Health Care Reform Lends Support to Breastfeeding Moms, But Is It Enough?

If we’ve heard “breast is best” once, we’ve heard it a thousand times. Health experts agree the benefits of breastfeeding for both the baby and the mother are numerous. A study published earlier this week by the journal Pediatrics points out just how valuable breastfeeding can be. “If 90 percent of new moms in the United States breastfed their babies exclusively for the first six months, researchers estimate that as many as 900 more infants would survive each year, and the country would save about $13 billion in health care costs annually.”

It seems that while everyone gives lip service to the importance of breastfeeding, there isn’t a lot of support for women once they make the decision to breastfeed. Women have been asked to cover up or leave restaurants, water parks, airplanes, and stores when they try to give their baby what’s “best.” Maternity leave in the United States is, at best, 12 weeks. Women who work outside the home have often been forced to pump their breast milk in bathroom stalls, hide under a desk, or sit in their car just to get a little bit of privacy because rooms for nursing/pumping mothers just don’t exist. So yes, breast might be best for baby, but until there are more regulations in place that allow moms to breastfeed without so many roadblocks, how can breast be “best” for moms?

There is, however, a bit of good news on the horizon. Health Care Reform is lending some support to breastfeeding moms with the Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers law.

  • Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Health Care Reform), states that employers shall provide breastfeeding employees with “reasonable break time” and a private, non-bathroom place to express breast milk during the workday, up until the child’s first birthday.
  • Employers are not required to pay for time spent expressing milk, and employers of less than 50 employees shall not be required to provide the breaks if doing so would cause “undue hardship” to their business.

Tanya from The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog thinks this is a step in the right direction. “I’m not thrilled that it extends the right for only up to 1 year (I pumped longer for my son), but what a huge difference this would make for mothers in the many states, mine included, that do not extend this right under state law!”

Currently, only 24 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have legislation related to breastfeeding in the workplace. Yet women now comprise half the U.S. workforce, and are the primary breadwinner in nearly 4 out of 10 American families. The fastest growing segment of the workforce is women with children under age three.

Doula-ing is excited about the new law and calls it “a giant leap forward for mother’s who want to continue to breastfeed their babies once they return to work.”

Kim Hoppes, who doesn’t appear to be a fan of Health Care Reform is, however, pleased with this change. “Well, something good came out of the health care reform nightmare. Places now have to give breaks to nursing moms so they can pump.”

Lylah from Boston.com Moms seems to think the new law is not enough and asks, “How can we expect 90 percent of new moms to breastfeed without support in the workplace?”

One thing seems pretty clear: If it’s in the country’s best interests to have new moms nurse their infants exclusively for at least six months — and the billions of dollars in health care savings indicates that it may be — then new moms should get at least six months of paid leave in which they can do so. The United States and Australia are the only two industrialized countries in the world that do not offer paid maternity leave. And moms in the Outback have a sweeter deal than we do: In Australia, your job is protected for a year, but in the United States new working moms only get that guarantee for 12 weeks.

What do you think about the Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers law? Is it too much? Not enough? Just right? None of the government’s business?

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tundakov/2550864384/

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Potty Learning with Patience and Praise

Like most everything related to parenting, when it comes to potty learning (or training) there is not a one size fits all approach. Just as every child is different, every family is different and what works best for one will not work for another. However, since potty learning is a hot topic in our house these days, I thought I would share what we have found to work best for us.

When it comes to potty learning and my kids, I approach it similarly to the way I approach weaning from the breast. I trust that when the time is right and the child is ready, it will happen. I know this is not a method that would work for every child or every family, but so far its been working for us.

My oldest Ava was completely out of diapers (including at night) somewhere between ages 2 1/2 and 3. Julian became interested in using the potty earlier than Ava, but the transition to using the potty full time has been much more gradual. He’s currently 3 years and 2 months and mostly potty learned during the day, but not for the occasional nap or at night.

While I say, “it (potty learning) will happen,” that’s not to say I (and my husband) don’t do things to encourage the kids. The process is not left entirely up to them, but I do let them take the lead and guide how fast or slow the transition takes.


Photo courtesy of juhansonin

Here are some of the techniques I used with my kids to facilitate potty learning

Naked “Training”
One of the first things I like to do that helps them get more familiar with their body and elimination sensations is allow them to be naked from the waist down while at home. If it’s particularly cold, I’d suggest the kiddo wear BabyLegs or something similar on his/her legs, though my kids don’t seem to mind the cold at all.

Another benefit of being pant-less is that they can run to the potty and use it without having to worry about getting clothes out of the way first.

Since I’m at home with my kids this technique has worked well for us. Obviously though, isn’t for everyone.

Amber from Strocel uses the naked time technique as well. “During toilet training I … allow lots, and lots, and lots of naked time. Because it’s much more obvious to both you and the kid that they’re peeing when they aren’t in a diaper.”

Annie from PhD in Parenting said, “Being naked helped him (her son) to feel what was going on, it felt different from having a diaper on, it saved on laundry significantly, and it also made it quicker when he did rush off to the potty because there were no snaps and zippers and things to deal with.”

Keep a potty (or two or three) nearby
I try to keep a potty in the room wherever the child is playing. In our house that’s usually in the living room. I think having the potty where they can see it and have easy access to it helped my kids learn to use it. When they move off into another room and the potty isn’t right there, that’s usually when the accidents happen. (If you can invest in a few potties to scatter around the house, all the better.)

Once they have mastered using the potty in the living room, I would either move it into the bathroom or just encourage them to transition from the potty to using the actual toilet.

Praise, praise and more praise
My husband and I offer a lot of praise when our child uses the potty or toilet. In fact, in the beginning there’s often a lot of cheering, clapping hands, silly dances, etc. to encourage the new behavior.

Read books about going potty
The book I loved for helping my kids learn more about their bodies and using the potty was “Once Upon A Potty” by Alona Frankel. There are two versions of the book – one for boys featuring Joshua and one for girls featuring Prudence. I have to confess, one of the reasons I loved this book so much was the way Ava would say “Pwudence.” So cute.

There are many books available on this subject.

Patience
If my child didn’t seem to be ready for using the potty, we’d take a break and come back to it another time.

I remember having a success or two with Ava and the potty at a young age and I thought, “Yes! This is it!” But then she didn’t do it again so I figured it wasn’t the opportune time for her and we tried again in a few months.

Julian, who turned 3 in November, has been going through the motions of potty learning for over a year now. When naked and at home, he would use the potty or toilet about 90% of the time. It wasn’t until just the past couple months though that he would start asking to go potty while we were out of the house (and this was while wearing a diaper or a pull-up). Now he is using the toilet consistently when he is awake. If he’s napping or asleep at night, that’s not always the case and he wears a diaper or pull-up during those times. I’m not in the hurry to get him night “trained,” but trust that it will happen when he’s ready.

In Annie’s post about potty learning, she references a potty training readiness quiz by author Elizabeth Pantley, which is a great place to start if you are contemplating potty learning. Ask Dr Sears also has a wealth of toilet training information – from tips to know before you start to helping the child who won’t go to traveling while training.

Going commando
I have to admit that Julian isn’t in underwear full time during the day yet. He still either wears a pull-up or, if at home and is not half naked, goes commando under his pants. I think we are getting to the point where he could wear underwear regularly and be fine, but it’s just recently that we’ve gotten to that point. It seems like if he has pants on but no underwear, he is more easily able to feel when he has to pee.

With regard to poop
Once I noticed my kids’ pooping cues – both either went into a corner or behind a couch, it was easy to transition from pooping in a diaper to pooping on the potty. Thankfully neither of them had any poop resistance (where kids refuse to poop unless in a diaper), but I know that is common for many kids. Annie wrote a bit about how they overcame poop resistance with her son.

Potty learning at night
When the kiddo starts consistently waking up in the morning dry (i.e. you check their diaper as soon as they wake up and encourage using the potty), that’s a good indication they are ready to go all night in underwear.

It took a while of Ava waking up dry before I felt ready to take the plunge and let her go overnight without a diaper, but she was obviously ready and did well with it.

Techniques other parents swear by

The reward method
We never tried the reward method (yet?), but I know others who have had success with offering an M&M or something similar for each successful trip to the potty.

EcoMeg is currently using the M&M system for potty training her son.

Much More Than a Mom has also been using the reward system (chocolate chips or stickers) to help with potty learning her son.

Elimination communication
Hilary Stamper wrote an informative post explaining how elimination communication (EC) – the process of observing one’s baby’s signs and signals and providing cue sounds and elimination-place associations – worked for her and her baby.

Hobo Mama also has a great post chock full of information about using elimination communication with tips from her experience with her child, but also many links to other sites about EC.

Related links:
Angela at Breastfeeding 1-2-3 wrote Potty Training the Easy Way. She describes her method as somewhere between Potty Training and Elimination Communication. “The ‘easy way’ in my mind does not mean the fastest way or the least messy way. It’s an investment of time that respectfully helps my child learn to use the toilet.”

Previously mentioned, but very informative is Dr. Sears section on toilet training.

How did you go about toilet learning/training with your kiddo(s)? If you have any tips to share, we’d love to hear ’em.

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Got breast milk to spare? Denver milk bank is in desperate need.

The freezers are nearly empty at a Denver milk bank, which is experiencing its lowest supply ever in the bank’s 25-year history. The Mother’s Milk Bank at Presbyterian St. Luke’s hospital is one of only 10 milk banks in the country that collects breast milk from mothers across the country and delivers it to sick and premature babies. The shortage has been due in part to a rough flu season and an increased need from hospitals and parents seeking breast milk.

If you are wondering in this day and age, with formula readily available, why milk banks are so important, there’s information in this Breastfeeding.com article, Banking on Breast milk. The majority of milk from the milk banks goes to babies who are sick or need milk because of medical conditions such as formula intolerance or feeding issues related to prematurity. Unlike formula, breast milk contains immunologic properties to help fight infection and illness.

Milk banks exist because many babies will not thrive without human milk. Infants with failure to thrive (FTT), formula intolerance, allergies and certain other medical conditions may require real human milk for health and even for survival.

A typical candidate for donor breast milk might be a formula-fed infant that exhibits prolonged episodes of inconsolable crying, ongoing vomiting and classic allergy signs such as purple or black circles under the eyes, pallor, skin inflammation, lethargy and frequent or bloody stools. Another typical candidate might be a premature infant whose mother cannot (or cannot yet) supply breast milk.

All donors to Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) member milk banks undergo a screening process that begins with a short phone interview. Donor mothers are women who are currently lactating and have surplus milk. Donor mothers must be:

  • In good general health
  • Willing to undergo a blood test (at the milk bank’s expense)
  • Not regularly using medication or herbal supplements (with the exception of progestin-only birth control pills or injections, Synthroid, insulin, pre-natal vitamins; for other exceptions, please contact a milk bank for more information)
  • Willing to donate at least 100 ounces of milk; some banks have a higher minimum

The Denver milk bank welcomes donors both local and out of state
For donating mothers who don’t live near Denver, the milk bank ships supplies and a box with dry ice to mail the milk. Mothers are not paid for donating. Also, the HMBANA milk banks will often loan pumps to donor moms if they don’t have one of their own.

I donated milk to the Denver milk bank when my son Julian was a baby and had previously donated to a local mom directly when Ava was a baby. I’ve been blessed with a plentiful supply and was happy to do what I could to help others. Although I wasn’t able to collect as much as I had hoped, it all adds up.

Brandie also pumped her milk for the Iowa milk bank. She describes the process she went through when she donated nearly 400 oz.(!!) to the milk bank in 2003. As she packed up the cooler to mail her milk in, she couldn’t help but get emotional.

I was sending a piece of myself off in that cooler. Lots of hours of pumping (or at least what felt like lots of hours). I cried. As silly as that sounds, I did. I thought about how that milk might go to feed another baby and help another family – who for whatever reasons needed breast milk for their baby and couldn’t provide it themselves. I thought about how when so many around me thought breastfeeding your own baby was gross, disgusting, something only to be done behind closed doors where no one would have to actually see it, there were people out there who so firmly believed in it that they would use my milk to feed their babies.

Jodi, Milk Donor Mama, and Cate Nelson have all been milk donors too.

Emily from Et Cetera recently found herself with a surplus of pumped milk. As her freezer stash grew, she began to get concerned that it would expire before it was consumed. That’s when she learned about breast milk banking. She’s signed up to be a donor and encourages others to as well. “Why let your extra breast milk go to waste? Share it with a baby who desperately needs it. And even if you can’t donate, you can get involved. The more people know about milk banks, the more babies will thrive.”

A doctor’s prescription is required to receive breast milk from a HMBANA milk bank.

Deanne Walker of Colorado Springs received donor milk from Mother’s Milk Bank at Presbyterian St. Luke’s hospital for her twin boys who were born 10 weeks premature. In addition to the babies being born early, Deanne had several infections which dramatically affected her milk supply. I spoke with Deanne via email where she pointed out the importance of breast milk for preemie babies.

When babies are born prematurely the mother’s milk is different – it’s called super preemie milk loaded with even more protein, antibodies and dense nutrition than regular breast milk. Preemies need the extra nutrition because their digestive tracts are not fully developed, they are so small and need to grow more rapidly, and also because they are so much more prone to infections in those early weeks. Formula just cannot deliver the nutrition and antibodies provided by nature.

Deanne is thankful for the donor milk her now thriving 3 1/2 year old sons received until her supply was established enough to provide full feedings for them, but wishes it was covered by her insurance like formula was. (Note: Medical insurance sometimes covers the cost of donor milk when there is a demonstrated medical need for the milk on the part of the infant.) She and her husband had to cash in their retirement account to pay for the milk. The cost of breast milk from the Denver milk bank is currently $3.50 per ounce (which covers the donor screening, processing of the milk, etc.), which adds up very quickly especially when feeding more than one baby.

Please see the information below if you have breast milk to spare and would like to help babies in need. Or if you are looking for a worthy place for your tax-deductible donation, please consider making a donation to a milk bank. The HMBANA milk banks are non-profit organizations and depend on community and private donations to keep the doors open.

Information on donating or receiving breast milk:

Edited on 1/26/10 to add:
This morning the United States Breastfeeding Committee released a statement and urgent call for human breast milk for premature infants in Haiti. The first shipment is getting ready to go out to the U.S. Navy ship Comfort. You can read the entire statement and find out how you can donate by reading Give Them Roots blog about it: URGENT: Milk Donations for Haiti Infants. Thank you!

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Time magazine advocates “tough love” approach to infant sleep

Time magazine recently published a section called The Year in Health, A to Z in the Dec. 7, 2009 issue. The letter B is for Babies and what Time advised regarding babies, “tough love” and sleep has many people shaking their heads in disagreement.

The article states:

When a baby has repeated problems falling asleep, Mom and Dad may need to show some tough love. Lingering with cranky babies too long or bringing them into the parents’ bedroom can make them likelier to become poor sleepers, according to psychologist Jodi Mindell, who gathered data on nearly 30,000 kids up to 3 years old in 17 countries. “If you’re rocked to sleep at bedtime, you’re going to need that every time you wake up,” she notes. Her advice: have children fall asleep 3 ft. away. “If they’re slightly separated, they sleep much better,” she says.

Parents, pediatricians and proponents of attachment parenting strongly disagree with Time’s advice.

On Attachment Parenting International, Samantha Gray, executive director of Attachment Parenting International, and Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, founders of API, published the letter to the editor they wrote in response. Here is a bit of it:

Contrary to the very unfortunate and detrimental advice on sleep in Time magazine, API’s Principle outlines the need to be responsive to children during the night and not to brush aside their needs as inconsequential to them or to their development in the name of “tough love.” The magazine and this proponents’ advice is framed in such a way to alarm parents into unfounded fears about their children being poor sleepers if they respond in loving ways such as rocking their child, breastfeeding, or lying down with the child. We know, in fact, that these practices are not only healthy for the child, but, for the very short period of a child’s life that needs are met in this way, parent and child benefit.

Science indicates that a comforting nighttime approach helps children achieve healthy sleep habits. Research and the experience of parents throughout the ages have proven that effective nighttime parenting includes prompt, calm response, as well as holding, cuddling and soothing touch.

We pray no one takes to heart this advice you have quite surprisingly chosen to publish, all the more in the midst of the availability of substantial quality parenting information. This advice goes against parents’ good instincts to care for their very young child in the ways their inner knowing tells them to.

We implore Time to urgently correct this harmful information in such a way to command even greater attention than received by the original article. Our children are worth it, and so are their parents.

At the time of this posting, Time had not responded to API nor published any sort of correction.

Pediatrician, father of eight, and author of numerous parenting books Dr. William Sears suggests in his own letter to the editor to Time:

Rather than issuing rules or cautions about being “over attached” concerning nighttime parenting we should be encouraging parents to sleep safely and closely with their babies. In my experience and that of others who have thoroughly researched the issue of co-sleeping, namely Dr. James McKenna, babies who sleep close to their parents sleep physiologically healthier and a mutual trust develops between parents and child.

Remember, we have an epidemic of insomnia in this country necessitating a mushrooming of sleep disorder clinics. When babies start out life with a healthy sleep attitude, that sleep is a pleasant state to enter and a fear-less state to remain in they’re more likely to grow up with a healthy sleep attitude and both children and their parents will sleep better later on.

On his website, Dr. Sears has 8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know including:

  • babies have shorter sleep cycles than adults
  • there are developmental and survival benefits of nightwaking
  • and as babies grow, they achieve “sleep maturity.”

Kayris who blogs at The Great Walls of Baltimore said, “considering the amount of adults who suffer from sleep problems or use sleep aid medications, I’m truly surprised at the amount of people who expect sleep to also be easy for children.”

Micki AKA ADDHousewife is one of those people who has trouble sleeping and said in response to the Time article, “That’s pure crazy. Some kids are just lousy sleepers. Plain and simple. I am still a bad sleeper!”

Hannah Gaiten, owner of Natural Choices, had this response to Time’s article:

That type of position is based on what is perceived to be best for parents, not taking into account what is truly best for the kids, in my opinion. Heaven forbid a child need to nurse to sleep…why is it regarded as such a “problem?” We do it everyday, every time my daughter needs to sleep, she needs to nurse. Sure, it’s not the most convenient at times, but if I were looking for convenience, then perhaps being a parent wasn’t the best road to take.

To make a blanket statement like, “If they’re slightly separated, they sleep much better” is unwise, in my opinion – each child is different and instead of this author telling parents how to parent their child, they should give unbiased information and encourage the parents to do what is best for their family (not just what is in the best interest of the parents).

Susan, who blogs at Two Hands Two Feet agrees, “I hate it when ‘experts’ tell parents what is best for them and their kids. You need to do what is right for your family, not what an expert says. This stuff caused me a lot of grief when my girls were tiny. I read books because I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. But what I really should have done was just gone with my instincts.”

Suzanne at The Joyful Chaos who co-sleeps, but also says she’s “not actually an advocate for co-sleeping,” drives the point home that you have to do what works best for your family in her post The Cosleeping Edition of my Attachment Parenting Freako-ness and sometimes that may very well differ from child to child.

A Mother In Israel Hannah asks in her post Sleep Training at the 92nd St. Y:

Are our babies robots? Or dogs that we need to train? No, they are very small people who can’t understand why everyone ignores them once the sun goes down, even when they cry hard enough to throw up. A baby’s cry is intended to be disturbing. If we train ourselves to ignore it, we lose our instinctive rachmanut (compassion). And a baby whose cries are ignored learns that his feelings don’t count for much. Eventually he will give up and go to sleep, but pay a steep price.

Who are we to say that our need for a solid eight hours (which we usually don’t get anyway for all kinds of trivial reasons) trumps the baby’s needs? Adults can learn to cope with less sleep and babies need concern and sympathy no matter when they are in distress. Trust your baby; she will tell you when s/he is developmentally ready to fall asleep without your help.

As for my opinion, I think it’s very irresponsible for Time to make a blanket statement like that, especially when there is evidence that proves the contrary is true. I do believe it is up to each family to decide what works best for them and their children. While I don’t think it’s for everyone, co-sleeping worked for my family for years. Nowadays my children are still co-sleeping with each other at age 3 and 5 and sleep side by side in a room together. Just as they have different personalities, they are very different sleepers. My daughter has a harder time falling asleep than my son, but both are parented to sleep in a way that works best for them.

There’s nothing that is convenient about being a parent. It is a physically, emotionally and mentally taxing job. Parenting doesn’t end just because the sun sets. It’s a 24/7 365 days of the year job.

Instead of trying to put more distance between parents and their children, I think Time should be encouraging more connections. The time that our children are infants and toddlers is so fleeting in the grand scheme of things, we should be embracing them, not pushing them away.

Jan Hunt, director of The Natural Child, points out, “As the writer John Holt put it so eloquently, having feelings of love and safety in early life, far from ‘spoiling’ a child, is like ‘money in the bank’: a fund of trust, self-esteem and inner security they can draw on throughout life’s challenges.

Children may be small in size, but they are as fully human as we are, and as deserving as we are to be trusted to know what they need, and to have their voices heard.”

There is a wealth of information about infant sleep on Attachment Parenting International’s Baby Sleep Strategies page, including infant sleep safety, co-sleeping, nighttime parenting and more.

Annie at PhD in Parenting also has an informational post Gentle Baby and Toddler Sleep Tips that “provides tips for sleep deprived parents that want their babies to sleep better and… do not want to use the cry it out approach.”

If you’d like to respond to Time about “B” for Babies, please do so online using their letter to the editor web form or snail mail to:
TIME Magazine Letters
Time & Life Building
New York, N.Y. 10020
“Letters should include the writer’s full name, address and home telephone and may be edited for purposes of clarity and space.”

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

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Future vaccine may prevent ear infections

A new vaccine that may someday prevent ear infections (otitis media) in children is currently in the works. The vaccine is still a ways out from being tested on children, but the results on chinchillas have been promising so far.

Photo courtesy Tandem Racer
Photo courtesy Tandem Racer

The needleless vaccine, developed by Dr. Lauren Bakaletz, a researcher at Nationwide Children’s hospital, is administered by way of a drop of liquid rubbed into the skin on the outside of the ear.

Dr. Bakaletz says it works by activating cells just under the surface of the skin, called dendritic cells. When this liquid touches the skin, it touches off a response throughout the body.

“These cells deliver it to the lymphoid organs where it can generate an immune response. So really harnessing a power that’s there all the time, but you’re doing it in a way that’s now directed toward a specific disease,” says Dr. Bakaletz.

It seems only natural that moms, especially those of young children, are having some strong reactions to the news of this possible future vaccine. Some of the those I’ve seen from moms thus far include excitement and curiosity, as well as disbelief, frustration and cynicism.

An anonymous commenter on News Anchor Mom said, “Don’t you think we should be looking into the CAUSES of these ear infections rather than just adding yet ANOTHER vaccine to the list? Neither one of my children have ever had an ear infection. They are now 4 and 2.”

Karissa, another commenter, said, “Wow! What an ingenious idea! I am always leery of giving more vaccines but ear infections are the worst! It seemed like for years one of my three kids always had one. The kids were miserable, and couldn’t sleep or eat. … I’m interested to see what happens with this.”

Yet another commenter, Emily from Randomability said, “This sounds promising and it doesn’t go into the ear either. My only concern would be long term side effects.”

Catherine Morgan shares a lot of the same thoughts and concerns that I have regarding this vaccine and vaccines in general and wonders how many is too many.

I wonder how many pharmaceutical companies are bothering to invest in research to actually cure diseases that kill children? Because, why should they bother wasting money on cures for drugs that only a small fraction of children will ever need (buy), when they can make billions on new vaccines for non-life threatening illnesses that can be sold to every child?

Regardless of how you feel about autism, food allergies, or processed foods…When it comes right down to it, pharmaceutical companies are making vaccines that they believe can be most profitable for their companies. I think there comes a time when we (the parents and the consumers) need to decide that we don’t need to vaccinate every child for every illness that they may or may not get.

The thing is our immune systems need to develop by actually fighting off these infections, viruses and diseases on their own. We are already becoming a society with more and more people suffering with auto-immune diseases (like MS, Lupus, Diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, Arthritis, Celiac Disease, just to name a few). Personally, I would rather risk my child coming down with the flu, the chicken pox or an ear infection and fighting it off now, than risk their immune system failing them when they really need it later.

Is there a vaccine that we would ever say no to?

A vaccine to end conjunctivitis (pink eye)?
A vaccine to prevent poison ivy?
A vaccine to prevent runny noses or sore throats?
A vaccine to end diaper rash?

Where do we draw the line? How many vaccines is too many?

Interestingly enough, I first learned about this vaccine via an email that was sent to me from a media relations specialist (MRS). She mentioned that she could put me in touch with Dr. Bakaletz so I took her up on her offer and sent her a list of questions that I and other women (both bloggers and non-bloggers) came up with. Some of the questions included:

  • What are the possible side effects of the vaccine? – asked by Beth of The Natural Mommy
  • Who will be the manufacturer of this vaccine?
  • What are the ingredients?
  • Could this vaccine create resistant strains like antibiotics do? – also asked by Beth of The Natural Mommy
  • What are you trying to prevent with the ear infection vaccine – ear infections, the number of children who need tubes in their ears or deafness? – asked by Kayris of Great Walls of Baltimore and Kate

The response I got from the MRS was that the questions were “a bit too detailed for Dr. Bakaletz to answer given where she’s at in the development of her vaccine at this point.” However, she encouraged me to submit some more general questions, so I said:

  • I’d love to know how long the vaccine will be tested (on animals and humans) before it is deemed safe for public use and/or if she knows what the possible side effects are.
  • What prompted her to pursue making an ear infection vaccine?

Again, I was told, “Unfortunately Dr. Bakaletz couldn’t answer your specific questions.” However, she did forward on to me some general information from Dr. Bakaletz. This response left me a bit frustrated and wondering why I was told I could be put in touch with the doctor in the first place.

Whether you are excited about the prospect of this vaccine or not, it will not likely be available any time soon. Dr. Bakaletz notes, “most vaccines have taken 25-30 years from discovery to development, so I can’t really predict how soon the transcutaneous vaccine would be available since we’re still so early in terms of our experience with this vaccination approach.”

In the meantime, children will continue to get ear infections and treating them with antibiotics is not always (in fact, not usually) the best course of treatment. According to this recent Health News article, “Repeated use of antibiotics to treat acute ear infections in young children increases the risk of recurrent ear infections by 20 percent, according to researchers in the Netherlands who called for more prudent use of antibiotics in young children. … Antibiotics may reduce the length and severity of the initial ear infection, but may also result in a higher number of recurrent infections and antibiotic resistance, the researchers stated. Because of this, they said, doctors need to be careful in their use of antibiotics in children with ear infections.” You can read the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for treating ear infections here, which include:

  • Minimize antibiotic side effects by giving parents of select children the option of fighting the infection on their own for 48-72 hours, then starting antibiotics if they do not improve.
  • Encourage families to prevent AOM (acute otitis media) by reducing risk factors. For babies and infants these include breastfeeding for at least six months, avoiding “bottle propping,” and eliminating exposure to passive tobacco smoke.

SafBaby also suggests parents of children who suffer from ear infections might want to look into chiropractic care as an alternative to antibiotics.

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

Another reason to steer clear of high fructose corn syrup – mercury!

In case you needed another reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup, here’s a new one – it may contain mercury. According to a Washington Post article, “Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies.”

Janelle Sorensen (of Healthy Child, Healthy World) co-authored the studies for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade report along with Dr. David Wallinga, mentioned in the Washington Post article.

According to Sorensen (who spoke with me via email), at this time it is unknown what species of mercury this is. Personally I don’t know that it matters too much, because mercury is just plain bad for our health.

  • The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury.
  • The EPA has determined that mercuric chloride and methylmercury are possible human carcinogens.
  • Very young children are more sensitive to mercury than adults.

You may recall that the Environmental Protection Agency has issued warnings regarding the consumption of certain types of fish containing mercury for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children.

Should there be warnings against consumption of mercury-laced HFCS too? When you consider HFCS is found in so many food and drink products these days, it may seem hard to avoid. Cereal? Yes. Bread? Yes. Soup? Yes. Lunch meat? Yes. Yogurt? Yes. Condiments? Yes. Soda? YES! Even infant formula can contain corn syrup! If you shop at a conventional grocery store (not a health foods store), check out the ingredients listed on just about anything you buy. You’ll be surprised (and maybe even a little freaked out) how many items contain HFCS. According to the Washington Post, “On average, Americans consume about 12 teaspoons per day of HFCS, but teens and other high consumers can take in 80 percent more HFCS than average.”

That’s why the HFCS commercials by the Corn Refiners Association are so laughable. They say HFCS is fine in moderation (though they never quantify what that amount is), but how do you consume it in moderation when it’s infiltrated a large percentage of the products in the grocery store?

What really freaks me out though is to know that corn syrup is in infant formula. It might not be high fructose corn syrup, but still. Does a baby need artificial sweeteners? What about genetically modified (GMO corn) sweeteners as most corn is? And more importantly, how can a baby, who’s diet consists solely of formula, possibly consume it in moderation? Or is moderation only necessary for HFCS, but not corn syrup? I tried to find the ingredients in formula listed online and was able to find a few brands – two listed the first ingredient as water, followed by corn syrup. That’s alarming to me.

Increased corn allergies
Could this prevalence of corn in the diets of the youngest of our species, as well as being the number one thing Americans eat (because it’s in nearly everything), be contributing to the rise in corn allergies in this country? My guess is yes.

Returning to the study…
Sorensen shared with me some of her thoughts after doing months of research about HFCS and mercury:

In essence, we rely on a vastly complicated global food system that has many opportunities to go awry. And, not only is the chain of ingredients and manufacturing very complex, the foods we are eating are very complex and unlike anything people ate even two generations ago. HFCS is one story in this grand theater of food production. And, even though the studies are small, it’s clearly an actor that deserves more attention as a potential instigator in the public health drama we are currently witnessing. First of all, HFCS is an unnecessary part of the human diet. We thrived for millennia without it. Second, the caustic soda used to manufacture it can be made using mercury-free technologies. Safer alternatives exist and are used widely at this very moment. Third, even though the exposure is minute, it’s a repeat offender in the average US diet and should also be addressed in the context of combined daily exposures of modern day society.

The authors of both of the studies recognize the limitations of their findings. There is clearly much more research to be done in order to be able to understand what the true health implications may be. Maybe the impacts end up being nominal, but who wants to risk their child’s health and development waiting to find out when it’s such an unnecessary exposure?

Human development is a miracle. The journey from egg and sperm to adult (and even beyond) is a tumultuous and risky endeavor. Research is increasingly showing how very vulnerable the developing fetus is – susceptible to exquisitely small environmental exposures – so, why take an unnecessary chance? Why even allow antiquated technologies that are extremely pollutive; that have safer, economically feasible alternatives; that are completely unnecessary in food production? There is not a single piece of this story that makes sense.

What is the FDA’s response to the request for “immediate changes by industry and the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply?”

Sorensen says:

The FDA and industry are quickly trying to assuage the concerns spread by these reports, calling us irresponsible for setting false alarms. But, the FDA and industry are notorious at this point for coercing people into taking risks their instincts tell them not to. I’m not anti-FDA nor anti-industry; I simply believe in transparency of information. If you decide this risk is nominal, that’s your decision. For me, and my family, it’s not okay. And, it’s extremely simple to avoid.

How do you avoid HFCS?
You buy whole foods, not processed foods. You prepare meals from scratch. You grow your own vegetables and buy from local farmers’ markets, farm stands and CSAs. You look for certified organic foods. You read the labels and find alternatives to the products containing HFCS. It might seem like it’s in everything, but it’s not. There are brands of bread that don’t contain it (even at Costco), just as there are brands of soda, yogurt, and infant formula, but you have to read the labels to find out. Become a wise consumer and vote with your dollars.

Finding balance
It might seem like the best bet it to avoid HFCS at all costs, but even Sorensen admits that she lets her kids consume it once every now and then. “It’s a very small amount and I know I’m very careful about other exposures. Life is all about balance.” Yes, yes it is.

Lastly, if you are looking to reduce the HFCS in your or your family’s life, you might want to check out the blog A Life Less Sweet One family, no high fructose corn syrup, eating healthier. And here are a few more related posts: from Nature’s Child – HFCS, fortified with mercury, from Ask Moxie – Whoa: Mercury in HFCS, and (a really good one) from AngieMedia – High Fructose Corn Syrup is Dangerous for Many Reasons. A couple more: from Mom-101 – High fructose corn syrup contains mercury and other reasons I think we’re going to start feeding our kids air and from Her Bad MotherPoison In The Ketchup: This HFCS Scare Might Actually Make Me Start, You Know, Cooking From Scratch Or Something.