Wednesday, August 7, 2013

World Breastfeeding Week: Nursing in a changing climate

I'm celebrating the practice and gift of nursing everywhere, everyday.  To highlight World Breastfeeding Week, I've entered's contest "Blog about Breastfeeding."  Here is the link - join me!  

This year, the focus of World Breastfeeding Week is on the value of peer counselors.  While I distinguish person to person contact from internet-mediated contact, I have to add that during my own challenges in being a new parent, the writings of many, many peers encouraged and educated me and inspired me to add my own voice to the community.  Books, friends, and - yes - blogs kept me company, answered questions, urged new directions of thought, and diversified the pool of perspectives available to me.

Another new medium to open my parenting experience outward is online coursework through and  I can do this while nursing and holding my sleeping darling for one of her naps a few times a week.  Lectures, readings, and discussion boards connect me to a community of learners all over the world.  

A course in Climate Change hit home as a nursing mother.  I was deeply impressed with the quality of resources and the measured tone of the professors.  (It is being offered again this fall on Coursera.  Search for: Climate Literacy: Navigating Climate Change Conversations; Dr. Sarah Burch and Sara Harris.)

During the course, I learned about the impacts on health and community resiliency that climate change is already causing (4 minute video - warning: brief graphic imagery of human suffering at end of clip - see:; if you want to read about what scientists have found, see this report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:  

As a parent, I immediately ask how climate change will increase the vulnerability of young children and nursing mothers.  Clean water scarcity, increased disease transmission, conflict over changing resources, disrupted agriculture, and more violent weather each directly impact the ability of breastfeeding mothers to provide for themselves and their families.  These are some of the perennial challenges that are now escalating in a changing climate.

Resources I take for granted - the glass of water I drink from the tap, the safety of my living room rocking chair, the safety and civility in my city and nation, the healthy food I build my milk with - are supporting my work of parenting, yet their lack is not uncommon in our mothering community.  As described by many, including Sheridan Bartlett in the article "Climate change and urban children: impacts and implications for adaptation in low- and middle-income countries" (published in Environment and Urbanization October 2008 vol. 20 no. 2 501-519), extremely stressful events and conditions can impact a mother's milk supply.  Her milk is her children's best resource to guard against the primary risks to young ones in the face of those challenges described above: diarrheal diseases and malnutrition.  Yet the challenges that increase those risks for her kids also put the nursing mother at risk.

A stunning and simple fact I learned in the course is that carbon dioxide, the gas that we've been increasing in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels and clearing vegetation from great swaths of land, is a well-mixed gas that spreads quickly and evenly over the globe.   This is a gas that traps Earth's heat like a down jacket traps our own.  The more we add, the less Earth is able to shed heat.  Well-mixed means the molecules coming from my stove, my old Honda, my heater are arriving daily to places I've never been, but where people are attempting to make their lives as I am...nursing, working, cooking, learning.   There is no pretending that the impact of my choices stays with me and my neighborhood.

These are all recycled ideas, knowledge I'd gained in school years before in some cases, realizations I'd made or others had shared.  Somehow, learning them now, while my baby drinks from my breast, makes it settle in my mind differently.   She has changed my life, and she has brought the world right up close to my heart in a way I hadn't yet achieved.

Compassion is more tangible, now.  Community has a face.  Climate change is not our future but our present challenge.  And something I can do for my mothering community is to take responsibility for how my actions here support and increase families' resiliency in this one world we share.

In completing my coursework, I learned that many cities have completed Climate Action Plans.  These describe solid ways we can help support each other worldwide by taking local action.  Check one out, and remember that the good we do travels fast and evenly and shares the strengths of one parent with another just like you.

Click on a link to a city below to read their climate action plan:

and many more......