Guide to more effective, nuanced discussions about infant feeding

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In my previous piece on breastfeeding science denialism, I noted that many professionals, clinicians, and public health advocates have expressed uncertainty as to how approach the issue with the general public. It just so happens that I have a tiiiiny bit of public relations and science policy experience, and have road-tested some language and strategical approaches to these discussions, and found them to be helpful. What follows is a collection of tips.

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It’s time to talk about breastfeeding science denialism

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Knowing the type of reactions this topic elicits, I have mulled over whether or not to write this post for a long time. But World Breastfeeding Week is a time for health practitioners and health advocates to reflect, and as someone who hails from the world of science rather than clinical, and as someone who is not a parent, I think I have some unique thoughts on this subject.

Also sorry about the ads.

In July of last year, I attended a science conference. Conferences often come with lots of coffee, and was feeling a little self-conscious about how enthusiastically I had gushed about my scientific field of interest, the anthropology of infancy–which I’m sure will come as no surprise to you largely involves breastfeeding. During the closing proceedings on the last day, I felt several eyes flit in my direction when the plenary speaker brought up news that had broke that day: Donald Trump attacked breastfeeding on Twitter, prompting the New York Times editorial board to take a rare step of publishing an editorial on their own behalf. And that was the day the non-parent world found out that breastfeeding science denialism was a thing.

When I chose to study anthropology, I knew I would encounter science denialists at some point; I just expected it to be about human evolution, not breastfeeding. Sometimes I get pretty frustrated at having chosen a science that is so controversial. I just want to say “Hey, I just came here for the science, leave me alone.” So I don’t really want to write this. What I really want to write about is weird animals that make milk and that crazy new video that came out in May showing what a letdown looks on the cellular level. But I’m starting to realize that this amazing science only gets done because the public believes in it’s value, and this science–the science I love and have dedicated the past decade of my intellectual life to–is currently under attack.

Continue reading “It’s time to talk about breastfeeding science denialism”

Six must-follow experts to follow for dope breastfeeding science

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Note: I apologize for the ads. I know they’re ugly. I’m working on a budget for this thing!

During World Breastfeeding Week 2019, I have been reflecting on how there is a whole heck of a lot of misinformation being spread around the internet about breastfeeding in recent years. I have noticed a trend of framing breastfeeding parents, advocates, and even clinicians as scientifically illiterate, uneducated, and anti-vaccinationist. As a lifelong philosophical skeptic and lover of science, you can imagine my dismay! Particularly stinging are implications that research hailing from the “soft sciences,” psychology and anthropology (a.k.a. my Minor and Major), isn’t “real” science, because they don’t usually involve randomized, controlled trials. 🙄

Part of the problem, here, is that breastfeeding is a reeeally under-funded area of research, so there are very few researchers doing it relative to, say, cancer research, or even erectile dysfunction. (← Click if you need a good crylaugh.) And since researchers are paid to teach and do research, there isn’t much time left for communicating their science to the public. So, it becomes relatively easy for charlatans to mislead folks by using “sciencey”-sounding language and posting cherry-picked links to scientific papers.

So how can non-scientists who love science be sure that you’re sharing information from respected experts?

Well, first and foremost, you can be scientifically literate without being a scientist. This means developing your critical thinking skills and finely calibrating your baloney detector. I’ll be diving deep into that topic in a future post. In the meantime, I have a couple of quick and dirty tricks I can share right now.

Continue reading “Six must-follow experts to follow for dope breastfeeding science”

Emergency Quick Start Guide to Breastfeeding

Note: I apologize for the ads. I know they’re ugly. I’m working on a budget for this thing!

How to use this guide
If you are really tired or drugged, and you want MINIMAL INFO ONLY, then you may read only the bolded sentences and section titles, and then read the rest if you need more details on the whys and hows of each item. There is a brief summary at the end.

What this guide covers
This is not a complete guide!! It assumes you’ve had, like, a class or something and know the basics, and so what I’m covering here is the stuff that hospital nurses often overlook or don’t have time for. Lots of “pro tips” and visual aids. It also includes a way of breastfeeding that is much less technical but is not usually taught in hospitals.

Why this guide exists (and who it’s for)
Often I am approached by a new mom, or someone who’s friend just gave birth, and Mom is totally blindsided by the learning curve* involved with breastfeeding and feeling a little overwhelmed! She’s just given birth, she’s elated and sore and tired, and needs simple information and quick! I often find myself giving the same information over and over, and have always thought it would be a good idea to organize all my information into a kind of “Quick Start Guide” to breastfeeding. Just like quick start guides to electronics, this guide is simple, to the point, and uses visual tools.

BUT FIRST, a disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, etc.
I’m not a lactation consultant or doctor or midwife or even a parent. I’m just a huge nerd who has accumulated some knowledge that some people, I’m told, find useful. It’s always best to talk to a professional.

Also, another disclaimer: Don’t let me tell you how to parent
The language in this guide is different from the way I normally talk to parents. Normally, I try to avoid “shoulds” and “do X” sort of language, because every family is different and I truly believe there is no one “right” way in parenting. However, this is a guide for someone who is overwhelmed, can’t take in too much info right now, and “just wants to be told what to do.” Normally, though, I encourage parents to critically analyze advice, trust your gut, and if something isn’t working for you–change it up!

That having been said, here are some tips and tricks that science and experience have shown are helpful for families who have decided breastfeeding is important to them.

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Why I Teach

Hello. I am here to drop the babyscience.

A few years ago, at a big anthropology conference, I was a very nervous undergrad. I loved my science, and I couldn’t wait to get to every talk. But I also didn’t feel like I really belonged there. I was a “non-traditional” student, and I didn’t know where I fit in. Self-doubt followed me into every room, and every conversation I had.

It was in this context that I approached a couple of anthropologists whose blogs I admired, and told them I was thinking about starting a blog of my own.

Now, the individuals I consulted hailed from the “R-1” institutions of Fancypants University and the University of Geniuses respectively, and anyone in the right mind would have been intimidated to approach them no matter how nice they seemed. But I am a special brand of crazy. I freaking love my science and, as my friends will tell you, I can’t shut up about love to share it with others. But also, both of these people had blogs themselves, and I knew that, like me, they understood the importance of communicating this area of science to a public whose understanding of it is…lacking. (No, we don’t dig up dinosaurs.)

Well, they were not on board. “Maybe wait until you’re a couple of years into grad school,” I was told. “You don’t want to ruin your reputation before you even have one.”

Thus began my long, shameful walk back to the hidey-hole from whence I came.

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Luke Skywalker’s Green Milk: “It’s Not a Breast. It’s an Udder.” And Other Science Facts You Didn’t Ask For

This past weekend, nerds worldwide set down their game controllers and curled up with their plush Chewbaccas to watch the DVD/digital release of the latest installment of everyone’s favorite space opera, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Since the film was released in theaters, it has generated much discussion, from the multiple U-turns director Rian Johnson pulled with the storylines that the previous episode had set up, to whether Reylo is inevitable or a problematic perpetuation of the romanticization of male toxicity in film. These discussions left little room for the brief, dialogue-free scene in which Luke Skywalker is shown milking a giant semi-aquatic mammal then drinking straight from the tap.

Well, I am here to remedy that situation. And not unlike the scientists at the open-source science journal PLOS, who hilariously peer reviewed The Last Jedi, I’m doing it with SCIENCE.

Rey and her new friend

The scene to which I refer involves Luke milking a creature who lives on the island and procuring a vividly green-colored milk that he messily drinks as Rey looks on. Articles that have covered this scene have consistently called it “weird,” “gross,” and “bizarre,” nevermind the fact that 1.) We are a species that evolved to drink milk from a breast, and yet 2.) we think that is gross and, instead, choose to consume the milk of another species despite the fact that that it is nowhere near anything like our milk in composition, and 65% of us can’t even digest the stuff. But, I digress.

Today we’re gonna talk about straight-up nerd science. What I’m interested in, here, is not just the question of why the milk is green—We will get to that, but there is SO much more, here! In this brief, dialogue-free scene we are given several “clues” about this animal: various characteristics about its milk—not just the color, but also it’s viscosity, and opacity, and some very unique (and quite memorable) mammary anatomy. We also get some clues about it’s environment and behavior. But for the sake of brevity, I will be focusing mostly on the creature’s very memorable mammaries. If we take these clues and apply some of the known mechanisms (rules) of evolution from our own planet, we can make some guesses as to the evolution and social behavior of this creature. Let’s science the bantha fodder out of this!

Continue reading “Luke Skywalker’s Green Milk: “It’s Not a Breast. It’s an Udder.” And Other Science Facts You Didn’t Ask For”

On Melatonin and Kids

On Tuesday, BBC.com reported that three Chicago-area daycare employees were arrested for administering melatonin to twelve toddlers at nap time, without parental consent. (Aside: Curiously, apparently the British spell it “parentel”? The wonders of variations in English word spellings never cease…) Now, if you’re anything like me, you probably stared at this report, mouth agape, wondering how on earth this sort of thing could possibly happen. But then, I realized that if you look at our culture and the way the melatonin is used and regulated in the U.S., this sort of incident becomes inevitable. And it will probably happen again.

(Side note: I include links to further resources in hyperlinks throughout my articles. I also include a bibliography at the bottom, with summaries and further explanations. We’ll see how long I keep that up haha.) Also I’m sooo sorry about the ads! Working on getting rid of them…

This story comes on the heels of interesting cultural and policy changes, as well as an increasing body of research, including this study published by Colorado University Boulder on Tuesday, that indicates that we mess with childrens’ sleep in ways we don’t even realize.

This post is going to have a few tangents, but that is because stuff like this is a symptom of a larger conversation that needs to happen about kids, sleep, and childcare in America. There are several problems that converge, here.

  1. We don’t value childcare in America, and it hurts children.
  2. American parents abuse melatonin.
  3. And it’s just the latest trend in our long, messed-up history of drugging children in order to get them to sleep.

I am going to take each in turn.

Continue reading “On Melatonin and Kids”

The Mission

The late astronomer Carl Sagan foretold a “technological adolescence” — a time when humans would become completely dependent on technology and science, yet not understand it. Perhaps now more than ever, we all have a vested interest in making sure the next generation is a broadly educated, resilient, and compassionate one.

The name “Raising Wonder” — while cheesy, evokes everything I want this blog to be. The word “wonder” is reflective of what we all love about both childhood and science, but also the reverence that I have for the task set before a parent, and the positive presence I hope this blog will be in people’s lives. The “raising” in the name refers as much to raising the occupation of parenthood to the position of recognition and status that it deserves as it does to raising children.

This blog aspires to:

  • Help parents (and grandparents, aunties and uncles, and friends…because you are all important in a child’s life!) develop the tools to make informed decisions in an increasingly information-saturated world, and to raise curious, compassionate kids in a culture that punishes curiosity and rewards Machiavellian behavior.
  • Start some reasoned, nuanced discussions that need to be had about science and parenting culture. These conversations should arise from a place of genuine curiosity, a desire to cooperatively find answers, and an understanding that the science in this area is ever-evolving, gradually triangulating towards an approximation of truth.
  • Talk about how and why science works the way it works, and how it is relevant in all of our lives.
  • To represent the various scientific disciplines — biology and biomedicine, psychology, and anthropology — that have informed our understanding of human childhood.
  • To make that research accessible to non-scientists. To that end, I will try and make the science relatable, assume no prior knowledge, avoid “jargon,” and explain terms when necessary.
  • Build a sense of community around the idea that science can and should inform parenting and family life.

This blog, quite genuinely, does not advocate for any particular parenting philosophy or style. Because the uniqueness of each family simply cannot be overlooked, and because there are plenty of blogs out there that do that if that is what you are looking for. Rather, the goal here is to explore how we can use the tools of science and logic not to necessarily form some kind of conclusion about a topic, but to deepen our understanding of it. We will widen our scope to see the “big picture” as well as exploring nuance.

This approach won’t be sexy. It won’t get clicks. Which is why no one is doing it. But someone needs to. So, here I am.

This blog will heavily feature evolutionary and cross-cultural perspectives on human infancy. But as previously stated I also hope to talk about science and logic in a general sense. In the future, I hope to expand my knowledge and explore together topics such as the education of older children in science, formal logic, and ethics.

At times you may be confronted with ideas that make you a little uncomfortable. You may find yourself questioning cultural assumptions about parenting. Please remember to have compassion for yourself and for other parents.

About me: I am a scientifically literate person with a formal background in child development, academic science (particularly human evolution), and visual art. However, I encourage readers to form thoughts and opinions based not on preconceived notions about the author, but solely on the weight of the evidence and the logic presented. I am always learning and willingly acknowledge the possibility that I may, from time-to-time, be partially or entirely wrong, and thus invite reasoned criticism and corrections in comments at raisingwondermail@gmail.com. I aspire to a willingness to abandon even a most cherished belief in light of the evidence, but I also acknowledge I am human and therefore may not always be successful in that endeavor!

I believe that raising a human is the. most. important. job. anyone. has. ever. done.

And through this sacred occupation, one can well and truly change the world.

It is my hope that you enjoy this blog and find it helpful.