When it comes to an infant's diet, there is no one "right" way. The primary caregiver’s mental health overrides any formula vs. breast milk debate. But in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, let’s review some nursing pros and cons:
The mother-infant bonding that happens during breastfeeding helps to build a secure attachment relationship while the physical touch, eye contact, and mirroring of facial expressions during a feed helps release the “feel-good” hormone of oxytocin. This can also help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. And breast milk itself is amazing! Skin irritations can miraculously be healed by a drop of breastmilk. A mother’s breast milk contains essential nutrients and antibodies to promote growth and cure illness in her infant, while the infant’s saliva contains microbes that are passed through the nipple during breastfeeding that target specific ailments in the lactating body. It is a process that is beautifully symbiotic.
On the other hand, breastfeeding can come with a cost, and is hardly a positive or easy experience for all lactating people. The unpaid labor of pumping and nursing an infant every 2-3 hours can be literally draining, demanding, and at times isolating and restrictive. In addition to an array of physical complications including supply issues, nipple pain, or mastitis, some women also experience overwhelmingly negative feelings while breastfeeding called D-MER, or dysphoric milk ejection reflex, which includes strong feelings of sadness, disgust, anxiety, or rage during the first 10 minutes of each feed. This syndrome was first coined in 2007, so research around the scientific etiology is still emerging around the hormonally-induced stress response to breastfeeding that involves fluctuating levels of oxytocin, prolactin, and dopamine. Weaning and decreasing the number of feeds throughout the day can also trigger an increase in anxiety, and lead to feelings of shame around the length of time breastfeeding a baby.
Sustaining a fully dependent human is hard work, regardless of how it’s done. Cheers to all those feeding littles world-wide.
Original photo by Lucas Mendes via Unsplash
Sharon Itkoff Nacache ATR-BC LCAT PMH-C
Just back from a month of travel throughout France visiting family, I'm reacquainting myself with the streets of my beloved city. I pass a compelling mural by collage artist Brittney DiMauro depicting actors of “The Handmaid’s Tale” on currency wearing their signature red uniforms with “Blessed Be My Basic Human Rights” written above in ransom-style lettering. Although the television series is dystopian and fictional, the street art response to the timeless fight for female bodily autonomy is striking.
Here in NY state, abortions remain legal up to 24 weeks of gestation, but the recent reversal of Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court case in the US essentially criminalizes unwanted pregnancy nationally, promoting forced birthing as the norm. France, on the other hand, has historically offered more comprehensive reproductive healthcare for women. This June, French legislation ensured that a women’s right to abortion until 14-16 weeks gestation was protected in their Constitution. They also offer supportive postpartum care that includes at least 10 visits of free pelvic floor “re-education or physiotherapy” for all birthing people. (Although I originally assumed this was due to progressive and feminist thinking, I recently learned it was a political move to address concerns around a dwindling population. Regardless, this is preferable to the American pressure to “bounce back” postpartum, with 1 in 4 new mothers returning to work within 2 weeks of birth according to a 2012 study.) Like most members of the EU, every expectant mother is eligible for paid maternity leave in France, though the exact length of leave depends on her current and expected number of children.
French feminist and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir is quoted as saying, “Never forget that all it takes is a political, economic or religious crisis for women’s rights to be called into question. These rights are never fully acquired. You must remain vigilant your whole life.” These NYC streets, too, serve as gritty visual reminders of what has and perhaps always will be at stake for birthing people.
Post by Sharon Itkoff Nacache ATR-BC LCAT PMH-C
Mural by Brittney DiMauro @eternalpossessions
Just established as a federal holiday last year, Juneteenth is a loaded reminder for Black Americans that although we celebrate the 1865 date when news of emancipation finally reached enslaved Black communities in Texas, true liberation includes reproductive justice now. Feminist activist and educator Loretta Ross defines reproductive justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, the right to have children or not have children, and the right to parent those children in safe and sustainable communities.” And yet, in this country, sexual health has always been inextricably linked to systemic oppression for Black women in particular as their enslaved bodies were used without consent or pain management to develop practices that still inform the field of modern gynecology and obstetrics today.
Disparities in quality healthcare with compassionate providers, lack of paid medical leave from work to allow for sufficient recovery time, and limited education and employment opportunities are all contributing factors to the chronic exposure to racism that affects both mental and physical health, known as “biological weathering.” This is especially impactful during the child-rearing years, as the maternal mortality rate for Black women is almost triple than that of white women in the US. Less hands-on postpartum support also contributes to lower rates of breastfeeding in communities of color. Dawn Godbolt and Alice Powell of Rewire News Group urge, “This Juneteenth, as we remember our Black Independence Day, we must continue to advocate for reproductive justice so that more Black mamas and babies can experience the fullness of liberation.” #juneteenth #blackmaternalhealth #reproductivejustice
Post by Sharon Itkoff Nacache
Original Photo by Max Leveridge via Unsplash
Today marks the 1st day of Pride month. Queer and nonbinary folks face unique challenges on their family building journeys. Popular culture, policy makers, and the medical community too often use terminology that only applies to cisgender and hetero-parent families which can be both frustrating and alienating to the over 11.3 million adults identifying as LGBTQ+, according to a 2019 survey by the Family Equality Council. But the social stigma extends far beyond gendered newborn gear and gifts pre-labeled with “mommy” and “daddy” or standardized forms that require a choice between only 2 boxes to encompass the sex assigned at birth, the nuances of the gender identity, AND sexual orientation all at once. Beyond an archaic maternity clothing industry or gender reveal parties, LGBTQ+ discrimination also looks like a deficit in care providers who are both sensitive to and educated about their specific needs, an uptick in violence and hate crimes toward these communities, and restrictive parenting and adoptive legislation across the country that neither represent nor protect queer or nonbinary families. LGBTQ+ allies can make a conscious effort to use inclusive, gender-neutral language with preferred pronouns, acknowledge the birthing person over a specific gender, and avoid assumptions around a traditional division of labor at home that has historically always been associated with “masculine” and “feminine” jobs inside and outside of the home.
In a 2019 “Xtra Magazine” parenting article Andrea Bennett explains, “When you’re a queer parent, there is no automatic delineation of roles; every family looks a little different, but somebody has to bathe the child, teach her to read, do the laundry. There’s no falling back on cultural expectations, so a negotiation follows: what’s important to you? What do you like, dislike? How will we share things in a way that seems fair and sustainable?” Bennett goes on to contextualize how limiting language and gender roles have been historically: “While feminism has tried to move the needle on parenting issues, we are still culturally stuck in 101-level conversations about mothering and fathering… “Mothering” is a field that has not expanded nearly as much as ‘woman.’” Indeed, we have a long way to go to better support and represent caregivers in general, and especially within queer and nonbinary communities. #nonbinaryfamilies #queerfamilies #LGBTQIApride #mentalhealth #cocreatearttherapy
Original photograph by Carlos DeToro via Unsplash
Post by Sharon Itkoff Nacache LCAT ATR-BC PMH-C
The term “mommy brain" is used jokingly and sometimes critically to describe the mental “mush” that results from the day to day stress of being a primary caregiver in today’s world.
To me, it’s a frequent “tip of the tongue” feeling during conversation that falls somewhere along the spectrum of postpartum sleep deprivation and COVID brain fog. The juggling act of balancing a career, the mental load of daily domestication, the unique stressors of pandemic parenting of littles, the full time job of nursing an infant in the midst of a national formula shortage, the existential angst about the future of women’s reproductive rights… all involve just enough cognitive exertion to render us speechless at times, grasping for the right words to capture just exactly how we're feeling at the end of a given day. Emojis help.
#arttherapyheals #NoParentAlone #IGotBetter #LiveintheLight #PMADs #Postpartum #Pregnancy #PostpartumDepression #PostpartumAnxiety #PostpartumPsychosis #PostpartumPTSD #PostpartumOCD #Moms #NewMoms #Motherhood #MaternalMentalHealth #MaternalMentalHealthMatters
Art by Paula Kuka of Common Wild
Post by Sharon Itkoff Nacache