If Parents Don’t Protect Their Kids from Harmful Chemicals, Who Will?

Being a parent today seems to require a hyper-vigilance to make sure your child is protected from unhealthy — sometimes even toxic chemicals — in their toys, clothing, eating utensils, furniture, household items, and more. Between lead-based paint, PVC and phthalates in toys, bisphenol A (BPA) in water bottles, flame retardant in pajamas and recently cadmium — a carcinogen — in McDonald’s Shrek glasses, there’s a lot to keep moms and dads on their toes.

The question becomes: What is the best way to keep your child safe? How can a parent know that something they (or a friend or relative) buy for their little one isn’t going to cause them harm? Even if you make your own toys, buy them handmade by an artisan or buy supplies for your children to make their own simple toys, how can you know that the materials are all safe?

The fact is there is not enough being done in the United States to protect anyone, but especially children, from harmful chemicals.

According to the CNN article Toxic chemicals finding their way into the womb, “The EWG [Environmental Working Group] study found an average of 232 chemicals in the cord blood of 10 babies born late last year.”

They are chemicals found in a wide array of common household products — a list that is as long as it is familiar — shampoos and conditioners, cosmetics, plastics, shower curtains, mattresses, electronics like computers and cell phones, among others.

“For 80 percent of the common chemicals in everyday use in this country we know almost nothing about whether or not they can damage the brains of children, the immune system, the reproductive system, and the other developing organs,” said Dr. Phil Landrigan, a pediatrician and director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “It’s really a terrible mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.”

Environmental attorney and mother Patti Goldman believes, “When it comes to protecting our kids from toxic chemicals, parents need a system that meets us halfway. We need to shift the burden from families to the companies who are manufacturing and distributing the chemicals used in these products.”

The potentially good news is that new legislation called the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 was recently introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) on April 15. This new act amends the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act and would “require manufacturers to prove the safety of chemicals before they are marketed. Of particular concern are carcinogens, to which the public remains dangerously exposed and uninformed.”

“America’s system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken,” said Senator Lautenberg. “Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children’s bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe. My ‘Safe Chemicals Act’ will breathe new life into a long-dead statute by empowering EPA to get tough on toxic chemicals. Chemical safety reform is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is a common-sense issue and I look forward to building bipartisan support for this measure.”

In the meantime, what is a parent to do?

  • You can start by checking out the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Toy Hazard Recalls list to see if any of your children’s toys have been recalled.
  • Vote with your dollars. Buy toys from manufacturers or artisans you feel you can trust.
  • Stay current on what’s going on in the movement to protect children from harmful chemicals by reading Healthy Child Healthy World
  • Check the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Database to find out what personal care products – shampoo, soap, lotion, sunscreen, toothpaste, diaper cream, etc. – are safest for children
  • Watch the EWG’s video “10 Americans
  • Visit Safer Chemicals Healthier Families – A nationwide effort to pass smart federal policies that protect us from toxic chemicals.
  • Take Action! by reading about the Safe Chemicals Act and send emails to your representatives and senators, email Congress, and don’t forget to tell your friends about the act and ask them to take action as well!

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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“The 10 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make” – Seriously? Seriously?!!

If I had to make a list of the things that I’m most intolerant of, I’d put fear mongering up there near the top. I’m not a fan of advertisements, public service announcements, campaigns, TV shows, articles or blog posts that use fear to push their agenda. Which is why when I read the Lifescript post Top 10 Mistakes Even Smart Moms Make, I was more than a little upset. Don’t get me wrong, there are some things on this list I definitely agree with, but when it starts out with number one saying it’s a mistake to share a bed with your baby, you can bet that I’m going to take the whole list with a grain of salt.

Here are what Lifescript calls the “10 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make:”

  1. Sharing a bed with baby.
  2. Putting your child to bed with milk or juice.
  3. Buying second-hand toys or baby furniture.
  4. Showing your child “smart baby” DVDs.
  5. Putting kids in the basket of a shopping cart.
  6. Sharing utensils with your child.
  7. Delaying or avoiding vaccines.
  8. Leaving your child alone in the car “just for a minute.”
  9. Skipping helmets on tricycle rides.
  10. Leaving your child alone in the bath or shower.

These are the “10 biggest mistakes parents make?” The biggest? Really?

If I had to grade myself as a parent based on this list I think I would get a big, fat “F” as I’ve done 9 out of 10 of these things at least once and about half of them on a regular basis. How about you? How would you rate?

It feels as though the author of this article assumes that none of us have any common sense whatsoever, yet it’s directed at “smart” moms. It’s also a slap in the face to any mother who’s made educated and thoughtful decisions about things like co-sleeping and vaccinations.

I co-slept with both of my children as babies. It is a practice that is as old as time and can be beneficial to both mother and baby if it is done safely. Annie at PhDinParenting has put together a great list of the dos and don’ts of co-sleeping safety. I don’t believe a blanket statement telling people not to co-sleep is the answer. I think giving them guidelines to follow to make it a safe environment is much more productive which I wrote about in this post about a surprising Fox News report regarding co-sleeping.

Julia wrote about why she co-slept with her children and Lactating Girl wrote her reasons for co-sleeping as well.

In the Lifescript article they say, “In 2008, when the U.S. experienced its largest measles outbreak in a decade, nearly half the 131 sickened kids were unvaccinated.” Does that not translate into more than half of the sickened kids WERE vaccinated? That doesn’t seem like the best argument in favor of vaccinations to me and I’m pretty sure that the “smart” moms will see through the data presented. I’m not saying vaccinations are good or bad, but I think parents should be allowed to make the choices that are best for their children.

After her oldest son began having terrible seizures, Steph of Adventures in Babywearing did a lot of research before she decided vaccinations were not right for her family. She feels, “This is an area that is not ‘one size fits all.'”

On Raising My Boychick’s Naked Pictures of Faceless People – a series of guest posts from diverse anonymous bloggers – one blogger shared about her decision not to vaccinate her children. She believes:

People need to step back, take a deep breath and do what is right for them without expecting everyone to come to the same conclusion. Alarmist propaganda is never ok and neither is demonizing an entire group of people for a personal decision. We trust parents to drive their children around in cars, to make other healthcare decisions, to guide their children’s dietary choices. This is no different.

Colleen wrote about why she chooses to delay vaccinations and said:

I know that doctors believe in supporting the AAP and the status quo. I know they believe that administering vaccines is in the best interest of our children and of all children. But I hope our doctor also understands that by educating myself about vaccines, by researching them and, yes, even by questioning the schedule and the ingredients in them that I am doing what is in the best interest of my child. No parent should be faulted for that.

Moving right along. I totally understand the “leaving your child alone” in either a car or the bath tub business. Those, rightfully, should be on the list. However, don’t put your child in the basket of a shopping cart because they will tip it over? Um, what about that handy little strap-like thing in there called a seat belt? I’m pretty sure that if the child is seat-belted in, they will not tip the cart. I’ve been pushing kids around in shopping carts for nearly 6 years and nobody has fallen out yet, although my son did drop a large container of yogurt out of the cart basket which exploded all over the floor. Turns out giving him the yogurt to hold was a big parenting mistake.

I could pick apart the rest of the list, but I’ll leave that for you to do. I think the bottom line is take everything you read with a grain of salt, do your own research, trust your instincts, and make the choices that work best for your child and your family.

Photo used with permission from Adventures in Babywearing

Cross-posted on BlogHer where a great discussion is already underway.

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FOX News says Infant Co-sleeping Deaths Linked to Formula Feeding

The internet has been abuzz lately about a recent FOX News report that has linked co-sleeping deaths to formula feeding. The report, which I found to be quite balanced (though somewhat sensational), is based on a number of co-sleeping or bed sharing deaths in the city of Milwaukee and the city’s message that there is no such thing as safe bed sharing.

I first read about the report from a Tweet by Allie from No Time for Flash Cards. Annie from PhDinParenting quickly posted the FOX News video for all to view and discuss.

The City of Milwaukee Health Department is currently running this ad – with a headstone in place of a headboard – to discourage ALL parents from co-sleeping with their babies. “For too many babies last year, this was their final resting place.” I guess they figure fear mongering is better than educating. As a mother who made an educated decision to co-sleep with my children, I find it quite offensive.

Then there is a TV ad that the state of Indiana is running (more fear mongering) to convince parents that they only place a baby should sleep is in a crib which is plain disturbing.

The FOX News report does a good job of representing both sides of the co-sleeping debate and even interviewed Dr. James McKenna, who literally wrote the book on safe co-sleeping.

The report revealed (although not until the very end of the video) a surprising finding, that in all of the Milwaukee co-sleeping cases they reviewed for 2009 and so far in 2010, 100% of the babies were formula fed. McKenna predicted the outcome and even goes so far as to state, “I really actually think that breastfeeding is a prerequisite for bed sharing.”

The blogger at The Babydust Diaries qualifies the formula finding:

This isn’t to say that the formula caused the death or that formula fed parents don’t care but there are some specific circumstances that can make these kids more prone to bed-related deaths2. The video mentions positioning and waking of the mother but also the frequent wakings of the child. Formula takes longer to digest and thus those children sleep for longer stretches than breastfed babies and often sleep deeper – causing an increase in SIDS deaths as well.

The Fearless Formula Feeder wrote about her thoughts on the Fox report in Cosleeping and formula feeding: a tale of two scapegoats. She particularly took offense at “the immediate and inaccurate battle cry against formula and formula feeding” on Twitter. She suggests rephrasing Tweets from things like:
“FORMULA FEEDING, not alcohol or soft bedding, at root of bed-sharing baby deaths!”
and
“Formula feeding was the common factor in these poor babies’ deaths!”
to:
“Breastfeeding could protect against cosleeping deaths”
or
“Formula feeding parents should be alerted to cosleeping risks”

The Fearless Formula Feeder adds:

If you watch the video, it is clear that bottle feeding was indeed associated with 100% of the cosleeping death cases in Milwaukee. …

However, the sensationalist news report also mentioned, in passing, some other important factors. Like that the majority of the babies lived in low-income, black families. And that 75% lived in households where smoking was a factor, and many had parents who engaged in drug use or drank frequently. Or that a number of the cases, though originally classified as cosleeping deaths, were later ruled as other causes of death, like SIDS.

Although the City of Milwaukee Health Department would like it to be a black and white issue, there are clearly shades of gray. The medical examiner reports in Milwaukee County showed that the vast majority of co-sleeping deaths were African-American babies living in what the Black Health Coalition calls “chaotic homes.” McKenna agrees that there is an “overwhelming predominance of deaths in the lower socioeconomic environment.” Yet the city refuses to acknowledge and address the complexities.

The Baby Dust Diaries blogger commented on this as well:

The other issue brought up in the piece is about socioeconomic status. Statistically, more bed-related deaths occur in poorer and often unstable homes. Once again this is a correlation not a causal relationship. I was flabbergasted at the health department woman’s assertion that she shouldn’t even have to think about different types of people. Seriously? How do you serve a population and remain blind to the demographics? I really liked the woman from the community program [Black Health Coalition]. She, correctly, points out that ignoring the reality of the situations at home only drives these already under-served people further away from the services that can help them.

She also points out that there’s a difference between a mom who brings her baby into bed as a last resort and falls asleep and a mom who has done her research and knows how to safely bed share – like she did, as did I. “It isn’t a last resort of the exhausted, but a well-thought out, planned, and safe situation.”

So is it fair, as the city of Milwaukee and the state of Indiana suggest, to say nobody should ever co-sleep? Or how about what James McKenna said, that only breastfeeding moms should be allowed to co-sleep? Or should we instead try to raise awareness about the risks AND benefits of co-sleeping for both breastfed and formula-fed babies and the increased risk for formula-fed babies so that parents can make decisions based on research rather than on fear?

For more information about safe bed sharing, visit:

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Chocolate Toddler Formula – What’s Wrong With This Picture?

When I first saw a link to Food Politics’ blog about chocolate toddler formula I thought it was a joke. Yes, I’d heard that formula companies make formula for toddlers as well as infants, but chocolate-flavored?? Seriously?! Yes, seriously. Mead-Johnson’s new Enfagrow Premium Chocolate Toddler Formula with “natural and artificial flavors” is on the market for toddlers age 12 to 36 months. Apparently it’s not enough that we load our elementary school-aged kids full of sugar in the form of chocolate milk. What we really need to do is get them hooked on sugar while they’re young – really young – like 12 months old. I wonder what Jamie Oliver would have to say about this?

Enfamil describes the NEW Enfagrow™ PREMIUM™ Chocolate as follows:

A delicious new flavor for toddlers 12 months and older – with prebiotics for digestive health!

As your child grows from an infant to a toddler, he’s probably becoming pickier about what he eats. Now more than ever, ensuring that he gets complete nutrition can be a challenge.

That’s why we created new Enfagrow PREMIUM Chocolate with Triple Health Guard™. With more nutrition than milk, Omega-3 DHA, prebiotics, and a great tasting chocolate flavor he’ll love, you can help be sure he’s getting the nutrition he still needs even after he outgrows infant formula.

The chocolate formula sells for $19.99 (for 18 servings) at Safeway in Colorado, but is currently on sale for $16.99. (What a steal!) Yes, I went into the store to check it out for myself (and snap some pictures of the nutrition information). I was tempted to buy a can for the sake of research, but I just couldn’t justify giving Enfamil my money, not even in the name of investigative journalism. For the record, they also make a vanilla flavored formula in case your toddler isn’t into chocolate.

Marion Nestle lists the main ingredients in her post Chocolate toddler formula?

Here’s the list of ingredients for everything present at a level of 2% or more:

  • Whole milk
  • Nonfat milk
  • Sugar
  • Cocoa
  • Galactooligosaccharides (prebiotic fiber)
  • High oleic sunflower oil
  • Maltodextrin

Nestle also states that, “Mead-Johnson representatives explained that Enfagrow is not meant as an infant formula. It is meant as a dietary supplement for toddlers aged 12 to 36 months.” Yet, as she points out, it’s called “FORMULA” and it has a Nutrition Facts label, not a Supplement Facts label. Hmmm.

Green Mom in the Burbs had this to say: “Gross. I mean, this is just…gross. No, not the KFC Double Down, though that’s pretty disgusting too… I’m talking about this: Chocolate formula for toddlers. Gross. And I thought trying to get chocolate and strawberry flavored milk out of school cafeterias was important. This is just…wow. I’m not sure even Jamie Oliver can save us.”

Cate Nelson from Eco Childs Play calls Enfagrow Chocolate Toddler Formula the “Gag Me Product of the Week” and said, “There are serious problems with this product. First off, why do toddlers, even those who are no longer breastfed, need an infant formula? Is “baby” not getting proper nutrition? And if so, how in the world is a chocolate-flavored formula going to solve this problem?”

Kiera Butler who writes at Mother Jones explains a bit about toddler formula. “So what is toddler formula, anyway? Nutritionally, the unflavored version is pretty similar to whole milk, except with more calcium and phosphorous. There seems to be a consensus that after age one, kids don’t really need formula at all, as long as they have a healthy solid-foods diet and are getting plenty of calcium.”

Danielle, who blogs at Momotics said she was shocked by some of the comments she read on CafeMom about the chocolate toddler formula. One comment read, “What’s the big deal? Kids extended breastfeed.” Danielle responded, “AHHH! There is NO comparison between a chocolate formula for toddlers and a mothers breast milk. They aren’t even on the same page, or in the same book!”

She also wants to know “why are we going to encourage our children into unhealthy eating habits by providing them with a tasty chocolatey treat? In a country with obesity rates in our children growing, it seems like simple and unknowing choices like this as children could lead our kids into serious risky eating habits as adults.”

Danielle adds, “I think the biggest realization this all brought me to today is that Jamie Oliver is right, there is such a huge issue with food, eating, nutrition, and our parents today that we need to seriously take a look at in our country. There is a problem, and the comments that the parents on CafeMom brought to the table did nothing but prove that parents are grossly un- and undereducated on what we should and should not be giving our children.”

Annie from PhD in Parenting points out that because of breastfeeding, her babies got all sorts of great flavors through her breastmilk without having to actually eat artificial flavoring.

JennyLou is concerned about the potential health problems as well. “Our obesity rates continue to climb. More kids are now obese than ever before. Kids don’t know what vegetables are. Kids won’t eat vegetables. Kids are drinking juice, soda, etc. out of baby bottles and then sippy cups. And now, enter chocolate formula. What a recipe for disaster.”

Christina who blogs at A Mommy Story wonders about the possible caffeine levels in the cocoa used in the formula.

All in all, I have to say this product scares the heck out of me. I understand that some children need extra calories and may even live on a entirely liquid diet and there could potentially be a need for this (though I’m guessing there are healthier alternatives), but having a product like this available to the masses seems like a bad, bad idea. Our kids already have the deck stacked against them when it comes to nutrition in this country, why make it any worse?

Nestle ended her post saying, “Next: let’s genetically modify moms to produce chocolate breast milk!” And Abbie, who blogs at Farmer’s Daughter responded, “I’m snacking on some chocolate right now and nursing my son. Funny coincidence. That’s as close as he’s going to get to chocolate milk for a long time.” Rightfully so.

Edited on 6/9/10 to add: FOX News reports Controversial Chocolate-Flavored Baby Formula Ends Production

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Cesarean Awareness Month: Why is it so hard to get a vaginal birth?

April is Cesarean Awareness Month. You may wonder why an entire month needs to be devoted for raising awareness about c-sections. Here’s why. The c-section rate in the United States is on the rise at an alarming rate. It’s estimated that in 2008 over 1.3 million babies in the US were born by c-section, accounting for 32.3% of all births. It also marks the 12th consecutive year the Cesarean birth rate has risen, despite a number of medical organizations — including The World Health Organization (WHO) and American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) — urging medical care providers to work on lowering the Cesarean birth rates and increase access to Vaginal Birth after Cesarean (VBAC).

Cesarean Awareness Month - April

My Gentle Birthing Blog discusses that while VBAC is often suggested as an option to a woman who has had a c-section, in reality, VBACs are hard to come by due to the fact that many hospitals no longer allow them.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the C-section rate in the United States has risen 53% since 1996. Cesarean birth is being overused, and VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) is being grossly underused, at about 8%, because many hospitals are outlawing VBACs. Because of bans on VBACs, women have been denied access in over 40% of hospitals in the United States. The National Institutes of Health has found that VBACs are reasonably safe for women who had a previous cesarean birth and are low risk for uterine rupture.

Andrea Owen says, “Fighting for my own VBAC has changed my life. I don’t use that term very often, only when I truly mean it. It opened my eyes up to the world of American obstetrics, and how far we’ve come away from birth as a natural process. In my opinion, we’ve shoved a big, fat middle finger in Mother Nature’s face.”

And in the sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction category, the Keyboard Revolutionary wants to know how it is that “a woman can waltz in off the street, say she’s pregnant and wants a Cesarean, and everyone leaps to her command….yet a woman who IS pregnant has to jump through hoops and fight tooth and nail just to give birth vaginally?” Yep, in 2008 in Fayetteville, NC, a woman who was NOT even pregnant was given a c-section.

So how can a woman avoid a c-section in the first place? Knowledge is power. Here is a list of Five Essential Questions to ask your care provider. My Gentle Birthing Blog also has a list of the risks with cesarean birth as well as a list that might help you avoid having your first c-section.

On Live Your Ideal Life guest blogger Pamela Candelaria who writes over at Natural Birth for Normal Women discusses the risks of a c-section as described on a typical consent form and says, “what isn’t on the form may be surprising.”

Heather of A Mama’s Blog provides a lot of information about The Reality of C-sections.

And Breastfeeding Moms Unite posted What to Expect of Your Body after a C-section.

Bellies and Babies has a great round up of posts in honor of Cesarean Awareness Month.

There is one victory worth celebrating regarding Cesarean birth and women’s health in general. Thanks to the Health Care Reform, c-sections, giving birth and domestic violence can no longer be considered pre-existing conditions and used to deny insurance coverage. It’s a step in the right direction, but so much more needs to be done to lower the c-section rates and allow women access to VBACs, so that they don’t have to travel 350 miles just to have a vaginal birth. And that’s why an entire month is needed to raise awareness about cesarean sections.

Additional resources:

Photo credit: Flickr – Grendellion

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Health Care Reform Lends Support to Breastfeeding Moms, But Is It Enough?

If we’ve heard “breast is best” once, we’ve heard it a thousand times. Health experts agree the benefits of breastfeeding for both the baby and the mother are numerous. A study published earlier this week by the journal Pediatrics points out just how valuable breastfeeding can be. “If 90 percent of new moms in the United States breastfed their babies exclusively for the first six months, researchers estimate that as many as 900 more infants would survive each year, and the country would save about $13 billion in health care costs annually.”

It seems that while everyone gives lip service to the importance of breastfeeding, there isn’t a lot of support for women once they make the decision to breastfeed. Women have been asked to cover up or leave restaurants, water parks, airplanes, and stores when they try to give their baby what’s “best.” Maternity leave in the United States is, at best, 12 weeks. Women who work outside the home have often been forced to pump their breast milk in bathroom stalls, hide under a desk, or sit in their car just to get a little bit of privacy because rooms for nursing/pumping mothers just don’t exist. So yes, breast might be best for baby, but until there are more regulations in place that allow moms to breastfeed without so many roadblocks, how can breast be “best” for moms?

There is, however, a bit of good news on the horizon. Health Care Reform is lending some support to breastfeeding moms with the Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers law.

  • Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Health Care Reform), states that employers shall provide breastfeeding employees with “reasonable break time” and a private, non-bathroom place to express breast milk during the workday, up until the child’s first birthday.
  • Employers are not required to pay for time spent expressing milk, and employers of less than 50 employees shall not be required to provide the breaks if doing so would cause “undue hardship” to their business.

Tanya from The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog thinks this is a step in the right direction. “I’m not thrilled that it extends the right for only up to 1 year (I pumped longer for my son), but what a huge difference this would make for mothers in the many states, mine included, that do not extend this right under state law!”

Currently, only 24 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have legislation related to breastfeeding in the workplace. Yet women now comprise half the U.S. workforce, and are the primary breadwinner in nearly 4 out of 10 American families. The fastest growing segment of the workforce is women with children under age three.

Doula-ing is excited about the new law and calls it “a giant leap forward for mother’s who want to continue to breastfeed their babies once they return to work.”

Kim Hoppes, who doesn’t appear to be a fan of Health Care Reform is, however, pleased with this change. “Well, something good came out of the health care reform nightmare. Places now have to give breaks to nursing moms so they can pump.”

Lylah from Boston.com Moms seems to think the new law is not enough and asks, “How can we expect 90 percent of new moms to breastfeed without support in the workplace?”

One thing seems pretty clear: If it’s in the country’s best interests to have new moms nurse their infants exclusively for at least six months — and the billions of dollars in health care savings indicates that it may be — then new moms should get at least six months of paid leave in which they can do so. The United States and Australia are the only two industrialized countries in the world that do not offer paid maternity leave. And moms in the Outback have a sweeter deal than we do: In Australia, your job is protected for a year, but in the United States new working moms only get that guarantee for 12 weeks.

What do you think about the Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers law? Is it too much? Not enough? Just right? None of the government’s business?

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tundakov/2550864384/

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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When does “safety” prevent learning?

It started off as a unique learning experience for a class of fifth graders at Alpine Elementary School in Longmont, Colo. After receiving a request from the fifth grade teachers for any parents who worked in the medical field to come in and speak to the classes, Ana Williams – a certified nurse midwife and parent of a student in the class – suggested to the teacher that she could discuss placentas and even bring in a donated human placenta to enrich the class’s study on the human body and circulation. According to Williams, the teacher said they had just been learning about blood vessels and thought it would be great.


Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons: Premasagar

Williams discussed placentas with the class, then showed them the donated placenta (which came from a low-risk mother who tested negative for infectious diseases in all routine prenatal tests) from afar, and then, after donning gloves, students were permitted to view and touch the placenta (if they wanted to) in small groups. After removing their gloves, they immediately washed their hands.

One child in the class took exception to the demonstration and her parents, Michael and Christina Valentine, were shocked when they found out what took place in the classroom. The Valentines – who called the lesson “horrible” and “not age appropriate” – were upset that parental consent was not required in advance and contacted the media. CBS4 Denver did an investigative study about the incident and aired this on the 10 pm news. The piece came across very one-sided and left me wondering what exactly about this story was newsworthy.

According to CBS4:

The St. Vrain Valley School District says it was an “oversight” not to let parents of 5th graders at Alpine Elementary School know in advance that a human placenta was being brought to class as a teaching tool.

“Unfortunately that presentation did not quite follow district protocol,” said district spokesperson John Poynton.” They (the parents) had a right to know in advance and for that we regret that they were not told in advance.”

The Valentines are concerned their daughter could have contracted a blood-borne disease and have since taken her for testing which has come back negative. They plan to have her retested in six months.

According to a letter from principal Dede Frothingham sent home to all Alpine families:

Officials with the Boulder County Health Department and Denver Health have assured me that all the appropriate measures were taken to ensure student safety. Further, Dr. Ned Calonge, Chief Medical Officer with the Colorado Department of Health has also assured the District that the chance of any transmission of a blood borne pathogen is unimaginably low, substantially less than a common nosebleed in class or on the school playground.

Williams also commented, “I would like to stress that none of the children had exposure to any blood borne pathogens. Exposure would involve getting stuck with a dirty needle; blood having contact with their mucous membranes; or blood having contact with an open wound. Of course, none of these things happened. We followed standard precautions and hygiene that are used in the hospital. ”

While the Valentines are upset, several other parents thought the placenta demonstration was a great opportunity for the children and some who’s fifth graders were not in that particular class are disappointed that now their children may not have the same learning opportunity.

Melanie Lambert’s daughter is in the class where the placenta demonstration took place and said her daughter thought it was exciting and cool. Lambert doesn’t feel a permission slip was necessary, but perhaps a lab release at the beginning of the year along with a mention in the newsletter would have been sufficient. Lambert said what concerns her is “how this with affect future ‘future show and tells.’ While parental notice is nice I’d hate to see fear and bureaucracy deny kids the opportunity to learn about something real rather than simply reading about it in a book or seeing a picture on a computer. There are always going to be risk with sending your child to school. Kids are often exposed to ‘bodily fluids.’  Blood, vomit, and feces happen at school. You can either talk to them about how to reduce the risk or keep them home. I’d like to see more parents prepare their children to take the risk.”

Clive Oldfield also has a fifth grader at Alpine. His daughter is in a different fifth grade class, but he wishes she would have had the opportunity to have this “great learning experience.” Oldfield said, “What a perfect opportunity to continue their study of circulatory systems by examining an organ that was donated. Life/nutrition/circulation – how fantastic to have that experience first hand.” Oldfield does not feel parental permission was needed and said, “By sending my child to a public school I expect the child to encounter situations and choices made on my behalf by the school and staff that are: moral, ethical, safe, valued, non-threatening, non-corrupting, age-appropriate and educational. All of these criteria were satisfied by embracing the examination of the donated placenta.”

Kris Koval is another parent of a fifth grader who missed out on the demonstration. She said, “I hope that other learning opportunities to engage in hands on, practical learning will continue to be available to my children throughout their educational career.”

Susan Lynch’s daughter missed out on the experience as well, but Lynch thinks it would have been very beneficial to have the hands-on experience. Lynch sees nothing wrong with exposing fifth graders to a placenta and said, “in 4th grade the students dissect ‘owl pellets’ (which is undigested parts of prey that the owl vomits up). The kids find all the bones in the pellets and put together the skeleton(s) that they find. The students enjoy this sort of ‘hands-on learning’ and come away from this unit of inquiry with a good understanding of the life-cycle, animal adaptations, and a basic bodily process (digestion). Using a placenta as a way to illustrate and discuss circulation seems like a fine ‘hands-on’ learning experience for the kids.”

Lynch adds that there was no discussion of sex or reproduction as a part of this demonstration and she doesn’t think there needs to be. “If a parent brought in a lung or a heart for the kids to look at and touch, would we still be having this discussion? I doubt it. It feels like the controversy is because it was a placenta – something that is connected (although tangentially) to sex, reproduction, and (horrifyingly) BIRTH.”

Personally, I feel that while the school district probably should have notified parents in advance, it was a great learning opportunity for the students, one that I’d be happy to have my children participate in when they are older. I think both the midwife and the teacher were acting with the children’s best interests in mind and never had any intention of jeopardizing anyone’s health, nor do I think (based on the information given to me) that anybody’s health was jeopardized. It seems like an overreaction on the part of the Valentines to contact the media resulted in a shock journalism piece put forth by CBS4.

We all want to keep our children safe, but when safety precautions were taken and the majority of the parents and students found the experience to be a good one, is one set of parents’ squeaky wheel really all it takes to get the media to jump on a story? Why didn’t they interview any parents who supported the demonstration? Why didn’t they show the views of the health professionals who thought there was no problem with it? I’m disappointed in the reporting done by CBS4 Denver.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Can Your Child Identify a Tomato? Teaching Kids About Food

I recently watched a preview from Jamie Oliver’s new show Food Revolution where first grade children were unable to identify fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, etc. While I didn’t find it shocking, I thought it was quite sad. It drives the point home that as a society we are, as Oliver points out in his TED talk (which is absolutely worth 20 minutes of your time), very disconnected from our food and where it comes from. Sure, kids eat french fries and ketchup, but do they know they come from potatoes and tomatoes? He also points out that the current generation of children may be the first in two centuries to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Of course after that I had to quiz my five-year-old Ava (to make sure I wasn’t being overly critical) and she knew what everything was except the beet (which we don’t eat because I think they taste like dirt).


Photo credit: Jacki-dee

Ava’s kindergarten class is currently doing a section about food. My daughter already knows a fair bit about what she eats since she’s been gardening with me since before she could walk. We also have friends who have chickens and we frequently visit the farmers’ market. I don’t know what specifically her class is being taught about food, but I imagine it’s pretty light and upbeat (i.e. no information about factory farming, genetically modified organisms, etc.). That’s OK with me though. I feel like you can only give five-year-olds so much information. They have plenty of time to learn more about the current farming practices in the United States when they get older. I have been impressed that they made butter in school by shaking a jar full of cream and will be making applesauce as well, and are even hatching baby chickens in an incubator in the classroom. They also took a field trip to a supermarket. A trip to a community garden would have been nicer, but there’s not much to see at a garden in Colorado in early March. Regardless, I’m glad that her school is teaching young children about food and hope that others around the country are as well.

Earlier this week I finally sat down to watch Food, Inc. for the very first time. My kids, ages three and five, who were not yet in bed sat down too, ready to watch along side me. I had a conversation with myself in my head for a minute. Should I let them watch it? I haven’t yet seen it so I have no idea what to expect. But it’s about food and where food comes from, and that’s educational, right? I decided to turn it on and keep the remote in my hand in case anything looked like it might get too gory or inappropriate for them.

Ava watched it quite intently and asked me several questions. Julian, my 3-year-old, watched bits and pieces while he wasn’t busy playing. Actually, one of the things he started playing (after watching a scene where a factory chicken farmer collects dead chickens was “throw the dead chickens (stuffed animals) into a bucket.” It was rather fascinating to see him reenact that scene.

At one point, I stopped the movie to gauge Ava’s reaction and ask her how watching it made her feel. She replied, “Sad and happy. Sad because people have to eat the chickens. Happy because I’m learning.” That reinforced my decision to let her watch it. I was very happy to hear that learning made her happy.

We ended up watching only half of the movie together before it was time for the kids to go to bed and they missed some of the more gruesome scenes like the lame cows, pig slaughterhouse and the scene of the traditional farmer and his workers killing and processing chickens (which really wasn’t that bad). After seeing it all now though, I think they would have been OK with watching it.

Food, Inc. is rated PG “for some thematic material and disturbing images” and that seems very fair. I wouldn’t let children watch it on their own, but I think if they watch with a parent it’s a great learning opportunity for all parties involved.

This spring we will start getting chickens (to eat) from a local farmer and I think a field trip of sorts to visit the farm and the chickens is in order. We’re also hoping to get chickens or maybe ducks of our own for eggs once we move and have more land. The more I can expose my children to where their food comes from, the better. We’re not perfect. We go out to eat and even eat *gasp* fast food and junk food from time to time, but my kids know what a tomato is, they see me cooking and gardening and help me with those things. All of that, I believe, will help establish healthy patterns that will last a lifetime and will hopefully keep them from becoming a statistic.

Related posts:

Soon-to-be cross-posted on BlogHer

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Kourtney Kardashian: Inspiring Women with her Zen-like Childbirth?

Two weeks ago I wrote about the way childbirth is generally portrayed, even mocked, in popular culture and how that often negatively colors women’s beliefs about birth. Sunday, however, on the season finale of the E! network reality show Keeping Up With The Kardashians, surprisingly, amazingly labor and birth were shown in a largely positive light. In the episode, which had a record 4.8 million viewers, Kourtney Kardashian, 30, calmly gave birth to her first child Mason Dash Disick (born on Dec. 14, 2009).

I have to admit I don’t actually watch the Kardashians, but thanks to Jezebel, I was able to watch some clips from the episode. (Go watch. I’ll wait.) My friend Denise, who blogs at Eat Play Love, told me that she saw the whole episode and said, “I have to admit for the K-women coming off as such primadonnas the episode/birth was shown in a great way. I was shocked.”

Instead of the typical Hollywood water-breaking all over the floor in one big “sploosh!” followed by the frantic Oh-my-God-I’m-freaking-out-and-have-to-get-to-the-hospital-RIGHT-NOW, after Kourtney’s water broke and was shown(!) slowly trickling out onto the floor, she was totally calm, did some laundry, said she needed to shave, took a shower and put on make-up all before going to the hospital. A reality TV show actually showing reality? Wow!

Then there was the birth scene at the hospital, which appeared very serene. Kourtney was surrounded by her family who all looked on in awe as baby Mason was born. She appeared very calm, even zen-like. Once the baby was half way out, the doctor asked Kourtney if she wanted to grab him and she did. She reached down between her legs and pulled her baby right out of her vagina and onto her chest. It was amazingly peaceful and really quite beautiful.

Of course that had to be followed by some commentary from her sister Khloe saying, “that’s not normal.” But uh, yeah, actually it is. That’s what normal birth can look like.

Photo credit: The Unnecesarean

I can’t find any information about whether Kourtney received an epidural or gave birth unmedicated, but she certainly looks very zen in the video. She said in this interview about labor, “It was surprisingly easy and just an incredible experience. I always thought your first is supposed to be really hard, but it was easy.”

Regardless of whether or not she had an epidural, the fact that E! showed (millions!) what a normal, peaceful birth can look like is seriously huge, especially when you consider the demographic watching this show. According to this LA Times article, “Kardashian viewers tend to be single, college-educated women with no children, white-collar jobs and annual salaries of more than $60,000.” Keeping Up With The Kardashians “is the highest-rated series on cable among women ages 18 to 34.”

The Unnecesarean had this to say:

Kourtney Kardashian and E! showing a generation of young women someone reaching down and pulling their baby out of their vagina was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time. Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles has gained a reputation as the celebrity c-section center, but there’s some mother-friendly stuff going on in the clips on Jezebel.

I didn’t watch the whole episode, but I smiled at the clip of her water breaking. When do you ever see that televised beyond the ridiculous images of actors having a gallon of water dumped between their legs, then instantly doubling over with contractions and being rushed down the hall to L&D on a gurney?

Momotics said Kourtney Kardashian renewed her “faith in birth.”

I was SO impressed to see Kourtney so calm, and cool while giving birth to her son Mason who was born in December. It seems like Hollywood has had a huge rash of scheduled cesareans, inductions, and over all just horribly medicalized births and this was just a huge refresh to the Hollywood natural birth stigma.

Carla Fran from Millicent and Carla Fran calls Kourtney “awesome.”

I cannot believe, I repeat, I cannot believe that the Kardashians are paving the way for positive images of childbirth. Last night’s finale showed Kourtney Kardashian going into labor, and pretty much backing up what doulas, Rikki Lake, and your friendly neighborhood midwife have been saying all along.

This finale is tremendous because of the audience the show has. If young girls see pop icons like Kourtney Kardashian having this kind of birth experience, their expectation of the event in their own lives is changed. I hope an entire generation of people saw this and thought “I didn’t know it could be like that.”

It would seem that’s exactly what some women thought. Here are a few of the comments on the Jezebel blog:

  • Kali Mama: “While am all for freedom of choice and choosing your own birth plan, big props for girlfriend not being too posh to push. No elective c-sections or nothing.”
  • Doyouloveit: “For years I’ve been chanting that I will get a C-section if I ever procreate, ‘Knock me completely out! I want to wake up like it’s Christmas morning with a baby under the tree!’
    But wow! Kourtney was really inspiring! Why can’t it always be shown this beautifully? Great documentary film making, Keeping Up With The Kardashians!”
  • Lilspitfire: “I am not a big fan of reality TV but the way they showed childbirth in this episode was nothing but positive.”
  • La Madrugada: “Okay, as someone who’s going to give birth to her first kid in a month and a half, I have to say, this is AWESOME. I’m not a huge fan of this show, but seeing a woman laughing and relaxed while in labor is extremely cool.”
  • Gra: “I have never given birth and therefore had NO IDEA that this was even possible. Its weird to realize that everything I know about labor and birth is based on what I’ve seen in the movies.”
  • Hotpants McGee: “It’s so crazy to say this, but I think I learned something from a Kardashian! Kourt was AMAZING. I had no idea you could just pull it out! I still can’t believe it. She could have just stayed home and done it all by herself!”

Yep, the Kardashians are changing the way women view birth – for the better. Who woulda thunk it?

Cross-posed on BlogHer

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Compost through the winter with worms in your house!

It’s no secret that I hate to see things go to waste. I have been known to dig recyclable items out of the trash and attempt to Freecycle or otherwise give away some of the craziest stuff before I will consider tossing it in the trash. It makes me anxious when my 3-year-old leaves the water running or stands with the refrigerator door open too long. And I really have a hard time throwing away table scraps and fruit and vegetable peels, especially considering my children eat fruit like there’s no tomorrow. All of that fruit adds up to a whole lot of orange peels, apple cores and watermelon rinds. Honestly, that’s the biggest reason I started composting. I hated seeing how much food waste was going into the garbage and knowing it only ended up in the landfill. Sure, the end result of making your own fertile soil which is great for gardening is an added bonus, but mostly I compost to reduce my family’s garbage output.

I didn’t start out trying to do vermicomposting or composting with worms. We got a composting bin, set it up in a relatively sunny spot in our mostly shady backyard, and got to work. Along the way, I threw in several shovels-full of dirt, hoping it would speed up the composting process. Apparently I threw in some worms too, which reproduced like rabbits. It didn’t take long for my regular compost bin to become a worm composting bin. I think it’s a little freaky, but my kids get a big kick out of all of the worms in there and have been known to fish some out just for fun. 😛

However due to the cold in Colorado this winter, my compost bin hasn’t been working very well. In fact when I dig into the pile I find lots of frozen (dead?!) worms. I’m sorry wormies. And my food waste is not being broken down like it is in the summer. As a result, some of our food waste has gone down the garbage disposal (which isn’t a good option because it uses a lot of water and energy to process at the water treatment plants) and I’ve also thrown some into the *gasp* garbage. It breaks my little green heart.

My friend Julie who also lives in Colorado has run into the same frozen composting dilemma this winter and decided to start worm composting in her basement. The idea of having a bin full of worms in your house might skeeve some people out, but the worms are contained and it’s a very practical way to keep your food waste out of the landfills. While I haven’t set up my own system yet, I have started learning more about it. Not only is it a great option for people who live in colder climates, but it’s great for apartment-dwellers or others who don’t have a yard to put a traditional compost bin.


Photo credit: Bramble Hill

Why compost?
Recycling the organic waste of a household into compost allows us to return badly needed organic matter to the soil. In this way, we participate in nature’s cycle, and cut down on garbage going into burgeoning landfills.

What is vermicomposting?
In the simplest terms, “vermicomposting is a system for turning food waste into potting soil with the help of worms.”

What do I need to get started?
According to Worm Woman, you will need:

  • An aerated container
  • Bedding such as shredded newspaper
  • Moisture and proper temperature
  • Small amount of soil
  • Redworms (Eisenia fetida)

Learn more about vermicomposting:

If not for the fact that we are trying to get our house ready to go on the market and I need another project like I need a hole in my head, I would totally set up a worm composting bin in my house right now. But the worm bin project (along with the getting chickens project and what else is there?) will have to wait until we have sold our house and have moved into our new abode.

Cross-posed on BlogHer

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