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The writing of the book Mother Food

The writing of the book Mother Food

The writing of the book Mother Food

The idea for this book was conceived and then took hold of me, a little more each time, with the births of each of my children. With each child, I learned a little more about overcoming my low milk supply issues by using traditional herbs and foods — an area of knowledge that was not at all in the mainstream twenty, or even ten years ago, and that today is still little understood.

The catalyst to actually begin researching and writing was the birth of my forth child and my only daughter. That was in 1992. With her, I encountered new and considerable obstacles to breastfeeding and bonding. I was able to overcome these with the knowledge I had gleaned with my older three children — knowledge that I believe every mother has a right to know.

Childbed Fever

The first major challenge was childbed fever and a stay at the hospital. A sliver of placenta had remained in my womb, and when it began to decay, bacterial infection invaded my body. My daughter was ten days old when I was rushed to the emergency room, shaking from fever, too weak to stand. Fortunately, my breastfeeding-friendly doctor agreed that I could continue nursing in spite of undergoing surgery and taking high-dosage antibiotics. I was also allowed to room-in with my daughter: she slept in my bed, right next to me on the extra-large pillow.

Although I was so weak, I responded to her needs as quickly as possible, day and night. I changed her clothes and her diapers right there in bed with me. At the first sign of hunger or fretfulness, I fed or comforted her. I loved being close to her and feeling the warmth and emotion flow between us, that incredible exchange of finest feelings, as comforting to the sensitive new mother as to the baby.

Each afternoon, a friend came by and was available to carry her around during the hours when she might be fretful. Evenings, my husband was there to do the same. The quintessence: my daughter never felt abandoned to discomfort.

As mentioned above, I struggle with chronic low milk supply. The causes were hormonal (mild PCOS), a minimal amount of glandular breast tissue, and possibly also my having a medical condition that suppresses my immune system (Lyme disease). To prevent milk supply problems in the hospital, I asked my husband to bring me bottles of “Rivella,” a soft drink flavored with herbal extracts that is drunk in Switzerland (where I lived) to increase milk supply. In addition, the nurses made me pots of an herbal lactation tea. The result was that although my body was struggling to maintain milk production throughout this medical crisis, I did indeed manage to exclusively breastfeed my daughter.

The Nurses

Then something happened that made a huge impression on me. Nurses I had never seen before began to visit us, to stand quietly and respectfully inside our room for a while, and then leave without saying a word. I finally asked one what was going on. She told me that the nurses “downstairs” were talking about my baby — about the remarkable baby who ever cried. The nurses wanted to see for themselves if it was true! She explained that in the maternity ward, the babies were fretful and crying a lot of the time.

You see, in Switzerland, health insurance pays for up to ten days of rest at the hospital after birth. During this time, mothers are supposed to learn about babycare from the nurses. In my case, however, I had gone straight home a few hours after the births of my first two babies. My last two had been homebirths, so I had never had the benefit of their guidance.

Well, the nurse’s amazement amazed me! Obviously, they didn’t understand the kind of interaction necessary to prevent a baby from becoming fretful. Indeed, I remembered the questionable “support” I’d received the first few hours after my two hospital births. With my first, because he was fretful, the nurse put him in a little bed, all alone, crying, so that I could rest. That separation ripped my heart, and his crying began to sound horribly angry. Being born and immediately initiated into anger and separation is not my idea of a good start in life! But since the nurse seemed to think it was okay, and I was a new mother and insecure, I trusted her. With my second, the nurses took him for testing and then didn’t return him for a half hour. I was aching for him all that time. When I asked about the delay I was told it was because he was so cute, and a very special baby. They had enjoyed their time with him. When a nurse then saw that I was attempting to breastfeed him, she said, “What? So soon? Don’t you want to rest?” It was now 45 minutes after birth. Didn’t she know that the best time to initiate breastfeeding was the first hour after birth?

Well, with my daughter cooing on my lap I assured the nurse that she was no angel. She would cry like any other baby if her needs were not met. The secret was recognizing her signals and responding to them as soon as possible — even within a split second. But there was more to it. I also knew how to keep up my fragile milk supply, and I knew that I should eat certain foods and not others to avoid risking my baby’s digestive distress. Indeed, I knew from repeated experience that a baby who has enough milk, and whose milk is easy to digest, is very simply going to be an “easier” baby. Every baby is different, of course, but a mother can learn how to be sensitive to those differences and gauge her choices accordingly.

Postpartum Depression

A few weeks later I encountered the next big obstacle: postpartum depression. I had gone through a long phase of exhaustion following each birth, but had not experienced depression before. Now I saw what it was like: parts of my brain shut down; I no longer felt involvement in life; I felt no joy in being a mother, or in my new baby.

Nonetheless, because I knew it was important, I continued doing things that contribute to a bonded relationship: I gave my baby the contact she required (she was the sensitive kind of baby who never sleeps if put down, so she had to be carried in a sling or snugly during the day, even when sleeping, the first three months of her life). I continued taking foods and herbs to maintain my supply. I observed which foods caused her digestive distress, and I avoided these. When I watched TV, I wore a headphone. I believe that babies who listen to television or radio and who hear, for instance, sudden loud sounds or music that convey shock, horror, surprise, or pathos are at greater risk for the sensorial disorganization that many children have today. I also sang to her throughout the day, including when I watched TV with headphones on, even though it felt very odd to do so. The result was that when I came out of depression (the healing process took about four months; I was not informed enough to take medication), I had a trusting, happy baby, (and a very musical child as we would discover) who would continue to be confident in our relationship, and to nurse for several years.

My Happy Baby

My happy baby was my little miracle. How had I come through postpartum depression with an intact relationship to my daughter, including an intact breastfeeding relationship? Everyday, I marveled and rejoiced. I also rejoiced that I had known how to overcome my low milk supply, and to produce milk that did not cause my daughter to have an upset stomach. (She would get an upset stomach and become colicky whenever I ate certain foods or combinations of foods, so I was sure to avoid these.) I had learned these tools not from doctors but from mothers, especially mothers from the “anthroposophic” community (Waldorf school) which, in Germany, has studied the effect of foods and herbs on mothers and babies for decades.

I felt as though I had stumbled upon a treasure chest of insights – to which mothers held the key. This set of insights seemed ancient in its “rightness.” I believed that all mothers should have access to it.
Putting this key back into the hands of all mothers was the motivation for researching and writing Mother Food.

Now, there are two types of persons in my family: scientists and artists. I lean toward the latter. My degree is in music. I also love to write, especially poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Well, research shows that musicians use their brain in an integrated way, using both halves creatively. That was the approach I took to researching this material: get the whole picture, discover the interconnections, and explain these in simple terms that make the reader think, “Oh, I get this now! It’s so clear!”

Imagine a mother of four lively children, bringing home boxes of books from the university library, and reading these each evening in bed while nursing her baby – then toddler, then young child. My daughter was four years old when I published an article in “c u r a r e,” a German academic journal of ethnomedicine, titled, “Have Lactation Medicinals an Influence on Culture?” This article summed up my findings: that lactation medicinals had been ignored by science (this has now changed), that foods that increase milk production were the crops earliest cultivated by Neolithic peoples (perhaps because breastfeeding mothers preferred these foods), that lactation medicinals are plentifully found in world mythology, associated with breastfeeding goddesses or mother goddesses. Finally, I included a description of some of the chemical pathways that lactogenic foods and herbs use to increase milk production.

What Kind of Book Should I Write?

In 1996, I sent my initial manuscript, then titled “Ancient Tools of Motherhood,” to a Swiss publishing house, the Kreux Verlag. Their main editor responded that I was writing not one book, but two: I was writing a self-help book, but also a book about history and culture. She said that this combination would be hard to market, and that I should instead write one book or the other.

I thought about this suggestion a long time, but remained convinced that mothers deserve and require a book connecting both history and culture to their practical experiences today. One of the remarkable moments of motherhood is the realization that one is sharing an experience common to women of all times and places. The next step is to understand how this universality includes our choices for diet and health, with respect to how these choices influence our breastfeeding and mothering experience.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, I believe that understanding motherhood has never been as crucial as it is today. More of our children are born prematurely, or are born at term but with neurological damage such as learning problems (and suck problems), concentration or sensorial disorders, and a spectrum of autistic disorders. Indeed, it is estimated that 1 out of 96 children are born with an austistic disorder, and nearly every second boy has some degree of concentration or sensorial integration disorder. We need to understand how we got where we are today and what we can do about it — for although this problem belongs to society as a whole, and as a society we will eventually have to come to terms with it, we mothers can be proactive now, both before conception, during pregnancy and birth, and again through our choices for our baby’s nourishment. “Mother Food,” precisely because it is many books in one, can offer important impulses to this discussion.

In 1999, I was thrilled to learn that a new venue of publishing had opened up: “Print on Demand,” a digital publishing arrangement that leaves complete responsibility for content and editing to the writer. This venue would allow me to write the combination how-to and cultural book that I had planned. I was energized to concentrate on writing again.

In 2000, I was almost ready to publish. Then I was bit by a tick and my life turned upside down. My doctor believes I’d had Lyme disease since my early twenties, but without its having broken out actively. With the new tick bite, Lyme disease quickly developed and put me out of function for six months of antibiotic treatment. When I began to recover, enough that I could consider working on this book again, I realized that I could not return to this book as it was. I had to re-write it in order to remember what it was about (Lyme disease affects memory and thinking processes)! And that was a good thing.

Again I had boxes of books to read. Wonderfully, everything I read in the very most recent books on diet, the immune system, allergy, and babycare confirmed and complimented what I already knew. Now I had many more insights for mothers. I continued to work toward publication, and in 2001, became a certified holistic lactation consultant in a new school founded in Switzerland. Local midwives referred mothers to me who had extraordinary problems with milk supply. Most wonderfully, I moderated a breastfeeding group on the internet where mothers with exceptional breastfeeding difficulties congregate for support. In 2005, this group became a non-profit, MOBI Motherhood Intl. (Mothers Overcoming Breastfeeding Issues).

What is Unique about Mother Food?

The central goal of Mother Food is to address breastfeeding issues that are linked to a baby’s apparent suffering at the breast, such as persistent hunger from true low supply, and pain from colic, reflux, and allergy. These conditions are the least well explored in breastfeeding literature today, and mothers who describe having these problems often feel misunderstood by their healthcare providers.

Another goal is to include a historic overview of mother foods from ancient Greece, India and China. These comparisons offer fascinating surprises and insights that are the birthright of all mothers.

Food Molecules pass from Mom to Baby: one cause of Infant Colic and Infant Allergy

Food Molecules pass from Mom to Baby: one cause of Infant Colic and Infant Allergy

Food Molecules pass from Mom to Baby: one cause of Infant Colic and Infant Allergy

Nursing mothers often ask if the food they eat might be what is triggering their baby’s fussiness, digestive discomfort, and allergies. The answer is a cautious yesquite possibly.

We know that during pregnancy, large molecules from food can pass from a mother’s intestine into her bloodstream and reach the baby in the womb.

These molecules do not belong in the womb. Naturally, they trigger a defensive immune reaction in the baby, pre-conditioning the baby to launch another immune reaction when they encounter these same food molecules in their mother’s milk.

 

Leaky Gut and Prenatal Exposure

 Please note: whole food molecules are not supposed to be present in the bloodstream or in the womb. They are supposed to be broken into their smallest components while in the intestine – into amino acids, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins – before being allowed into the body.

 When food molecules leak into the bloodstream, it is a sign that the intestinal lining is damaged, is perforated with tiny holes that allow these larger molecules to pass through.

A permeable intestine also called a “leaky gut,” is sadly not rare. Many of us have a permeable intestine to some extent because of the foods we eat, the medications we take and the toxins we are exposed to. This means that many of our babies are exposed to food molecules while in the womb.

Researchers believe that prenatal exposure to food molecules may be a major cause of infant colic and allergy. They believe that this exposure pre-conditions unborn babies to respond with inflammation when they encounter these same food molecules later on in their mother’s milk. This is particularly the case if there is a history of allergy or autoimmune disease in the family.

A study from 2016 affirms this association. Researchers looked at the amniotic fluid from several mothers mid-pregnancy and were able to identify ten major food allergens in the fluid, including cow’s milk, fruit, egg, fish, nuts, and wheat.1 This means that these babies were being preconditioned to respond with inflammation to these foods–and indeed, that colicky babies are in a state of mild “systemic inflammation.”7

 

Inflammation, Flora, Colic

Inflammation can show up in different ways in a baby. It can show up as insomnia, wheezing, rashes, eczema, fussiness, restlessness and unhappiness, and also infant colic: the severe digestive pain that repeats nearly every day in about 20% of babies, starting at 2-3 weeks after childbirth and resolving at between 3-4 months of age.

Decades ago, infant colic was a medical mystery. Even today, many pediatricians, MDs, and pediatric nurses are not up-to-date on the research and do not know the causes or best treatments for infant colic. Because it is fairly common (20-40% of all babies worldwide) infant colic has been normalized. Instead of receiving useful information, parents are often patted on the back and assured that colic is normal and will pass.

Another area of research has looked into the intestinal flora of colicky and non-colicky infants. It turns out that the intestinal flora of colicky babies is colonized by fewer strains of helpful bacteria and yeasts compared to the flora of non-colicky infants. The “depleted” flora of colicky babies makes their intestines more permeable and more prone to inflammation.

Research shows that the quality of the intestinal flora is better in babies who have been born vaginally and who are breastfed and that these babies have less infant colic. However, not all vaginally born and breastfed babies are free of infant colic–far from it.

In any case, a 2020 study examined the very first stool of meconium after childbirth of babies who went on to develop infant colic and those who did not, and found that the difference already exists at this time.2

Mom’s own Health Impacts her Baby

Other research has noted connections between the mother’s diet during pregnancy as well as her long-term health history and her baby’s tendency to develop allergies and develop other health problems.3 4

Researchers are actively looking into ways to improve the mother’s diet and intestinal health, so as to bring improvement to both the mother and her prospective children.5

This is doubly important because research now also documents that infant colic–once considered normal and harmless–is predictive of digestive problems, allergy, and even learning and neurological problems later in life.6

I personally take infant colic very seriously, having gone through it with my firstborn and wishing I had known then what I know now. In my book Mother Food I describe many of these entangled factors and suggest ways to unwind them and improve everyone’s health and wellbeing. I believe it is possible to prevent infant colic or to improve the symptoms of infant colic, in almost all cases, and that this should be a top priority for new parents and their healthcare providers.

 

For more information about treating candidiasis naturally (fungal infection is a common component of a permeable intestine and the proclivity for allergies and autoimmune disease) see the article here.

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This blogpost began by answering the question: does the food that a mother eats somehow get into her milk and trigger her baby’s colic? The short answer is yes. The long answer has to do with the mother’s permeable intestinal lining, with a baby’s depleted flora, and with other factors that influence the baby’s proclivity to develop allergies. Indeed, many areas of research today are describing links between a mother’s health and her baby’s tendencies toward health or disease.

 

If you find this article interesting and you would like to do more to reduce inflammation and improve your own and your family’s long-term health, consider purchasing my book Mother Food:

The good news is that parents can improve their own and their baby’s intestinal flora and resilience to inflammation and that the long-term benefits for the entire family are significant.

 

 

 

 

  1. Pastor‐Vargas, C, Maroto, AS, Díaz‐Perales, A, Villalba, M, Esteban, V, Ruiz‐Ramos, M, de Alba, MR, Vivanco, F, Cuesta‐Herranz, J. Detection of major food allergens in amniotic fluid: initial allergenic encounter during pregnancy. Pediatr Allergy Immunol 2016: 27: 716– 720.
  2. Korpela, K., Renko, M., Paalanne, N. et al. Microbiome of the first stool after birth and infantile colic. Pediatr Res 88, 776–783 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41390-020-0804-y
  3. Kim et al., Maternal Perinatal Dietary Patterns Affect Food Allergy Development in Susceptible Infants. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice 7:2337-2347.e7 (2019) 10.1016/j.jaip.2019.03.026
  4. Rhoads et al., Infant Colic Represents Gut Inflammation and Dysbiosis, The Journal of Pediatrics, 2018: 203: 55-61.e3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2018.07.042.
  5. 1.Hurd L. Optimizing the Microbiome and Immune System With Maternal Diet in Pregnancy and Lactation May Prevent Food Allergies in Infants. ICAN: Infant, Child, & Adolescent Nutrition. 2015;7(4):212-216. doi:10.1177/1941406415595861
  6. Savino, F., Castagno, E., Bretto, R., Brondello, C., Palumeri, E. and Oggero, R. (2005), A prospective 10‐year study on children who had severe infantile colic. Acta Pædiatrica, 94: 129-132. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2005.tb02169.x
  7. Pärtty, Anna; Kalliomäki, Marko; Salminen, Seppo; Isolauri, Erika Infantile Colic Is Associated With Low-grade Systemic Inflammation, Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: May 2017 – Volume 64 – Issue 5 – p 691-695 doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000001340

 

 

 

 

 

Calcium – its role for lactation

Calcium – its role for lactation

 

 Apricots — one of our strongest lactogenic fruit, and especially rich in calcium.

Calcium and magnesium work together to maintain healthy nerves, strong muscles, and a rhythmic heartbeat. In the brain, they promote neural activity and act as a natural antidepressant. A lack of calcium and magnesium can lead to insomnia, irritability, exhaustion, mental confusion, heart rhythm problems, and depression, among other difficulties, in adults. In children, a lack of these minerals has been implicated in allergic and behavioral disorders.

Calcium and magnesium may also be crucial to maintaining a good supply of milk. It is recommended that we supplement these minerals together, in a ratio of two or three times as much calcium as magnesium, or 2-3:1. Some experts, however, suggest we supplement on a ratio of 1:1, as many people are sorely deficient in magnesium.

 

 

 

 

Black Sesame – rich in calcium, and a strong galactagogue food

1000 mg of calcium is the daily requirement—1200 mg for breastfeeding women—in the US. Many adult women are deficient in calcium in spite of a diet rich in calcium-fortified foods. What is wrong with this picture? Traditional peoples around the world get far less calcium than we do: 400 – 600 mg of calcium per day is the norm. Even so, there are seldom signs of calcium deficiency in cultures that have maintained their whole-foods diet.

Check out Weston A. Price’s book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration for photographic documentation of the teeth of indigenous peoples, before and after they began eating a diet of refined foods. In the before pictures, we see wide jaws and beautiful strong teeth, free of cavities. The after pictures feature the narrow jaws and crooked teeth so common to industrialized societies.

The reason Americans lack calcium is not that we eat too little calcium-rich foods, but because our diet causes calcium to be leeched from our bones and teeth. We can make better use of our calcium intake by improving our dietary habits.

 

 

 

Almonds are calcium-rich, and a very lactogenic nut.

Foods that Deplete Calcium:

Fibrous bulk is sometimes taken to reduce appetite and to promote regular bowel movements. Minerals bind to this fiber in the intestine, so that they pass through the intestine rather than into the bloodstream.

Protein. We often eat meals that are too heavy on protein (meat, eggs, milk). Excess protein is acid-forming. In order to protect tissues in the body from acidity, the body uses calcium to neutralize the acid. This is another reason that a high-protein diet can lead to a depletion of calcium.

Diuretics. Foods and medication that stimulate the kidney will cause minerals, including calcium, to be excreted into the urine. Herbal diuretics, such as nettle and dandelion, restore the minerals that they cause to be lost. Excessive protein will also cause the kidneys to go into overdrive and will lead to a loss of calcium.

Caffeine causes calcium to be excreted with urine. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and most carbonated beverages.

Excessive salt also causes calcium to be excreted with urine.

Phosphorus has to be in the right balance for calcium metabolism to work. Too little phosphorus prevents the body from using calcium. Too much and the excess phosphorus binds to calcium, pulling it right out of the bones.

Foods that are high in phosphorus are: dairy, meat, white flour, and carbonated soft drinks. These foods cause calcium to be pulled out of the bones—which is why people who eat meat regularly need to supplement with higher dosages of calcium.

Sugar decreases phosphorus in the blood. After eating sugar, phosphorus is so low that the body is unable to utilize calcium.

Keep Calcium in Your Bones

Reduce caffeine, white sugar, and table salt. Most people overdose on the sugar and salt found in processed foods, snacks, candy, and junk foods. Eat a whole-foods diet, and chose natural sugar sources that are rich in minerals—blackstrap molasses, malt syrup, maple syrup or honey. Use a quality, contaminant-free ancient sea salt, such as the affordable and easily available product RealSalt, derived from the ancient sea beds of Utah.

Limit animal protein—roughly three small to moderate servings a day, balanced with vegetables, grains, legumes, and fruit.

Sunlight. At least twenty minutes of sunlight each and every day on exposed skin, such as bare arms and legs, will provide the vitamin D necessary to utilize calcium, if you are a young, healthy person. (Sun through a window is not adequate.)

For most of us, sufficient daily exposure to sunlight is not possible and it is necessary to supplement with vitamin D.

Building sufficient amounts of vitamin D is essential to having a fully functioning, robust immune system.

 

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