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wbw2015-logo-mEditor’s note: Several scientific studies were published this year on the topic of breastmilk’s effect on the establishment of healthy gut flora. This World Breastfeeding Week, Attachment Parenting International (API) gives a special thank-you to API Editorial Review Board member Linda F. Palmer, DC, for this modified excerpt from her new book, Baby Poop: What Your Pediatrician May Not Tell YouPalmer2008, which gives an overview of how our choice to breastfeed or not — or to provide expressed breastmilk or donor breastmilk if breastfeeding is not an option — can affect our baby’s health not only through childhood but long into adulthood.

Born from an entirely protective environment where mother’s body tends to baby’s every immune and nutritional need, breastfeeding transitions the newborn safely into childhood. Nutrition is truly only a portion of breastfeeding’s role. Along with significant neurological and hormonal provisions, there are multitude immune-protective factors. A major, but seldom considered, portion of baby’s protection from illnesses, and the continued health of the child, comes from the early establishment of optimal gut flora.

Editor’s note: Watch this video from National Public Radio to learn more about what your gut has to do with your health.

In the Beginning

Beginning with the trip through the birth canal, every minute counts in the early effort to launch the healthiest-possible balance of gut microbes. The newborn digestive system is not ready at birth to handle much in the way of food, and the breasts know this. Immune protection is the first order of business and is greatly dependent upon the establishment of healthy flora. When uninhibited by antibiotics, formula supplements or delayed feedings, breastmilk can essentially seal the deal.

from linda 4It’s been shown that the health of the floral environment into which an infant is born can have positive or negative impact on the creation of his long-term microbiome. In turn, the child’s early risks for infectious diseases, and adult risks of non-infectious diseases, are highly dependent upon early gut health. Remember that some hospital germs are much tougher than community germs, and quite antibiotic resistant. Also, if mother has not been in the hospital herself for a few days, her immune system — and hence her breastmilk — will not contain antibodies to many of the threatening microbes floating around the hospital. Infants born into large hospitals are at greatest risk for colonization with unfriendly flora. Those born in a non-sterile home with healthy-gutted inhabitants — and with people or pets who go outside often — are shown to establish the healthiest array of florae.

Editor’s note: API does not take a stance on homebirth, but rather advocates that parents make an informed choice on childbirth decisions. Learn more through API’s First Principle of Parenting: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting.

from lindaIf only a magical concoction existed with which a newborn’s digestive membranes could be quickly coated immediately after birth and then, if repeatedly applied, it could possibly head off some less desirable environmental influences. Of course, there is one. A few drops of colostrum from mother’s breast is all it takes — the sooner, the better.

The newborn’s stomach acidity at birth is quite neutral, because it contains amniotic fluid. Acidity does not become higher for about a day, so either good flora provided in colostrum or bad flora from a hospital environment have an exceptionally high opportunity to establish themselves in the first many hours after birth.

The Broncho-Entero-Mammary Pathway

Interestingly, when birth occurs through a planned Cesarean section — meaning no labor has occurred — mother’s milk is found to contain less healthy flora to pass to her newborn. Apparently, labor is not only a signal for mother’s placenta to pump antibodies into the soon-to-be-born child, but also a signal for the conveyance of important flora to mother’s breasts to enhance her colostrum for added newborn protection.

In addition to antibody-producing cells making their way from mom’s lymph centers in her intestines and respiratory tissues to her breasts, flora also travel from these areas to mother’s milk. Clearly, mother’s own gut health will impact what flora are available. These immune system cells and healthy bacteria are found to travel — transported by dendritic cells — chiefly through the lymphatic system as well as through the bloodstream. These roadways — by which mother’s body provides such valuable factors to her milk — are referred to as the broncho-entero-mammary pathway.

Mother’s milk not only provides more than 700 different species of valuable bacteria and fungi to homestead in her infant’s gut, but also plenty of special fiber-like sugars — oligosaccharides — to perfectly feed the flora. Every breastmilk taste provides a nurturing boost to the child’s floral garden.

Microbes — good or bad — will generally enter a child’s system through the mouth, pass through the throat and enter the intestines; thus, the digestive system is a baby’s greatest vulnerability, by far, in terms of infections. Auspiciously, breastmilk travels this same course and has tremendous influence on the development, wellbeing and protective capacities of the digestive tract and its flora — and thus the child. Even microbes that enter through a child’s nose will meet with breastmilk-nurtured floral defenses in the throat. The floral balance, and thus the infection risks for the sinuses and ear canals, depend upon the mouth and throat flora, which are influenced by the gut flora and by the same factors that affect gut flora — mainly breastmilk. Even lung flora and function are strongly influenced by the gut microbiome. Via its passage through the baby, breastmilk powerfully protects against dental, sinus, ear, throat, lung, stomach and intestinal infections.

Lactoferrin, Iron and Infant Protection

from linda 2Lactoferrin is a breastmilk protein that binds with iron. Nutritional iron is provided by mother’s milk in this bound manner. The more challenging bacteria — found in the gut of formula or solid-food-fed infants — require free iron to survive and proliferate. Lactoferrin holds on to the iron in the exclusively breastfed intestine, making the iron unavailable to feed unwanted bacteria and providing safe haven for desirable lactobacilli, bifidobacteria and other friendly microbes to proliferate.

Once free iron is added to a breastfed child’s diet, it will saturate and overwhelm the lactoferrin, feeding the challenging bacteria and allowing them to flourish. Free iron exists in all formulas — even low-iron formulas — and pretty much in any solid food besides pure fats or refined sugars. It doesn’t take very much formula, juice or baby food to overtake the protective lactobacilli and bifidobacteria florae provided by exclusive breastmilk feeding and to allow for the growth of the more challenging types of bacteria, including enterococci, enterobacter, clostridia, streptococci and E. coli. In fact, baby’s flora has been shown to change within 24 hours after just one bottle of formula.

The picture, of course, isn’t quite as simple as this. Various proteins, such as isolated soy or cow milk proteins, are also known to interrupt the virgin flora of a previously exclusively breastfed gut. Once your infant’s stools begin to develop unpleasant odor and darken in color, you can tell that the floral transition from protective breastfed flora to more adult-like bacteria is taking place.

A final loss of the exceptionally protective flora that only exclusive breastmilk provides is inevitable with the eventual introduction of solid foods. The longer this event can be put off, however, the longer the child’s status of lower risk for infections can be maintained and the stronger his future protection becomes. Six or more months before introducing other foods is the recommended goal. Still, after this flora alteration occurs, breastfeeding continues to provide many, many nutritional, hormonal, neurological and immune protective advantages and continues to support the flora.

Final Thoughts

Many mothers have an ideal image of the way they want their baby’s beginnings to be. Often, things don’t go as intended. All is not lost. The good news is that recent studies are revealing that when all doesn’t go as planned, positive impacts can be made on baby’s flora and intestinal health with the use of probiotics and other healing measures, thereby reducing later risks of many chronic diseases.

Editor’s note: Citations and further information, including the impact of antibiotic use among infants, can be found in the book Baby Poop.

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WBW 2015: Who is the woman in pink?

by Rita Brhel on August 3, 2015

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martha with viola from LLL and baby stephenWhen this photograph was taken, 26 years ago, there was no such thing as the Internet. Cameras were film only. There were no cell phones or laptops. If you wanted to make a phone call while on the road, you had to first find a pay phone booth. And if you wanted to make a phone call at home, you had to stretch the cord connecting you to the wall around the corner to get any privacy. Mainstream parenting advice wasn’t particularly warm, fueled by a widespread fear of spoiling children, but parents who wanted another perspective could get it through a print subscription of Mothering magazine.

And while more mothers were breastfeeding back then than a couple decades before, lactation consulting was still gaining a foothold in medical practice. The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, which certifies lactation consultants, was still in its infancy, having been founded in 1985. Really, the only reliable source of breastfeeding education and support anywhere was La Leche League (LLL) with its expansive network of mother-to-mother support groups, many in small and rural communities.

This image was captured in 1989 at a LLL conference in Anaheim, California, USA. The young woman in this photograph — do you recognize her? (Keep reading to find out who this mystery mom is!) — was breastfeeding Stephen, the baby in the arms of Viola Lennon, one of LLL’s seven cofounders and coauthor of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

The world said a sad goodbye to Viola in 2010 when she passed away at the age of 86. She was the mother of 10 children and had learned how to breastfeed from her own mother before attending the founding meeting for LLL in 1956. She went on to serve LLL in many ways, including Board chairman and Development Director. LLL quotes Viola saying:

“Breastfeeding…led me to self-discovery and to a greater appreciation of the full humanity of the babies who were entrusted to me. Each woman needs to trust her own instincts, her own feelings and her own sense of what will work for her with each baby. Women in the 1950s had forgotten the wisdom of previous generations in relation to breastfeeding. Mothers who tried to breastfeed on their own were almost always destined to fail. The neighbors sent their children to watch me breastfeed, because they knew the children would not see it anywhere else!”

LLL, from the beginning, nudged parents toward a gentler, more biological way of relating to their children. Breastfeeding itself is rooted in a secure parent-child attachment bond; breastfeeding cannot be successful in any other way. No doubt, the very beginnings of the Attachment Parenting movement are rooted in LLL. Very significantly,  Attachment Parenting International (API) credits LLL as part of our foundation. API’s cofounders Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson were LLL Leaders before they conceived the idea of API in 1994, most influenced by a speaker they heard at an LLL conference about the importance of secure attachment on child development: Dr. Elliott Barker of the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children explained how every violent criminal he had encountered had a history of extreme separation and insecure attachment as a child. As LLL continued to focus primarily on breastfeeding as its mission, API was able to take up Attachment Parenting as its mission.

LLL influenced others apart from Lysa and Barbara to educate and support parents in Attachment Parenting, many who soon joined in encouraging API’s growth and development. Among them is pediatrician and API Advisory Board member Dr. William Sears and his wife, API Board of Directors member Martha Sears, a nurse and mother to their eight children. Bill and Martha Sears had first published The Baby Book — considered a parenting bible by families around the world — in 1992, and would go on to become two of the most recognized names in parenting.

MSears159Three years before, in 1989, a young Martha was sitting on a couch with Viola as they admired Stephen. I wonder if Martha had any idea at that point what her future would hold?

Thank you, Martha, for breastfeeding your babies…for becoming a LLL Leader…for coauthoring parenting books that questioned the status quo…and for going on to encourage mothers worldwide to reclaim the wisdom of previous generations in both breastfeeding and parenting in a sensitive, wbw2015-logo-mnurturing, gentle, attachment-minded way. You have made a difference in the world! And we recognize you this World Breastfeeding Week!

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WBW 2015: The Big Latch On

August 1, 2015
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World Breastfeeding Week is an exciting time for me every year. Not only do I greatly enjoy joining in the annual celebration through Attachment Parenting International‘s week-long observance on the APtly Said blog, but I also get to partake in fun, local events through my job as a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor. Today, I kicked […]

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Ready for World Breastfeeding Week 2015?

July 31, 2015
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Attachment Parenting International (API) is pleased to announce that we are taking part in World Breastfeeding Week, Aug. 1-7. Check daily for posts about how women are making breastfeeding work for them and supporting others in their motherhood journeys. The 2015 theme of World Breastfeeding Week is “Breastfeeding and Work: Let’s Make It Work!” This […]

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How else does Attachment Parenting look like in your home?

July 27, 2015
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Editor’s note: Attachment Parenting International (API) advocates for a parenting approach rooted solidly in research, and continuing research further validates and builds upon API’s foundation. In June, you were asked to help tell your story through a survey created by Southern Methodist University (SMU) researchers in collaboration with API. We are thrilled to report that […]

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There’s a monster under the bed

July 27, 2015
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When I was a little girl, I was certain there was a monster hiding under my bed, waiting to grab my feet and drag me under the bed! To fool him, I would take a running leap onto my bed at night. Sometimes I thought that I jumped too close to the bed, so I […]

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The sunrise of balance

July 24, 2015
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It was a Tuesday morning, years ago. And like many other mornings, I awoke and started into my day. Awaiting me was housework to be completed, emails to be answered, errands to be accomplished and deadlines to be met. If not for my then 6-year-old son, I likely would have stayed in this state of […]

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Diaper nostalgia

July 20, 2015
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I thought I kept my car clean and tidy…until my husband walked in the door, waved a diaper in the air and said, “Hey, look what I found in the trunk!” It was quite a surprise — with our kids being 10 and 7 years old, the diaper era is long gone for us. I […]

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