace the vomiting, colic and sleeplessness of infancy. The bottom line is that our babies need healthy guts both to survive and to thrive in the world. Passing off as “normal” common indications of poor gut function serves no one, least of all, the baby.

I will continue thinking about the gut and about microbes and about how we are as they are. And with any luck, as people become more attuned to the primary urgency of protecting the gut integrity of the infant, practices will change. In the meantime, I hope we will all begin to see babies and in a different way and be more inclined toward restoring full function than simply managing dysfunction. And that we remember that to heal the baby, we have to begin by healing the mother.