Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Non-Toxic Pregnancy

Are moms or expectant moms who work to reduce toxic chemicals in their environment extreme? Paranoid? Overly concerned?

Probably not, based upon a recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. The researchers investigated the impact of organophosphate (OP) insecticides in pregnant women and their pregnancy outcomes. Studying 306 mother/child pairs with high and low concentrations of pesticides in their bloodstreams from common household and environmental exposure. The study found that the women with the highest levels of exposure were more likely to have babies that were preterm or lower in birthweight.

"Preterm birth is probably the single most important factor for infant mortality," said Lanphear" a member of the research study team, as reported in the Huffington Post. He also added "that preterm birth and low birthweight have also been linked to a range of future health problems, from cognitive problems to heart disease."

Women are exposed to a wide range of pesticides, both within and outside of the home, increasing their risk for elevated exposure. Bug sprays, lawn care products, and conventional (non-organic) foods are primary sources of exposure.

Both preterm birth and low birthweight may have long-term consequences for the health and development of children. If that's not concerning enough, a 2011 Harvard Medical School study found that organophosphate insecticides in children may be linked to a lower IQ.

I think it's time we lay aside the "extremist" labels and start encouraging all young and expectant women to go organic!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Living Gluten Free: Raising Awareness

Do you have 133 friends on Facebook - or more? If so, at least one of them is likely to have celiac disease. Once considered a rare autoimmune disorder, celiac disease now affects 1 out of every 133 Americans, a ratio that may be even higher if you include wheat and gluten allergies and sensitivities that are not diagnosed as celiac.

According to the Celiac Disease Center at the University of Chicago, 97% of people with celiac are undiagnosed: "The number of Americans with celiac disease would fill 936 cruise ships. Passengers on 908 of the ships won’t know they have it." That's an astounding percentage of undiagnosed patients. One of the problems is that more than 300 symptoms have been associated with celiac which may impact people in a variety of ways. In some cases, celiac may cause abdominal bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, or failure to thrive, in others it may manifest itself in the symptoms of fatigue, joint pain, or unexplained infertility.

What is celiac disease? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), celiac disease is "a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food." Although there is some discussion that celiac is a genetic disorder, its rapid growth raises some eyebrows. A 2009 ABC News piece interviewed Dr. Joseph Murray, who "attributes the increase in the disease to environmental factors. "It has to be a change in the environment because it's happened over 50 years and human genetics don't change that fast," he explained. Others have more specifically linked celiac to genetically modified foods (GMOs).

Whatever the cause or frequency of the disease, you likely know someone who needs to follow a gluten free diet. The diagnoses can feel devastating at first. No bread? No pasta? No cupcakes, birthday cake, or hamburger buns? And what about pizza?

Fortunately, the gluten-free market is growing exponentially. But it's not all good news. Many of the common "replacement" foods offered in gluten-free versions are far from health-promoting. They are highly processed and refined, with added sugars, fats, and flavorings. For celiacs and those intolerant to gluten they may seem to be a godsend. But the real godsend is in the lifestyle change - a change that makes you look at food and health more carefully and understand its connection. Celiac is just such a wake-up call for many of us. And the journey to a healthy gluten-free lifestyle will make you appreciate whole, real food even more.

So you can't eat the way you used to. What can you eat? Sweet, ripe watermelon. Seared, juicy steak. Roasted herbed turkey. Creamy mashed potatoes. Rich, dense risotto. Luscious chocolate mousse. The more closely you stick to whole foods and the more you learn to prepare and cook them, the better your gluten-free journey will be. Don't know what to feel someone with celiac? You don't need to run off to the nearest health food store to find a specialty item. Look in your fridge or pantry, shop your local farmer's market. Make some organic chicken with lemon and herbs. Toss some asparagus in olive oil and salt and roast them in the oven. Put on a pot of brown rice. Simple, real, basic. And you just might feel better without the gluten too!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Breastfeeding Fallout: Silver Linings

Tongues have indeed been wagging about breastfeeding and attachment parenting philosophies all week. Time Magazine succeeded in creating a buzz and designing a cover for shock value. The fallout has been tremendous. Public cries of disgust and anger abound. Moms who breastfeed feel that nursing has been sexualized, polarized, and deemed as extremist, especially beyond the first six months infancy. Moms who don't breastfeed feel as though they are under attack for not being "mom enough". And the AP philosophy seems quirky at best, evangelical and separatist at worst.

The media is continuing to work hard to portray us, the moms, with every ounce of sensationalism they can muster. Time may have gotten some attention, but in my experience moms are not a group that you want to alienate and anger. Moms are a powerful force. A force for change. A sea of power. They have the strength of community. And the insight to see beyond the facade. And momma ain't happy now.

But there is a silver lining. We are talking about breastfeeding. We are thinking about parenting. We are discussing doing what we believe is best for our kids. And we are connecting amidst our rage. More and more moms are standing back and calling for tolerance. And many of us who practice "extreme" parenting are stepping forward. The small "sliver" of moms who breastfeed well into toddlerhood are speaking out. And our champions are getting some attention.

Just the other day, USA Today published an article headlining "Breastfeeding a 3-year old is normal, anthropologist says." Interviewing Katherine Dettwyler, USA Today noted "that most children around the world are breast-fed for three to five years or longer." And the article indicated that "it's more common than might be believed, and that moms are just hiding it."

How do we create a sea change? It starts with awareness. If we want to making nursing "normal" and extended breastfeeding "acceptable" it needs to get attention. It needs to be seen and heard; known and experienced. When it's common, it loses its shock value. When everyone is nursing a 3-year old, who is going to plaster it on their magazine cover?

Nursing in public is common and normal, only we don't see enough of it. The Holistic Moms Network's own video, Nursing Our Future, was created for this very reason - to showcase moms doing what is normal and natural, openly, publicly, and proudly. Watch out Time, because moms are "mom enough": mom enough to stand our ground and proud enough to have the confidence to do what we believe, in spite of what the media thinks.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Motherhood Under Attack

In this, the week where we honor and celebrate mothers and their contributions, the media is instead putting motherhood under attack. From a series of blogs in the New York Times to the front cover of Time Magazine, child-centered parenting and by association, motherhood, is under fire.

The unfolding stories about motherhood question whether feminism and motherhood are compatible or if mothers are doing "enough" or perhaps taking their parenting styles too far. The media is dividing mothers into camps - feminists vs. mothers, attached parents vs. empowered parents, parents who are "enough" and those who fall short of the mark. Mothers are either/or, up for public evaluation and criticism, or left hung out to dry. Fathers, ironically, do not engender such criticism. Being present is enough to simply qualify a dad as "good enough" - a little help around the home and he is to be celebrated. But for moms motherhood is a minefield.

If you listen to the media, following your instincts in parenting makes you a slave to your children. Ancients practices of breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping are exhausting and a likely manifestation of mothers trying to make up for their own inadequate childhoods. And all of it strips women of their independence, their power, and their choice. Lines are drawn in the sand. I am a good enough mother because I do this, you are not. I am a feminist and you are just a mother. You are a bad mother because you also have a career.

Motherhood is a universal experience. All mothers are exhausted. All mothers make sacrifices for their children, put some of their own desires on hold, and want to raise happy and healthy children. We all want to keep our children safe and protect them. We will stand by them and nurse them back to health when they sick. We will fight for them, move mountains for them, give every ounce of energy for them no matter what parenting model we follow.

Mothers who can make choices are empowered. Mothers who can choose to work or stay home, to co-sleep or babywear, to embrace their roles as mothers and as professionals, and to make informed, educated choices that work for them and their families are perhaps the most powerful force on the planet. And we are all mothers.

Let's not spend this Mother's Day pointing fingers and judging one another. Let's celebrate the joys and the challenges of motherhood that we all share. Let's honor the hard work, the passion, the dedication, the tolerance and patience, and the great love that all mothers share. Let us celebrate and honor the community of mothers, the universalities of our experience, and the enormous respect we have for one another's tasks. And let us acknowledge the power of our collective voices, our ability to honor one another, and our power to tolerate and respect our differences.

Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Loneliness and Going Screen Free

This week the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood celebrates screen free week "an annual celebration where children, families, schools, and communities turn off screens and turn on life." Screen free week was once TV-free week, a much easier task for me personally. According to recent Nielsen data, the average American household has 2.5 televisions and the average American watches 35.6 hours of TV each week, close to the equivalent of a full-time job. My one-TV household is clearly an oddity in modern America. As a mom of two very active boys and working full-time both outside and inside the home means TV simply isn't a significant part of my life. In fact, a week without a single hour of television is standard for me. I have no idea what shows are "hot". I have never seen a minute of any "housewives" show nor can I even guess who the latest contestants are on the current season of "Dancing with the Stars." In fact, I'm clueless on most celebrities or anything happening in their lives.

But when we're talking all screens, it's a different story. Just to keep up with all that I do, I sport a PC, a laptop, an iPad and an iPhone every single day. Being in front of screens - often more than one at a time - is not usual, it's my life. Although 90% of it revolves around work, I do use my "screens" for social networking, making dinner reservations, checking the weather, and catching up with friends. And when I sit back and consider the amount of time I spend in front of them, I am more than a little alarmed.

Yes, I'm concerned about my vision (it has definitely gotten worse as I spend more time in front of screens), about EMFs, and that most of my screen time is spent sitting instead of being out and about. But more than anything else the quantity of time that I - and others - spend in front of digital screens concerns me for the sake of community and interpersonal relationships. Sure, we all feel so connected. Facebook brings us back in touch with friends that span our entire lifetime and every facet of our world. Twitter keeps up the chatter and LinkedIn connects our professional world online. YouTube and Pinterest make it all visual. But none of it - not a single platform - truly, authentically helps us to connect in the ways that really matter. Not with our spouses or partners, our kids, our family members, our friends, nor our colleagues. And I personally think that all this screen time is a danger to our happiness and to our future.

Why? Because we are losing our human interpersonal skills. We have a harder time communicating, empathizing, and sharing in person. We are more challenged to understand voice tones, facial expressions, and body language because none of them are present in our digital world. We feel detached and disconnected, despite our hundreds of online "friends" and our hours of being linked.

A sobering article in this month's Atlantic Magazine tells us the statistics: a 2010 study shows a 15 percent increase in chronic loneliness among older Americans in just the past 10 years. Another survey indicates that "in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant." Yet more than 845 million of us are connected to "friends" on Facebook alone. But still the indicators of loneliness and unhappiness are on the rise. Even the casual social networker's screen time correlates with a growing lack of connection, according to Atlantic Magazine: "non-personalized use of Facebook—scanning your friends’ status updates and updating the world on your own activities via your wall, or what Burke calls “passive consumption” and “broadcasting”—correlates to feelings of disconnectedness."

How do we read these results? As the Atlantic Magazine surmises, "It may be that Facebook encourages more contact with people outside of our household, at the expense of our family relationships—or it may be that people who have unhappy family relationships in the first place seek companionship through other means, including Facebook." Perhaps the loneliest of us spend the most time in front of screens, desperately trying to connect and feel connected. Or perhaps the lost time we spend there is the very ironic factor that is growing our sense of disconnection. In either case, walking away from your screens - at least for personal connections - may be one of the healthiest things that we can do. Lonely people are more likely to be obese, to exercise less, to have higher rates of inflammation, and to have poor memory, among other conditions. What's more is that the loneliness and disconnection we have created impacts our social and political culture as well, with lower rates of participation in voting, volunteerism, and community groups. And this growing pattern of loneliness is starting younger and younger.

As the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood points out, children spend "an astonishing average of 32 hours a week in front of screens." High screen time correlates with poor school performance, obesity, and behavioral problems among children. It also sets a pattern for disconnection at a critical time where children are learning and integrating social skills.

Hard as it may be, it's time for all of us - as adults and as parents - to step back and take a critical look at how our screen time is impacting our lives. It's time to redefine our family connections, rediscover our relationships and put the screens away. Remove the screens from the dinner table, from family time, from your personal lives. Put away your phone when you're standing on line and chat with someone nearby intead. Smile, don't send smiley faces. Happiness doesn't come from a screen. Even for one week, you can take back your life and see what a difference it can make.