Sunday, June 27, 2010

Parenting by Fear: Sun Safety

Too much of what we are told to do as parents is driven by fear - and by mass marketing campaigns. Advertisers pummel us with messages about the benefits of drinking milk and pediatricians advise us to "switch over" by age one. Scientists - and advertisers - invoke fear to encourage parents to follow the mandatory vaccination schedule and to put their children "safely" to bed in their cribs. And this time of year it's all about sunscreen. Not putting sunscreen on your child might elicit gasps of horror from the experts, not to mention other parents. But what we don't talk enough about is the actual safety of all the creams and sprays we chase our children around with to be sure they don't get burned.

Thanks to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), discovering the truth about sunscreen safety just got easier. EWG's 2010 Sunscreen Guide exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly about the industry and their products. Shockingly, 92 percent of the sunscreens reviewed by EWG's experts were found to either be lacking in their claims of protection against skin damage or contain potential "hormone-disrupting chemicals." So before you lather up at your next beach excursion, BBQ, or outdoor playdate, let's take a look at sun safety.

For starters, EWG points out that sunscreen alone does not protect you from sun damage. Hats, sunglasses, shirts and, of course, some shade, are all important ways to shield yourself from overexposure. And then comes the sunscreen. EWG's database helps guide you through 1,400 brands to help make a conscious choice. Many of these brands contain harmful ingredients, such as oxybenzone or Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate), the latter of which may actually hasten cancer cell growth on the skin. The jury is still out about whether or not sunscreen actually prevents skin cancer or sun damage at all, so how to proceed is a choice we all have to make individually. Growing research on the importance of Vitamin D also suggests that our excessive use of sunscreen may actually be detrimental to our health.

Yet overexposure to sun and subsequent sunburn are neither healthy nor fun. Finding a decent sunscreen can be done, once you understand the validity of SPF claims and the benefits and risks of ingredients. Start with reading EWG's 9 Surprising Truths and then head over to find your sunscreen in their database. Be sure to check out their Hall of Shame. Keep in mind that this is big business and the market is driven by demand. When parents work with advocacy groups such as EWG and vote with their dollars, companies will be forced to take notice. Shop responsibily and make informed choices.

Still have questions? Then join us for a Twitter Party on Tuesday, June 29th at 10 PM EST at #holisticmoms with EWG Senior Analyst Sonya Lunder to learn more! Haven't been to a Twitter Party yet? Visit our website here to get started. They are easy, fun, and packed with great information!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My New Superhero: Michael Pollan

Hero (-noun): a man of distinguished courage or ability.
Superhero (-noun): a hero possessing extraordinary, often magical powers.

Michael Pollan is my new superhero. Hero is all fine and good (with the exception of the incredible irony that a hero is also "the bread or roll used in making a hero sandwich" which might or might not qualify as food, according to Mr. Pollan - but more about that in moment). But superhero more accurately embraces the overwhelming brilliance and simplicity (with a nice dash of humor) found in Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food. Certainly both courage and ability were needed for such a great work, taking on nutritionism with clarity and depth. Michael Pollan is, however, more than able and courageous. In Defense of Food is an extraordinary, magical exploration of how we got ourselves into this nutritional mess and the practical, clever ways to get ourselves back to health.

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. But of course, you might think. What else should we eat but food and not too much of it? So obvious and yet so blatantly disregarded by our culture and the powers that be in the food industry. As Pollan explains, the "food-like substances" that fill our supermarkets, pantries, and shelves are not food in any real sense, but laboratory-concocted products that fake nutritional status with their claims but confuse our bodies and create a lack of well-being. Real food grows in the ground and walks the earth (or flies or swims). It's simple and whole. Food. Something we seem to have forgotten.

Twenty years ago I took up the mantra that I would not buy any food product with more than five ingredients. How charming to find this among Pollan's recommendations, along with similar suggestions about not eating food with ingredients you cannot recognize or pronounce. But even more charming is his recognition of the powerful role of mothers in the nutrition and health of their families. Yes! We, the moms, need to realize that we are responsible for the quality of our children's diets as well as their awareness about food and nutrition. Our children "won't eat anything but junk" if we offer them junk. If "food-like substances" are what our children are being offered - products whose sweetness or saltiness excites the palate with their chemical reactions - then what else can we expect? Our children learn about food from us as well as from our culture. Changing our relationship with food and what we classify as food is integral to the survival of our planet and to our own health and vitality.

Just last week my son had to listen to me rant about how the "play sushi" his class made in school, consisting of rice cereal and Twizzlers candy, was indeed decidely not food and had nothing to do with "cooking" (which was the reason for the demonstration). It was no short rant. He rolled his nine-year old eyes with an "Oh, Mom. It was just for fun." As a mother, I could be worried. But he gets it. He can read a supermarket sticker and identify GMO, conventional and organic produce. He proudly tells me about store items that have only two ingredients and loves winding our way through the farmer's market to see what we can discover. He happily heads out to the garden to pull fresh herbs for dinner and delights in identifying them as he eats them with gusto. He is not your average American child. And I beam with pride about that. We are defenders of food. I think we should all have our own superhero costumes and march our way through convenience stores to raise awareness. C'mon Mr. Pollan - you'd make a great caped crusader!

Seriously, though, this is an important crusade. Children's obesity is on the rise in alarming rates. We are plagued by illnesses that have been cultivated in the food industry factories and on the shelves of our supermarkets. Our children do not understand where food comes from or why it matters, much less how to cook or grow food. We need to start at home and take up the challenge of becoming defenders of food - real food. Eat food - real food. And lots of it. Learn how to eat local and organic. Teach your children the difference between food and food-like products. They naturally embrace what they can feel, taste, smell, and touch. Guide them and they will follow.

And do check out the first issue of Holistic Mom's newly reformatted e-magazine, The Wise Mom. The Wise Mom is the digital voice of our members and this issue happens to highlight local, real food. Become a defender of food. The next generation could use a few more superheroes!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My New Favorite T-Shirt

This past weekend I had the pleasure to surround myself with literally hundreds of women who have dedicated their lives to women and birth - midwives. The Holistic Moms Network was an exhibitor at the American College of Nurse Midwives' (ACNM) 55th Annual Meeting, a powerful event honoring and celebrating midwifery. ACNM's mission is simple yet profound: "to promote the health and well-being of women and infants within their families and communities through the development and support of the profession of midwifery as practiced by certified nurse-midwives, and certified midwives. The philosophy inherent in the profession states that nurse-midwives believe every individual has the right to safe, satisfying health care with respect for human dignity and cultural variations." Midwives get it. They understand that moms want respect and dignity. They recognize that women have the power to birth and are capable of delivering babies naturally. And they honor the process of birth, breastfeeding, and mother-to-mother support. But they have a uphill battle on their hands.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cesarean birth rates rose 53% between 1996 and 2007, reaching 32% nationwide - the highest ever recorded in the United States. Even though the CDC's own report recognizes that "Cesarean delivery involves major abdominal surgery, and is associated with higher rates of surgical complications and maternal rehospitalization, as well as with complications requiring neonatal intensive care unit admission" and that "in addition to health and safety risks for mothers and newborns, hospital charges for a cesarean delivery are almost double those for a vaginal delivery, imposing significant costs," American women and birth professionals are not listening.

Why are c-section rates rising? According to the Childbirth Connection, the common myths are that women are opting for unnecessary c-sections for convenience and/or that more births are now requiring surgical intervention. However, research does not bear this out. Rather, common birth interventions, a cultural and medical bias that does not support a woman's ability to birth vaginally, casual attitudes toward surgery and medical intervention, and provider malpractice concerns seem to be contributing to the rising rates. Yes, mothers need to be informed about their options and be aware of potential risks of c-section surgery but they alone are not responsible for this birthing trend. Providers need to step up and acknowledge that our current birthing mentality is endangering our women and babies on many levels.

Why consider a midwife? Midwives start out with an entirely different viewpoint that sees birth as a normal, natural life process. Birth is not a "cookie cutter" event - it's different for every woman and every child. If your familiarity with birth is what you have seen on television, it is definitely time to expand your horizons! Beautiful birth can happen in many ways, many positions, many places. Midwives see themselves as assistants, attendants, and helpers to a natural process, not directors trying to control the action. Midwives also take time to care for their patients on a personal and emotional level, as well as a physical one and their care improve outcomes for both mothers and babies.

If you are making birth choices, start by raising your awareness about the options available to you. Check out Choices in Childbirth's free online Guide to a Healthy Birth to learn more and to find great resources, such as questions to ask your healthcare provider about birth. Talk to other moms, meet with a midwife and a doula, attend a childbirth class, watch a variety of birth videos, and empower yourself with the knowledge to make the best birth choice for you and for your baby!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

And the Ants Go Marching In

As hard as I try to be a nature lover, I must confess that I am not a fan of bugs. I am less squeamish about them as the mother of two boys, one of whom went through a bug stage so we had lots of first hand experiences, but I do not want them in my home. I am also not a fan of chemicals or pesticides. So when the ants started to march through my living room, it was time to discover some natural solutions to my uninvited visitors.

Why natural? Several reasons: for one, I feel passionately about keeping chemicals out of my home and away from my family as much as I can. We eat mostly organic food, use non-toxic cleaning and personal care products, and seek out healthcare that focuses on natural solutions. Research shows that home pesticides have been implicated in rising rates of everything from asthma to childhood leukemia, enough to make me take pause. My concern about the dangers of pesticides and insecticides extend beyond my family as well and there is mounting evidence that runoff and residues of these chemicals are wreaking havoc with the environment. According to RATE (Real Alternatives to Toxins in the Environment), more than 16 million US citizens are sensitive to pesticides and the rates of multiple chemical sensitivities are on the rise. According to the US Fish and Wildlife service, pesticides kill more than 67 million birds each year and between 6 and 14 million fish annually.

Fortunately, there are an amazing number of natural "remedies" for a variety of bug issues. Who knew that simple cucumber peels could have so much value? According to Planet Natural the peels of cucumbers can be placed where ants, wasps, and other insects are entering your home to deter them. Have moths? You can deter them with cloves or build a water trap. Fleas? You can rinse your pets in a lemon oil solution or grind up rosemary to sprinkle on your pet bedding and pets for a simple home solution. Sage and rosemary can also help deter mosquitoes. Throw some on your summer grill to keep the pests away from your BBQ guests. A variety of herbs and spices - used both inside your home and planted in your garden - act as natural bug repellents. Mint, basil and bay leaves repel flies, while cinnamon and garlic deter ants. Nasty cockroaches? Mix up equal parts of baking soda and powdered sugar and place where you see them to rid them from your kitchen cabinets.

Nature provides us with an tool kit for dealing with unwanted pests that is simple, affordable, and safe. We invite you to share your tips and experiences with natural pest solutions on our blog or online member communities.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Long Term Dangers

One of the biggest challenges we face in encouraging people to change their lifestyles to healthier, more sustainable choices is the inability for us to cultivate our long-term vision. The busier we are, the more embedded in the fast pace of our work and our lives, the harder it is to think about the consequences of our choices in a year, ten years, or even a generation. But it is across those generations that we see the gravest dangers and the harshest realities.

A lifetime of consuming junk food will eventually catch up with you in the form of disease. It's not easy to muster up the enthusiasm or commitment to a healthier diet when the outcome is not readily apparent. Nor is it simple to explain the dangers of environmental toxins on our well-being and on the future. Yet the research is becoming increasingly more ominous.

Consider, for example, a recent study published by Yale University about the dangers of Bisphenol A (BPA). According to the research, fetal exposure to BPA during pregnancy may permanently alter female fertility. Says Dr. Hugh S. Taylor, professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at Yale University, “What our mothers were exposed to in pregnancy may influence the rest of our lives. We need to better identify the effect of environmental contaminants on not just crude measures such as birth defects, but also their effect in causing more subtle developmental errors.” That means the canned soup you ate on a cold winter day or the canned beans you used for your chili could put your child at risk, even if they were labeled "organic", according to Consumer Reports. Reusable aluminum bottles, as well as plastic ones, can also post a huge risk and may be leaching BPA into your much-needed-during pregnancy drinking water. BPA is alarmingly present in our bodies and in our babies. According to a report of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), BPA was found in the umbilical cords of 90% of infants tested.

We cannot undo what we did not know, of course, and we all have enough mother guilt than to carry this as well. What we can do is become informed about toxins in our environment, including BPA, and work to eliminate them from our world as much as possible. A great place to start is with Alicia Voorhies' free guide Avoiding Toxic Plastic. Alicia shares what she has uncovered as a parent in this helpful guide and through her business, The Soft Landing. Every parent, expecting parent, and future parent needs to heed the call and step into a place of long-term vision for their own health and the health of future generations. If we don't, there may not be a future generation to share our knowledge and awareness with.