Breastfeeding Cultural Beliefs

Baby mammals all drink milk, a natural adaptation to give each species the special blend of nutrients they need for optimal health and growth in a ready to eat, easily digested package. Humans are no different and our milk is uniquely formulated to promote brain growth.

When the benefits in terms of health and cost are so obvious, why are there so many babies around the world missing out on the special characteristics of human milk and instead consuming the milk of other mammals or bean juice from soy plants?

One of the most common reasons might surprise you. Many cultures harbor false beliefs about what moms should or should not eat while they are breastfeeding. Except for certain medications, recreational drugs or large amounts of alcohol their are very few dietary restrictions for the breastfeeding mom.

Here are a few facts


Mexico has one of lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world; furthermore, the percentage of Mexican moms who nurse their babies for 6 months fell from 22 percent in 2006 to 14 percent last year. Combine that with the statistics that Mexico has the highest infant mortality rate among the world’s 40 largest economies and that between 2005 and 2010, breast cancer deaths increased twice as fast as Mexico’s female population, with some experts blaming declining rates of breast-feeding; studies show it cuts a woman’s risk of cancer by 50 percent or more.

Despite the clear health and financial advantages, many Mexican women choose to feed their babies formula because of perceived dietary restrictions.  Mexican culture has a lot of food taboos for lactating women… a recent study revealed that nearly half (47.3%) of nursing moms avoided at least 3 healthy foods (mostly fruits, vegetables, and legumes) because of cultural beliefs.


On the other hand Brazil has made great strides during the same time. In another study, Brazilian women were found to harbor many scary beliefs about food combinations during pregnancy including eggs and fruit, milk and fruit, or meat, and fish…stating combinations are harmful or combination kills.

Brazil reversed a decline in breast-feeding in the 1980s by strictly limiting advertising by baby food companies and airing prime-time informational spots with national celebrities to dispel myths, such as that women with small breasts were incapable of nursing, and that there are very few foods or combinations that are harmful to nursing babies.


In Asia, postpartum maternal food restrictions (food avoidances) are common practices, which may have important health consequences in reducing the nutritional content of breast milk. In Laos, 93% of breastfeeding women reported that they followed a restricted diet or or phit kam. During the first months, mothers did not eat popular Lao foods, such as raw or fermented vegetables, fruits, meat, or spices. Most women ate only sticky rice with salt with occasional amounts of dry meat and drank herb tea. To do otherwise is considered harmful to the new baby.

Industrialized nations also have a number of dietary beliefs that influence early weaning. Many mothers incorrectly assume that alcohol and caffeine are off limits. Oftentimes normal behavior or fussiness is attributed to foods in mom’s diet like broccoli, onions, spices, garlic, milk and chocolate. The internet is flooded with stories of helpful advice of foods to cut out to cure colic. The reality is that no actual correlation between maternal diet and colic has been established and 3 recent studies show either no improvement or worsening when mother switch from breast milk to formula.

Should you worry

Some mothers worry about allergies, especially when there is a family history. At present, there is still no evidence that removing food from your diet while you are breastfeeding will prevent allergies in the future.

The pressure to eat the perfect diet while breastfeeding is just media hype…spurred by those who stand to benefit, the formula companies. They support breastfeeding superficially but are always ready to push their products when moms feel stressed or punished.

Most of the rules about what you should and shouldn’t eat when breastfeeding are based on cultural traditions rather than scientific facts. Diets around the world vary hugely. In one culture, women may avoid a particular food while breastfeeding while in another culture breastfeeding moms may eat that same food every day.

The misperception that lactating women must maintain perfect diets in order to have thriving breastfed babies is an unnecessary obstacle to breastfeeding.

Throughout human history breastfeeding mothers have often experienced periods of time where access to food is limited in diversity, amount or quality. Nature’s answer to this age old problem is that the mother’s body will draw upon her own resources to make milk that is complete and nourishing. When mom’s diet is lacking SHE is the one mostly likely to suffer the nutritional consequences, not her baby.

Humans have a built in negativity bias…they are much more likely to avoid things they perceive as bad or dangerous then make an effort for something the perceive to be superior. This is why a phrase like breast is best is so damaging. Breast milk isn’t best… it’s the normal food for a human baby. Instead of speaking about the benefits of breast milk we should do the scientifically appropriate method and discuss the risks associated with cow’s milk or soy based formula.

Mother’s all too often make decisions based on faulty assumptions that packaged milk doesn’t come with the same problems that mom’s milk does. It still contains toxins, pesticides and allergens because the cows and goats live in the same world we do!

As a species, humans are unique in that most of our brain development occurs in the two years after birth. There isn’t anything natural or synthetic that can be added to our milk to make it more suited to it’s intended purpose. You cannot make gold more golden with additives.

Teaching Flavor ABCs Prenatally


Although most of our food likes and dislikes are learned over the course of a lifetime, we develop strong inclinations very early on, even before we are born.  New evidence indicates that mom’s food choices during pregnancy and nursing can significantly affect the eating decisions her children make throughout their lives.

Move over Mozart!

Not only can fetuses learn to recognize mom’s voice and favorite music, it seems they start to savor the flavor of mom’s diet before they even open their mouths.  They feast on whatever foods their mother enjoys. Fetal taste buds are fully developed by about 14 or 15 weeks of gestation and are ready to respond to and learn from mom’s dietary choices. Newborn babies, toddlers, and even older children are much more likely to prefer tastes they were exposed to during gestation and lactation. While they are still in the womb, babies’ noses and mouths are bathed with the surrounding amniotic fluid that contains odiferous compounds (chemicals we can smell). This prenatal exposure helps familiarize fetuses with the food culture they will soon be entering. So, if you get cravings for Chinese takeout during your pregnancy, don’t be surprised if your little one is crazy for Cantonese.

The sweeter the better

Humans are born with a very well-developed sweet tooth.  At birth, they can differentiate among different types and concentrations of sugar. As far as babies are concerned, the sweeter the better.  Human breast milk is naturally sweet tasting, which strongly motivates newborn infants to eat to build their growing brains. To make sure this happens human babies are born with a desire for dessert. The only other flavor preference infants demonstrate is for foods their mothers consume during pregnancy and lactation. Humans tend to be neophobic when it comes to food, which means they prefer familiar foods and avoid unfamiliar ones. This is an important survival mechanism, it helps us avoid potentially dangerous or poisonous foods.

In the natural world, sweet foods are usually safe to eat but hard to obtain.  Fruit and honey are scarce in the wild. The sugar we take for granted is brought to us through back-breaking labor in the cane fields, or heavy industrial machinery, and chemical processing. This makes sugar much more accessible in our society. We also ingest more sugar, especially since sugar is processed into most of our prepared foods. But babies don’t need to learn to like sweet flavors.  When it comes to the “ABCs” of food learning, apples, bananas and candy only enhance the natural sweet tooth. To teach your child to crave healthier foods, be a little more creative with those ABCs. When you include vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, and carrots in your diet when pregnant or nursing, you are helping your child develop food preferences that will reap lifelong health benefits.

Monotoned Manufactured Milk

Did you know that breast milk has multiple subtle flavors?  This is because breast milk is directly linked to the diet of the mother. Even the texture of breast milk changes as the fat content in her food varies.   In contrast, bottle-fed infants have very limited exposure to new tastes. They drink the exact same formula at every feeding unless their mom chooses a different formula.  Studies have found that breastfed babies tend to accept new foods more readily than formula-fed babies.  This is particularly true if the new food is one that mom ate while breastfeeding.

Unfortunately, preferences for junk foods can also be passed on to children this way, too. A recent lab study found that when pregnant or lactating rats were given foods such as cookies, candy, donuts, and potato chips, their offspring was significantly more attracted to these foods. These rat babies grew into much fatter grownups than those in the control group.  Amazingly, even if the junk food babies also consumed the very same healthful diet as the control group babies, they were still fatter as adults.

(A possible next paragraph): This study is not just surprising; it is alarming.  If babies develop a craving for junk food through their mothers’ prenatal and nursing snacking, they could end up with a predisposition for childhood obesity and pre-diabetes. Even if we moms feed them healthily as they grow, that predisposition is still there and may lead to a weight struggle later on. This study may also explain the incredible rate at which these two conditions have increased in children and teens over the past generation. The junk-food diet craving is passed on from mother to child, who grows up and passes it on to her child. It looks like moms may need to add junk food to the list of pregnancy “no-no’s,” along with cigarettes and alcohol.

Humans Must Learn How to Eat

Unlike most animals, humans are born with very few food instincts. Instead, we must learn how to eat the foods that benefit us. The ability of humans to try new foods and adapt has enabled us to survive and thrive in a wide variety of habitats. Since, as we now know, our food learning begins long before we are born, a “liking” for our own native cuisine occurs before other cultural habits can have a strong effect on us.

There is no better time to influence your child’s diet then when you are pregnant or nursing. When you eat a variety of colorful vegetables, you are stacking the deck in your favor for those future food battles. Eating healthily prenatally and while nursing will minimize the chances that you will end up with a finicky eater. We know the symptoms:  clenched teeth, elaborate expressions of disgust, and, of course, mom wearing the food instead of the baby swallowing it. The simplest way to avoid this problem is to expose your child’s growing brain to those new flavors before spitting them out is an option.

Get Your Sunshine and Vitamin D



Sunshine is important to humans. We evolved without fur. Our exposed skin is where the precious vitamin D is made. Vitamin D is important to our general health, and many people are deficient. So, the advice in recent years was to take vitamin D pills. My advice is to get enough sunshine to make your own vitamin D.

Beyond vitamin D, sunshine affects our bodies in complex and subtle ways. Sunshine is part of the circle of life. It does not make sense that sunshine in proper proportion is bad for us.

Sunshine and skin cancer

The amount of sunshine you get outside depends on where you live and changes by season. Americans have a range of ethnic backgrounds. In our source countries (where our ancestors came from), our skin pigment was balanced for the sunshine usually available. Transplanted to the U.S., we may get more or less sunshine than is ideal for our skin pigment. We may develop various health problems, including some that may be directly or indirectly linked to vitamin D.

For example, I’m of Irish and other northern European descent and have fair skin. I’m based in Chicago and Ireland. During summer, I go in the sun without sun block. Of course, I’m sensible about length of exposure. During winter, neither place allows me to get enough sunlight that converts into Vitamin D. So I use a special tanning bed with both kinds of rays that mimic the sun. (You need to ask whether a tanning salon’s equipment has both kinds of rays, and be careful about overexposure.) On the other hand, when I lived in San Diego, I was more careful. I also eat a non-inflamatory diet, which helped stop sunburn.

Most people have been made excessively afraid of skin cancer. Melanoma, the kind of skin cancer that kills you, comes from not enough sunlight and lack of Vitamin D. Another kind of cancer is prevented in part by sunblock. But sunblock contains nanoparticles that may contribute to another type of cancer.

A complex balance

Taking vitamin D pills bypasses the body’s regulatory systems that control how much vitamin D we have. The way vitamin D is produced in the body and balanced against other hormones and vitamins is complex and not fully understood. vitamin D is also a hormone. It goes into the nucleus of cells and tells them what to do. Vitamin D—along with vitamin A and the recently discovered vitamin K2—regulates and directs calcium. All are important (especially during pregnancy). All need to be present in adequate amounts, or the inadequacy of one causes a toxicity in the other.

Because of this complex balance, it’s important to let the body work its wisdom the way it evolved. If you make your own vitamin D from sunshine, the amount is more likely to be better balanced with other hormones. Indeed, after your body has accumulated enough vitamin D, further sunshine actually begins to deactivate some of the excess. Sunshine is not the only way to get vitamin D. Humans used to get a lot of vitamin D by eating lard and butter from animals raised in sunshine. This no longer works as well in the modern Western diet because most animals live in buildings.

Vitamin D is a hotbed of research. A lot of it aims to develop supplements. There is also a lot of hype around vitamin D. Watch out for more developments on this topic. Meanwhile, get your sunshine!

Practical advice

  • Eat real food and go out in the sun in amounts right for your skin, season and latitude.
  • Eat foods high in vitamin D, such as seafood and liver. Vitamin D and other fat-soluble vitamins don’t get absorbed into body unless you eat fat along with the vitamins.


Eat Real Salt to Taste


I disagree with the conventional hype that salt is evil. We should eat real salt to taste, but less refined salt. Real salt—like Celtic Sea Salt, Himalayan pink salt (halite rock salt) and Redmond’s RealSalt—contains salt plus about 50 other minerals our body requires for health.

Humans need salt

Salt has been tremendously important throughout human history. Salt allowed food preservation, facilitated long-distance travel, and helped deal with seasonal availability of foods. Because of this, salt has been used as a trading currency and for paying wages (salary). That is why we say someone is worth his salt. The word salad comes from salted vegetables. Salt tames the bitter taste in many vegetables. The liquid in salad dressing helps the salt stick to the leaves.

Relax. Many humans used to eat much salt

British sailors consumed salt pork because it preserved well for long ocean voyages. With refrigeration and other methods of food preservation, salt is less important for food preservation.

A great source of both Omega 3 and iodine is seaweed—such as, kelp, arame, kombu.

Salt isn’t just salt

Salt obtained in the traditional ways–mined salt or sea salt—is a mix of many minerals. It isn’t just sodium chloride. Humans evolved a taste only for salt, not for each of those other minerals because the other minerals came along for the ride.

Refined salt lacks vital other minerals and micronutrients

When they purify salt, food producers remove those other minerals. These are then sold to you in vitamin pills or used in industry. One of the reasons we crave salt is that our bodies expect salt to come packaged with all these other minerals. In the natural world, we wouldn’t need to have separate cravings for each one. So we keep adding more salt to try to get the missing nutrients.


In most salt, even in some real salts, one missing mineral is iodine, which is important for thyroid health. There’s good evidence that people, especially women, need iodine. Breasts need a lot of iodine, so it is more important for women. Himalayan pink salt naturally contains iodine. A great source of both Omega 3 and iodine is seaweed (kelp, arame, kombu). To make it more popular, marketers are now calling seaweed sea vegetables. I keep kelp flakes in a shaker in my kitchen. Seafood is great for iodine.

Try using a salt cellar

Unlike refined salt, real salt doesn’t pour well from a shaker. Unrefined, colored salt (pink, gray) tends to clump. That’s why we used to put our fingers in the salt cellar to sprinkle it on food. Some people think salt cellars spread germs. But salt stops germs, which is why it has long been used for food preservation.

Forget Multitasking, Try Juggling


MOM. Ever wonder where that word came from? I believe it’s just an acronym for Master of Multitasking!

I have yet to find a mom who doesn’t wish for more time, more hands or both. Unfortunately, women have only two hands and 24 hours each day. We started The Mommy Movement Magazine (TMMM) because what moms really need to learn is the skill of juggling.

The problem with multitasking is that the human brain can’t really focus on more than one task at a time. To multitask effectively, the brain switches back and forth. So we are never doing 10 things at once. We are doing 10 things, one at a time!

Juggling is different.When you juggle you learn to focus on a few things at a time and practice moving back and forth until you can do it easily and effortlessly. Never take on too many things at once because then you get overwhelmed and drop all the balls.

When you juggle you learn to focus on a few things at a time and practice moving back and forth until you can do it easily and effortlessly. Never take on too many things at once because then you get overwhelmed and drop all the balls.


Childhood obesity has become parents’ number one health concern – ahead of smoking and drug abuse. Some 50 percent of overweight children become overweight adults. Many women are struggling with their own weight and they don’t know what to do about family fitness. Because mom holds the key to family health, weight, and wellness, we believe that MOMS matter, especially you!

Learning to juggle family, food and fitness is a skill, one we can all learn together.