Everything links with everything. If anyone in our immediate family experiences health challenges, it almost always impacts dramatically on our productivity and ability to work effectively. So even though this column is normally focused on how to utilise our precious time and energy effectively, my choice of topic today still links back to using time wisely and well, and potentially saving huge amounts of time further down the track.
How many people do you know with allergies? Have you ever wondered why there seems to be so much more of it around these days? In earlier years it was rare to hear of people with allergies, yet today it's so common that whole industries have grown up to support the sufferers. If it's in any family you're closely linked with, how much time, money and inconvenience is consumed every week, and what is the day-to-day impact on the person with the allergies?
At a conference I was speaking at recently, I had the opportunity to listen to allergy researcher and author Maureen Minchin. She has just released the results of decades of research working with families of allergic children and is convinced that a lot of it links back to what we feed our babies, right from birth. According to her research, long-term allergies can be triggered by even just a few bottles of formula when the baby is new-born. (There is much more to it than this this one point, of course.)
Bottle-feeding absolutely has its place - as a backstop - but almost every woman can breastfeed until the baby, if she gets the right information and support. This includes those who choose to go back to work, especially if the workplace is breastfeeding-friendly. (An example of one New Zealand group helping employers and mothers is based in Canterbury).
Thank goodness, New Zealand hospitals, midwives and support systems have come a long way since I had my babies, but ...
... sadly, many women are discouraged from fully breastfeeding their baby until it weans naturally. This is largely due to wrong information and inaccurate and misleading advertising from powerful baby formula producers. If we follow the money trail, the reason why is obvious; their only reason for doing business is to increase profit to their balance sheets. The long-term health of our communities and families is way down the list of considerations. The powerful, wealthy and very well-resourced commercial interests state or infer that infant formula is as good as, or nearly as good as, breastmilk. But dig into the huge body of research around the subject and a different story emerges.
For parents to make informed choices, it is vital that they have access to not only accurate information about how to breastfeed when situations are more complex, such as multiple births, sick babies, ill mothers or physical complications, but also to the latest research about the adverse impact of formula feeding.
Maureen Minchin's research is now available in her latest book, 'Milk Matters'. It is really three books. Book 1 shares research showing that immune damage is being acquired vertically, compounding inter-generationally, through early infant nutrition; and that infant nutrition is the single most important contributor to the diseases of 'modern' societies.
Book 2 documents the ongoing real life experiment of infant formulas, and their known and emerging consequences for lifelong health. It reveals frightening facts from industry-funded research and explodes the pervasive myth that industrial products are 'nearly as good' as breastmilk.
Book 3 links the science and history to everyday infant problems like colic, reflux, disturbed sleep and allergies of every kind, giving practical advice about current controversies and how to prevent or resolve such diet-related distress in young children.
Those who read this book will be convinced of the necessity of enabling women to breastfeed their children, and the urgent need to provide women's milk for children whose mothers cannot do so.
To learn more about Maureen Minchin's work, written in easy-to-understand language and also supported by a vast bibliography of sources, check out her website and a presentation she made. Her message is of vital importance to all parents and health professionals.
Further information can also be found in a World Health Organisation publication. Less than 40 per cent of children worldwide under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, with devastating results for children in many third world countries.
And for help with all matters breastfeeding, I strongly encourage you to reach out to your nearest La Leche League group. It made a huge difference to me when I was a young and struggling first-time mother. Being supported by qualified coaches and learning from other mothers going through the same issues is the fastest and most relaxed way to acquire skills few of us had the chance to observe as we grew up. Also many hospitals have very experienced and certified lactation specialists attached to them.