Friday, July 27, 2012

Breastfeeding and Social Change: Share Your Voice!

It has been an interesting year for breastfeeding advocates. There have been highs, such as the State of Massachusetts banning formula samples in hospitals, and lows, including the backlash from the now infamous Time Magazine extended-breastfeeding cover photo. Breastfeeding moms continue to be asked to cover up, go elsewhere, or consider weaning their “older” children. Women still lack many rights when it comes to nursing. But what we see in all of this is a wealth of conversation and a groundswell of connection among people striving to normalize breastfeeding.

What makes this groundswell possible? Community. Real community. Connecting – both in person and online – make people more able to affect social change. The act of gathering is in and of itself transformative and when we connect, face-to-face and virtually, our common ground is found and we can share ideas, create action plans, support each other, and literally create a cultural and social shift.

Virtual community has been radically transformed in the past decade by technology and through the evolution of such social media networks as Twitter. Globally, millions of people can share information and ideas instantaneously in powerful ways. As Malcolm Gladwell noted in The New Yorker, social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter may well be “our greatest source of new ideas and information.” Raising awareness is undoubtedly the first step in evoking change. Social media and virtual networks enable us to engage in awareness-raising, the goals of which “is to build understanding in the wider community . . . to highlight your work and its importance, and to persuade others to become involved as concerned individuals, allies and activists themselves.” The downside to social networks, however, is the superficial level of engagement. People may flock to causes and networks online because the level of participation and the action required to do so is so minimal. “Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires,” argues Gladwell. Engaging in real life communities, such as the Holistic Moms Network, is what moves people beyond low-level participation into a higher level of social activism.

And yet it is the level of “weak-tie” engagement which lays the foundation for activism and thus is a necessary and vital tool for creating change. Low-level virtual connection makes in-real-life engagement more possible by exposing the channels, resources, and communities that exist to build stronger levels of interaction and foster action. By showing the power of our virtual community and “normalizing” the goals and importance of an issue, we can begin to affect social change.

On the cusp of World Breastfeeding Week we plan to do just that. On Tuesday, July 31st, 2012 the Holistic Moms Network, along with our Sponsors Divine Mama Bars, Earth Mama Angel Baby, and Motherlove will host our second annual World’s Biggest Breastfeeding Twitter Party at 10 pm ET/ 7 pm PT, #HolisticMoms, #Breastfeeding. By gathering the supporters of breastfeeding, the parents, organizations, professionals, agencies, and activists into a virtual community event, we can help to normalize breastfeeding, raise awareness, and build weak-tie connections to pave the road for stronger activism and change. Simple participation is all that is needed to showcase the support and power for normalizing breastfeeding. But real action comes when we strengthen those weak-ties and connect with those who are also engaging, building a format for collective action.

Join us and be heard! And then take your knowledge and connections into a plan for action. Join us on Twitter and then dive into World Breastfeeding Week with the passion and commitment we need to make powerful change!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Diabetes and Phthalates

What is your daily beauty routine? Does it look like a tidal wave of chemicals? Probably not to you. But that may be exactly what it is.

The average woman uses as many as 515 chemicals on her body in her daily beauty and makeup routine. Yes, 515. From SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulphate) in her shampoo to Propylene Glycol in her deodorant, the exposure is staggering. Many (if not most) of these chemicals have been implicated in a wide range of health concerns, from cancer to hormone disruption and infertility. Although the powers-that-be claim that these chemicals are safe in such small doses, what exactly does daily exposure over a lifespan add up to? That may just be the million dollar question.

Now a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives adds another concern to list. Researchers James-Todd et al. have discovered that women with even low levels of phthalates in their bodies have an increased risk of diabetes and insulin resistance. Those with the highest level of phthalates had nearly double the the odds of diabetes.

Phthalates are "plasticizers", according to the Environmental Working Group, and have long been know to disrupt the endocrine system. Phthalates help lotions feel smooth and silky, and give cosmetics such as mascara flexibility. They are commonly found in many cosmetics, including popular brands of nail polish, fragrances, and hair sprays, among others. Although some brands have begun to phase out phthalates in response to health concerns, many have continued to ignore the warnings. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics report "A Little Prettier" tested a sample of these brands, with mixed results.

What you can do: read your labels! Understanding natural beauty products is essential for making healthy choices for you and for your family. Know the risks and use your power as a consumer to support brands and products that are safe and non-toxic.

Want to learn more? Join us at the 2012 Natural Living Conference on Saturday, October 13th in Chicago. Natural beauty expert Todra Payne will conduct a workshop on Understanding Beauty Labels to help guide you.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Little Changes Matter

Some days it's easy to be in this green/holistic space and feel nothing but overwhelm. Juggling work, kids, family life, and more means we don't always opt for the greenest, healthiest, or most sustainable choices. And the day itself can be filled with more choices than we like. A hectic morning start with a fussy child can mean we opt for convenience just to get out the door. And, if we are just starting our journey into living greener and healthier, those choices may seem foreign and harder to adapt to. It's easy to feel like we're not doing enough. And then to feel guilty.

What we need to do, no matter where we are on the journey, is to step back and appreciate the little successes we have each day. Even the small choices matter - for us and for our families. Maybe our workout went out the window when life got busy, but playing outdoors with the kids means we broke a sweat and got some exercise. Perhaps cold cereal helped us get everyone off to school or camp, but a green smoothie later on helped ramp up the nutrition for the day. How can you take baby steps to wellness each day that matter? Here are some simple things you can do - and celebrate - to assure your success:

An organic apple a day (in season, of course). Americans love apples. But according to the Wall Street Journal, 98% of apples in a recent test showed positive results for pesticide residue. Traces of 48 different pesticides were found in the sample, including 5 unapproved pesticides. Samples were taken after "washing" under cold water for 10 seconds, to mimic common household practices, and then tested for pesticides. The numbers are not pretty. What you can do: go organic. Feel good each day by swapping out your conventional apples with organic ones. Simple and satisfying. No guilt.

Use one reusable bag a day. We all know plastic is bad for the environment. But how much energy do you save by using just one reusable bag instead of a plastic one? It takes approximately 0.5 megajoules to create and dispose of just one plastic bag. Every two days, you can save one megajoule of energy. What does that mean? One megajoule is enough energy to power a 100 watt lightbulb for a little over 2 hours 45 minutes. One megajoule is approximately the amount of energy an adult man burns, on average, in 3-4 hours. That's quite a bit of energy for one bag. Not to mention what you are saving from the landfill.

Take a 10 minute walk. Sure, an hour of power pumping at the gym would be fabulous. But perhaps that doesn't fit into your schedule. Try a brisk 10 minute walk. Or a few. Just 10 minutes of brisk walking each day can burn off the calories in one small chocolate chip cookie, not to mention improve your fitness level and overall health. If you can take more than one 10 minute walk each day, even better. With a little one in a sling or stroller, you can go 10 minutes without too much fuss.

Buy local. Whether shopping in a supermarket or browsing your farmer's market, you can make a big difference each day by buying local. The average head of spinach or bunch of carrots travels 1,800 miles to get to your table. Because of food miles (the distance our food travels), "we currently consume 20 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce two calories of food energy." The closer to home, the better for us and for the planet.

Find something simple you can do each day on your natural living journey and lose the guilt. Holistic living is about making the best choices we can for healthy, sustainable living. Sometimes the big things aren't possible but even baby steps have an impact!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Cultivating Independence

"Mommy, I do it." These simple words can be the start of an exciting moment or the prelude to a power struggle or potential meltdown. From toddlers to adults, our kids want our support but also need to discover how to do things independently. One of the biggest challenges for a parent is knowing when to step back and let your child figure it out for herself. We want to step in, make it easier, and use opportunities as "teaching moments". But sometimes, we just need to stand down.

Cultivating independence is a learning experience for both parents and kids. From infancy on, we can find little steps that we can take to give our children room to grow and develop, while at the same time helping them to feel empowered and build a sense of self-confidence. How can we help our children become more independent? Here are some simple ideas to set them on their own paths:

Allow your child to experience frustration. Allow your child to fail. We tend to live in a praise-heavy culture where "good job" and awards have become meaningless. School coaches hand out medals just for showing up and gold stars pop up everywhere. Over-praising and working to "guarantee" success present their own challenges. Children need to try - and to fail. If we allow children the experience of frustration, we give them the opportunity to problem solve. We give them the chance to dig deeper, try harder. We also allow them to fail and to realize that failure doesn't define them, nor does it mean complete destruction. It is very difficult for us, as parents, to watch our children struggle and fail, but we need to remind ourselves of the power and sense of accomplishment your child will feel when the task has been conquered or achieved.

Give your child unscheduled time.
Make room for free play. Do you hear "I'm bored" all too often? Are you kids used to a hectic schedule of school, sports, activities, and playdates? Free time gives children a chance to explore and to learn independent play. Kids who can choose how to spend their time will learn to venture into new territories, explore their imagination, and develop their creativity. Passive entertainment is not going to build their independence. Get them outside to explore the world, let them pick a book to get lost in, or provide them with creative outlets where they can put their independent thoughts into action.

Honor your children. Honoring our own parents is not about blindly accepting all of their choices or beliefs, but about treating them with respect. The same goes for our children. Honor their voices and opinions. Get on their level when you speak with them and take their thoughts and ideas to heart. Validate their feelings and allow them to express their emotions openly and to work through them, even when they are not pleasant. Children who are validated will build self-confidence and will learn to manage a wide range of emotions and moods throughout life, without seeking outside influences for confirmation.

Giving your children room to grow and develop a sense of personal independence is one of the greatest things we can give our children. Happy Independence Day indeed!