Breastfeeding is reemerging in popular culture as the best way to feed your baby. Most of our ancestors were raised on breast milk until the 1950’s at which point formula became the popular feeding method. In the 1970’s breastfeeding began to make its comeback. The resurgence of breastfeeding is in part inspired by many studies showing the great health benefits for the child as well as for the mother. A recent study of over 20,000 women aged 30-85 years of age, suggests that death from heart disease was doubled in women who never breastfed their babies compared with those who did. The World Health Organization also recently published a systematic review of the evidence of the long-term benefits of breastfeeding for the child. For Tibetan people the understanding of the benefit of breastfeeding has never been lost. The great Tibetan scholar and expert in Tibetan Medicine, Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, writes in Birth, Life and Death “In particular, breastfeeding the baby while holding it close to the mother’s chest is not only the best way to nurture physical growth but is certainly also one of the most important foundations for the formation of great strength of character.” Since much of the breastfeeding wisdom of our grandmothers here in the USA and other western cultures has been lost, let’s take a look at what our Tibetan friends have to say about the subject. From the Tibetan Medicine perspective what should you eat while breastfeeding to keep both mother and baby happy?
1. Easily Digestible FoodsA mother should eat what is most easily digested and so assimilated by her body. We understand this point right? If we are easily digesting our food we feel better all around and our baby is getting optimum nourishment. In Tibetan Medicine the ability to properly digest is really the root of a healthy body. Our article on boosting metabolism goes in depth on this point. It is important to take note that in the case of breastfeeding the mother needs to eat when she feels hungry, not insisting on 4-5 hours between meals as the article suggests. This means allowing for snacking in between the major meals of the day. It is important the nursing mom not deny her hunger
2. Include VarietyIt is best for both mother and baby, for mother to emphasize a wide variety of foods suited to her constitution. If a woman is pekan (earth and water element) in nature, or currently has excess pekan, she can choose more rough, light and warm foods. If she tends toward loong (wind element) she needs to have more heavy, oily and warm foods. If she tends toward tipa (fire element), she should eat more cool and bland foods. Also she should eat a wide variety, not severely restricting anything. In this way it is more likely the child will be able to tolerate a wider variety of foods. If certain foods are not favorable to her constitution she can still eat a bit now and then
3. Stay Well NourishedNo matter the constitution, the woman should eat a good amount of healthy fats and calories since she is producing nourishment for another. This means meat, dairy products, bone broth, coconut oil, olive oil, fish oil (check latest safety tips on eating fish), to name a few. It is best to avoid canola oil, vegetable oils, partially hydrogenated oils and rancid oils (those which have been exposed to heat and light over time). Instead cook with stable fats such as coconut oil, lard, ghee, butter and other animal fats and high heat oils.
4. Minimize Environmental ToxinsMinimize environmental toxins. It is actually impossible to avoid all environmental toxins. But there are many ways to drastically reduce exposure. Of course this sounds important but why is it more important while breastfeeding (and child bearing)? Toxins are stored in the fat (think milk). The developing bodies and brains of the fetus and child are very vulnerable to the adverse effects of environmental toxins. We will find toxins throughout the house. Lotion, shampoo, cleaning products, laundry soap, dish soap as well as in our food. Although this is an issue most prevalent in modern day, our traditional Tibetan friends do whole-heartedly agree with the necessity of minimizing toxins. ALL of their animals (until recently) graze on wild plants and grasses and all of their grains and vegetables are grown without chemicals. My primary Tibetan Medicine teacher, Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo, has told me of how strange it is that we use so many chemicals. Even in our dish soap, for example. From her perspective, of the pure, rural areas of Tibet, we are surrounded by poisons. So how do we minimize these harmful influences? First of all it is not helpful to develop a lot of fear. Fear breeds more problems than it solves. But it is very important to be aware. The best steps are to be educated about where there are toxins in your home and the places you frequent and avoid them as much as possible. A few ways to do this:
- Switch your household cleaning products to those that are natural. Avoid the worst household toxic cleaning products.
- Switch your body care products to natural ones.
- When in public bring your own little bottle of natural soap or hand sanitizer. Many of the soaps in public restrooms contain toxins.
- From the plastics our food is packaged in, to the chemicals used in the fields, and the antibiotics and hormones given to the animals, there are a lot of potential toxins in our food. This can be overwhelming. WE DO THE BEST WE CAN. Purchase non-chemically grown fruit, veggies, grains, beans, nuts, seeds and animal products as much as possible. The foods with a higher fat content will store more toxins in the fat. As we reduce the toxins in our lives we aide in reducing the toxins in the world. Better for ourselves, better for our children, better for our communities, and better for the Earth’s eco-system.
- Reduce use of plastic. Store left-overs in glass. Buy in bulk as much as possible and store in glass. For more, check out these great tips from Aviva Romm.