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Guilt: It's Good For You!
Dia L. Michels

Breastmilk is the ideal infant food, providing newborns and toddlers alike with everything they need for ideal mental, physical and emotional growth. It is safe, clean, abundant and free. Yet despite this, disappointingly few women choose to breastfeed, and even fewer choose to continue beyond the first months...

But a recent article from the Wall Street Journal reports that guilt is actually good for you. "It really causes us to stand up and take notice and make amends," June Tangney, a psychology professor at George Mason University who specializes in guilt and shame. "It pushes you to do the right thing, to confess, to apologize, to make amends for the problems you've created."


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It takes a village to describe Human birth...

If My Mom Were a PlatyusI received an email recently from Kitty Ernst, one of our favorite customers and a faculty member at the Frontier School of Midwifery & Family Nursing in Hyden, KY. She happened to be sitting with a copy of both the first and second editions of my book, If My Mom Were a Platypus: Mammal Babies and Their Mothers. She was comparing the Human birth page in each book and noticed that the tag line, the entire text and the illustration was different between the two editions. She asked us to explain how those changes had come about.

In the first edition of the book, I look at the way 13 mammals in the wild are born and are raised. Then we learn about the 14th mammal – the Human. As I wrote it, being an educated woman who knew a lot about breastfeeding, but not a lot about birth, I began with, But my mom is a human… and I was born in a hospital … with a dozen people there. The text, in the child’s voice, then goes on to talk about how my mom pushed me out and my umbilical cord was cut before I was put on my mom to breastfeed. The illustration shows a man, woman and baby in a clinical room with two medical professionals in the background.


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Breastfeeding Benefits

How Good is Breastfeeding, Really?

Breastfeeding BenefitsHuman milk contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins and trace elements. So does infant formula. But the bioavailability (the amount of a nutrient that the body can actually absorb) of the nutrients in each fluid differs markedly. For example, human babies can absorb 67% of the calcium in human milk compared to only 25% of the calcium in cow's milk (the foundation of most infant formulas). Similarly, a human infant can absorb up to 50% of the iron in human milk, but only 10% of the iron in cow's milk and just 4% of the iron in iron-fortified formulas. Breastfed babies are rarely iron deficient because of the high lactose and vitamin C levels in human milk that facilitate iron absorption. The concentration of the ingredients also differs. Cow's milk has more phosphorus than human milk. The excess phosphorous leads to decreased absorption and increased excretion of calcium by the formula fed baby-resulting in higher rates of neonatal hypocalcemia (abnormally low levels of calcium) and tetany (e.g., muscle cramps and spasms, marked jitteryness or even convulsive seizures).


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Mammal Lactation

How Do Other Mammals Nurse?

Mammal LactationThere are over 4200 species of mammals on our planet. Mammals are animals that have a backbone, have hair or fur, are warm-blooded and whose females nurse their babies with milk. Each of these milks contains water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, cellular content and anti-infective agents. But each species of mammal produces a milk that is qualitatively different than the milk of other species, a milk that is perfectly suited for the growth and development of the offspring of that particular species.


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Is Breastmilk Green?

Breastmilk GreenHuman milk is produced and delivered to the consumer without any pollution, unnecessary packaging or waste. Most of the focus on the environmental effect of newborns is concentrated on the debate between cloth vs. disposable diapers, but the environmental consequences of formula feeding have far greater impact. Large amounts of water, fuel, paper, glass, plastic and rubber are required in the production, shipping and preparation of formula.


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What Is Breastmilk Worth?

Human milk may be produced without cost…
but that doesn't mean it has no value.

Take Joan Willis of Danville, Virginia. She lost over 200 ounces of frozen pumped breastmilk when a hurricane ripped through town and tore down power lines. "I was just devastated," recalls Willis, "so many hours pumping-only to have it all go bad." Lechia Davis, a local lactation consultant suggested she file a claim under her homeowners insurance policy.Worth

The result: a check for over $400 to compensate her for the loss. "I'd rather have the milk back," says Willis, "but in the meantime, I'm using the check to buy a generator so this never happens again."


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About Attachment Parenting

"There is no such thing as a baby; there is a baby and someone."
-British psychoanalyst D. E. Winnicott

Attachment ParentingAsk 10 parents, pediatricians or child psychologists for advice on any childrearing issue and you are likely to get 10 different opinions delivered with great confidence: this way is the right way! If parents handle things in a way different than family, friends, doctors-even strangers-feel is the right way, they are likely to be warned of the dangers of "spoiling" or "harming" their children. Mothers and fathers often don't know who to believe and find that the advice conflicts with what they feel is right for their child.

Why all the confusion? Different ways of parenting (parenting styles) reflect what people value-from authority and obedience to responsiveness and connection. They also reflect different personalities (both children's and parents'), as well as family circumstances. With all the different values, personalities and circumstances to be found among people, it's no wonder we have different parenting styles and lots of conflicting advice on childrearing!


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Breastfeeding - A prophylactic to obesity?

By Dia Michels

They have to keep replacing the seats. Stadiums, opera houses and theaters all across America have found that patrons won't keep coming unless they make room for them - room in the seats, that is. In the United States, obesity is increasing at an epidemic rate. Simply put, Americans are bigger than they've ever been before. 61% of adults in the United States are overweight or obese resulting in increases in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, sleep apnea, depression, even death. Sadly, it is not just adults that are outgrowing their seats. Fully, 20% to 25% of kids are either overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.

So it may not come as a surprise to learn that the one of the US Government's national health objectives for the year 2010 is to reduce the prevalence of obesity. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control recently spelled out four top priorities for curbing the obesity epidemic. These include increasing physical activity, increasing consumption of fruits & vegetables, reducing TV viewing and … increasing rates of breastfeeding.


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"I Still Nurse My 5-Year-Old"



By Dia Michels
Parents Magazine, June 2005, Pages 127-130

Breastfeeding BenefitsI have been breastfeeding almost continually for the past 15 years. Like all nursing moms, I started immediately after each of my babies was born. But unlike the vast majority of breastfeeding moms-83 percent, to be exact-who quit before their baby's first birthday, I kept offering my milk to my kids, and they kept taking it. It wasn't that I started out with a plan to nurse our kids into their school years, it was just that we saw no reason to stop doing something that was so good for them and I so thoroughly enjoyed.

I don't have a built-in schedule for weaning Mira. But, at 5½, she's starting to wean herself-which is just as it should be. She still likes to breastfeed from time to time, usually at night when we're cuddling on the sofa or in bed. But I know that pretty soon she will lose interest altogether, just as she has lost interest in a favorite doll or a blanket. When that day comes, I will celebrate that she has moved on to another stage of life and is ready to explore the world at a different level.

For me, breastfeeding has been a beautiful, peaceful and powerful experience-and I think it's the most important thing any mother can do for her kids.


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SubtitleFun Facts about Mammals
  • There are more than 4,200 species of mammals. All but two give birth to live young. The other two - the Duck-Billed Platypus and the Echidna - hatch their young from eggs.
  • Elephants have huge feet and can weigh more than five tons. But they have big, soft, spongy feet that spread their weight out so well they barely even leave footprints.
  • Eucalyptus is used to make cough drops -- and because koala bears eat so much eucalyptus, they smell like cough drops. The smell helps them keep fleas away.
  • A female Pacific Grey Whale gestates and delivers a 2000 pound baby, migrates over 10,000 miles, and produces 6 tons of breastmilk without eating a bite of food -- using just her blubber for fuel.
  • Many mammals spend their childhood running, jumping, and playing, but giraffe calves play less because they need to use their energy to grow. Giraffes protect themselves by being big, so their goal is to grow as large as they can, as fast as they can.
  • Shrews have so little body fat they cannot go more than a couple of hours without food. Missing a meal is a sure way to a quick death. A good night's sleep could be fatal.
  • Hooded Seals go from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood in just four days - the shortest childhood of any mammal.
  • Bats hang upside-down because they can't stand right-side up. Their leg bones are too thin to hold up their bodies.
  • A polar bear looks white, but he isn't really. His long, shaggy hairs are colorless and hollow. Beneath his hair, the skin is black.
  • Hippopotamuses give birth and breastfeed under water - even though almost all their predators live in the water.
  • Bats live 20-30 years, remarkably long for such a small animal.

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    Ten-Minute Mother

    We live in a world dominated by time. We must wake up at a certain time, be at work at the correct time, get to bed at a specific time, pay our bills each month at a particular time. We spend hours playing obscure games of Beat the Clock, where we win only by accomplishing multiple tasks in record time. Admittedly, this is because there is so little time. Most of us feel that time is the scarcest commodity in the world. I know I feel victorious is I manage to read the newspaper and floss my teeth in the same day.

    Before I was a mother, I always found myself muttering, “If only I had an extra 10 minutes a day…” I dreamed of all the additional things I could accomplish with just an extra few minutes each day. My grandma used to tell me the key to beautiful hair was to brush and brush, 10 full minutes each night. I used to send away for contraptions guaranteed to melt away fat in just 10 minutes a day. I purchased books and tapes that promised me a more powerful vocabulary in 10 minutes a day, and, desiring an international flair, I invested in programs that promised I would “speak in a foreign language like a diplomat” in just 10 minutes a day. I used to buy magazines with covers that shouted “Ten Tasty Meals You Can Make in Ten Minutes,” and I once bought one of those horrid ointments that guaranteed me a golden tan in 10 minutes.

    To tell you the truth, I never found a contraption that actually shed fat, and I couldn’t wait until that ghastly orange glow faded from my legs. I never learned a foreign language, and the only meal that takes me 10 minutes to prepare involves both a freezer and a microwave. Yet, I still consider myself both efficient and organized, able to effectively manage my time—at least I felt that way before I had children.

    Motherhood had changed the whole framework within which I view my time. For a mother, nothing takes 10 minutes. Changing a diaper should take 10 minutes—but when your other child slips and falls, the UPS man appears at the door with parcels for you and three of your closest neighbors, and the oven timer goes off in the singular moment between fastening Tab A and fastening Tab B, it’s easy to see how the time needed to accomplish the simplest of tasks gets extended.

    In my early days as a mother, I chastised myself for being so inefficient. After all, I thought, it used to take 10 minutes to get through the locker room after swimming, so it should take no more than 10 minutes to run into the store for a few odds and ends. But reality is another matter. With children, you can’t get everyone’s shoes, sweaters, and library books together in 10 minutes; and it certainly never takes 10 minutes to walk to the corner store.

    As I matured into motherhood, I learned to let go of my annoyance and frustration at getting so little done. I stopped measuring a good day by the number of tasks completed. I came to realize that the time-consciousness of the adult world is exactly the opposite of what makes life magical about a child’s world. Children don’t march to the beat of a different drum: they march to the tick of a different clock. Children are not task-oriented: they don’t become more effective individuals just because they have a deadline. Children couldn’t care less about how man items they cross off their “To Do” list before lunch.

    Children care about enjoying the moment, about being able to play and explore until they are tired of playing and exploring. They learn and discover things by being able to do so when they are ready, not based on some external schedule. Children live in a world where they set the pace, a world that is timeless, a world that runs on Kid Standard Time.

    Only adults live in a world where things are defined and controlled externally, a world that runs on Adult Standard Time. What I’ve come to understand is that a sane parent is someone who is able to go between a world defined by time and a world defined by timelessness, who can find periods when time simply doesn’t matter, who can let go of the need for external schedules.

    Being able to shift regularly from the adult world to the child’s world is being able to let the magic of the child’s world surface. It means allowing an extra 45 minutes to run an errand so the kids can examine and explore the store. It means skipping the bath one night if a child’s activity is taking longer than expected. It means being willing to have your need for structure take a back seat to your child’s desire to pursue an activity.

    I sometimes think longingly of all those things I could e doing if only I had an extra 10 minutes a day. But then I remember, I bought a fat-busting belt, but strapping it on for even a full hour a day didn’t affect my figure. I listened to the foreign language tapes for well over 10 minutes a day, and I still can’t speak French. And even if I could get a rich, deep tan in only 10 minutes, it wouldn’t be good for me anyway. Undoubtedly, there are tremendous things I could accomplish if I had more time in my day, but the bottom line is that I already have tremendous things in my life: my children. My new goal is not to have more 10-minute periods in my day, but to relish the timelessness of my kids’ world, knowing all the while that the clock on the wall is tick, tick, ticking away.

    Originally published in Mothering Magazine, Summer, 1995.


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    Mother Nature Loves Breastmilk

    Breast is best is a common adage, and most people can tell you that breastfeeding is good for babies. Some people are even aware that breastfeeding is good for mothers, but few folks are aware that breastfeeding is good for the environment. Saving our world's forests, minimizing destruction of the ozone layer, and curtailing contaminants of our soils and seas are common environmental themes, yet when it comes to taking care of Mother Nature, breastfeeding can't be beat.

    Breastmilk may look white, but actually, it is as "green" as can be. The ecological consequences of cloth vs. disposable diapers are debated routinely, yet they are small potatoes compared to the consequences of the breast vs. formula decision. Breastmilk is one of the few foodstuffs produced and delivered to the consumer without any pollution, unnecessary packaging or waste, whereas the production, shipping, and preparation of formula and bottles requires large amounts of water, fuel, glass, plastic and rubber -- and produces significant amounts of garbage.

    Many people know that breastfeeding is best for babies. Some people know that breastfeeding offers health benefits to the mother. But very few people realize the importance of breastfeeding for the environment.

    • Dairy production destroys land and pollutes air and water
    Substituting cow's milk (the primary ingredient in infant formula) for breastmilk destroys the water, land and air. Cow manure and urine pollute rivers and ground water, while nitrate fertilizers used to grow feed for dairy cows leach into rivers and water. Cow flatulence releases methane into the atmosphere and is a major contributing factor to the destruction of the ozone layer. It would take 135 million lactating cows just to substitute the breastmilk of the women of India; that many cows would require 43% of the surface of India be devoted to pasture. Land used for pastures often comes from clearing forests, a practice that erodes and depletes the soil.

    • Artificial feeding causes waste and uses valuable resources
    If every child in America were bottle-fed, almost 86,000 tons of tin would be needed to produce 550 million cans for one year's worth of formula. If every mother in the Great Britain breastfed, 3000 tons of paper (used for formula labels) would be saved in a year. But the formula is not the only problem. Bottles and nipples require plastic, glass, rubber, and silicon; production of these materials can be resource-intensive and often leads to end-products that are not-recyclable. All these products use natural resources, cause pollution in their manufacture and distribution, and create trash in their packaging, promotion, and disposal.

    • Artificial feeding means more tampons, more diapers
    Women who practice total, unrestricted breastfeeding average over 14 months without menstruating. Multiply this by the four million US births each year to see that over one billion sanitary products annually could be kept out of our nation's landfills and sewers. To compound the scenario, because breastmilk is absorbed by babies more efficiently; breastfed babies excrete less and thus require fewer diaper changes than formula-fed babies. Manufacturing the additional diapers, menstrual pads, and tampons involves the need for fibers, bleaching and other chemical processes, packaging materials, and fuels.

    • Breastfeeding lessens infant mortality
    Breastfeeding is a more effective method of birth control, world-wide, than all other methods combined -- without taxing the household's financial resources or endangering a woman's health. Mothers who breastfeed exclusively (that is, frequently, on demand, including during the night, and with no supplementation) generally enjoy a significant period of natural birth control. Lactation-induced infertility serves to increase the spacing between births. This is important since children born less than two years apart are almost twice as likely to die as those born more than two years apart.

    • Breastfeeding reduces over-population
    Breastfeeding not only decreases deaths by limiting fertility, the immunizing agents in breastmilk produce healthier babies. Formula-fed babies get sick more often, get sicker, and have higher death rates than breastfed babies. And the health benefits of breastfeeding can be seen throughout life, not just in infancy. Women have more babies when the chances of their children living long enough to care for them in old age is small -- more babies are an insurance strategy. When parents can reasonably expect their children to live into adulthood, they choose to have fewer children.

    • Breastfeeding - a valuable natural resource
    Two years ago, President Clinton, joining an unprecedented worldwide consensus, voted to impose restrictions on the advertising and promotion of infant formula. His vote demonstrates a new American commitment to breastfeeding.
    Infant formula represents the case where a superior product is being discarded at significant expense -- to the baby, the mother, and the environment. We need to promote and protect our natural resources, whether they grow in a forest, swim in the sea, or come from our bodies. Let's add breastfeeding to the ways we can honor and cherish the most incredible mother of all -- Mother Nature.


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    A Perfect Pregnancy? Get Real

    By Dia Michels

    “My Pregnancy has been easier than I ever dreamed it would be,” boasted a very round, very happy Vanna White in the National Enquirer last year. Demi Moore appeared equally poised and collected when she exposed her beautiful, resplendent, and nude body on the cover of Vanity Fair—in her third trimester.

    The beaming Vanna and Demi are hardly the first celebrities to display their expanding waistlines to the public, but they exemplify what I call the media-perfect pregnancy—the current attitude that gestation is synonymous with health and vitality. The 19th-century notion of nine months of weakness and incapacity no longer seems to apply. Nowadays, carrying a child is considered a thoroughly joyous time when women look radiant, feel terrific, and need not slow down for a minute.

    The problem is that for many of us, pregnancy is a time of fragility. And for those of us who suffer from infirmities, the myth of a tranquil, untroubled gestation makes for a harsher reality. I, for one, can assure you that pregnancy isn’t always a blissful passage filled only with excited anticipation of the birth.

    I’m one of the approximately 5 percent of women for whom pregnancy is a test of survival, for whom morning sickness is not a nuisance but a debilitating disease. During both of my pregnancies, the rooms began spinning well before any test could verify my condition. And each week brought a worsening odyssey of misery.

    Some days, all I could do was cry. Other days, too weak even to move, I’d never get out of bed. I was reduced to an overcooked vegetable, a limp turnip. I couldn’t work or keep up with the basic household chores. Worst of all, during my second pregnancy, I couldn’t even take care of my young daughter.

    I tried every imaginable therapy, but the only antidote that really worked was time—hanging on until the sixth month, when the nausea finally subsided.

    And if the illness itself weren’t enough to endure, listening to other people’s medical theories put this unpleasant experience over the top. Half of these self-professed authorities were certain that my morning sickness meant that I was carrying a boy, while the other half, of course, were confident it was a girl. One person informed me that the sicker the mom, the hairier the baby. And I’ll never forget the man who explained that this was one of God’s ways of helping women shed those stubborn extra pounds.

    While pondering my situation during one of my moments of lucidity, I came up with the “5 percent rule of pregnancy.” That is, as far as I could tell, the odds of having a perfect pregnancy are probably around 5 percent, and the odds of experiencing something unusual are more like 95 percent. Recalling conversations with friends, I realized that everyone I knew fit into at least one obscure pregnancy-related category. Elizabeth was one of the few women who are put on full bed rest for the last two months. Rachel was unusual because her baby refused to drop into the birth canal. For Maggie, the pregnancy apparently caused her thyroid to malfunction. Is the fact that all these friends of mine had gestational problems a mere coincidence?

    Sure, there are women who conceive easily, glide through the entire nine months, deliver without much fuss, and take home healthy, happy, contented babies. But I don’t know anyone like that. It seems to me that the assurances medical professionals gave me—that I was in a rare category—are the same guarantees they give everybody about their unusual circumstances.

    If I’m right—and my 5 percent rule is closer to the truth—why not say so? If women knew, really understood, right from the start, how difficult childbearing can be, would we suddenly witness a slowdown in population growth? I think not. No, something much more profound would happen if we weren’t led to believe that pregnancy brings a woman to the pinnacle of well-being: We’d simply feel better about ourselves. You see, the real tragedy of difficult pregnancies is that those of us who experience them often end up feeling like outcasts and medical freaks, like rare specimens whose survival, in a more Darwinian age, would be unlikely.

    Women who feel vibrant, vital, and fulfilled during their pregnancies are lucky, but I do not believe they’re the majority. So let’s break the myth of the media-perfect pregnancy. There is no reason for so many women to believe that their pain is unique and that they’re struggling alone.

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    Shelving Knowledge during the Government Shutdown

    Thomas Jefferson once wrote that a nation cannot be both ignorant and free, yet that’s how it felt around here last week. With the closure of the federal government—and with it, the DC government—District residents were without public libraries. Even the “other” public library—the Library of Congress—was sealed tight.

    During that long week, I was not able to shake the sense of unease at having my libraries taken away from me. Sure, they’d been closed before—I’d gotten used to losing the libraries on Sundays and to a furlough day here and there—but a week-long shutdown of this most basic societal resource was a different matter.

    I was disquieted that I couldn’t call my librarian to verify that Thomas Jefferson really did say that a nation cannot be both ignorant and free.

    I was unsettled that I couldn’t replace the Mary Higgins Clark novel I just finished with her new one.

    I was distressed that my children were missing story and craft hour, a staple of their weekly schedule.

    And I was frustrated that parents coordinating the local soccer team had no place to meet.

    During the shutdown many services were eliminated, causing many people stress. Not being able to get a passport or apply for Social Security benefits come to mind. But Jefferson’s quote still came back to haunt me: Freedom and knowledge go hand-in-hand.

    Undoubtedly, many people didn’t even notice the loss of the libraries. The technologically hip among my friends dismissed my concerns by saying that the personal computer makes it possible to do research on-line. But their attitude was elitist and exclusionary: Only a fraction of any community has the access and ability to use computers for research. Ironically, libraries are the one place where anyone can get access to a computer and be shown how to use it.

    An enterprising neighbor dismissed my concerns by saying that the closure was not a big deal because libraries in Maryland and Virginia were open. That retort too was elitist. It is difficult, if not impossible, to get to some suburban neighborhoods without a car. But more important, libraries are of so much value because they are located where people live.
    Washington’s libraries are part of the foundation of this city because they are an important part of turning children into good citizens, helping them explore the world through the safety of words, and teaching them that you don’t ever need to stop learning. From the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, the city’s downtown central facility, to the neighborhood branches, kiosks and bookmobiles, Washington’s city-wide system provides a powerful network of informational resources. And the Library of Congress sits amid it all, beckoning even more researchers, cradling even more volumes of knowledge.

    Last year, Washingtonians borrowed almost 2 million books and attended more than 1,600 film programs, concerts, book discussions, poetry readings and talks at their libraries. More than 4,000 story hours, toddler times and other children’s programs and performances were offered. All these numbers will be lower this year, because none of this occurred during the week the libraries were closed.

    Everyone agrees that the budget impasse made innocent people suffer. Almost all of us noticed the dearth in services that week. But while our legislators were craftily drafting legislation to selectively open favored agencies, it was clear that libraries were not on the list.

    Closing libraries is just one more reminder that a nation that is not committed to knowledge is a nation that is not committed to freedom. Now that our library doors are open again, I hope Washingtonians take advantage of their return, and march into one, seeking knowledge. That would make Jefferson proud.