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Welcome to the blog of Making Our Milk Safe (MOMS)! Please feel free to comment on the content here and if you'd like to contribute, drop us a line at mary(at)safemilk.org. Thanks!

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

6:20 pm in Activism, Body Burden, Fertility & Reproduction by Mary Brune

OK, so I borrowed the title of this blog from a Tom Petty song, but when you’re just sitting at home, on maternity leave, waiting for the “big event” to happen…those lyrics just ring too true not to use. The waiting is the hardest part. And that’s saying something, especially since I’ve gotten to the point in my pregnancy that I almost need a crane to lift myself out of bed in the morning and duct tape to keep my pants from falling down. I have to endure the multitude of “you’re still pregnant?!!” comments when picking my other two kids up from school each day, and, well, the other unpleasant bits that are part of the bargain when growing a human inside you.

Despite all of the aforementioned issues, I have really enjoyed this pregnancy, especially this third trimester. Maybe that’s because I know it will (knocking very loudly on my wooden desk right now) be my last. There’s something bittersweet about it. But also, it’s likely because I’ve just felt, overall, much better physically than with my previous two pregnancies. And I’m considered to be of “advanced maternal age,” so that’s really saying something.

So, for me, the waiting is excruciating. Even for moms like me who have been there and done that (BTDT moms, in BabyCenter lingo), the experience of having gone through labor and delivery previously doesn’t really prepare you for what lies ahead. Unless you’ve got a scheduled c-section planned—which I don’t— there’s no way of telling when exactly this little bundle will come out to join the world. And for a planner like myself, that’s soooo incredibly hard to deal with. Not only is it hard to not know when the big show is going to begin, but it’s the how that also has my granny-sized panties in a twist. Will my water break first? If so, where will I be when it does? Will it hurt as much as last time, or more so? Will I be able to handle it? How big will this baby be, exactly? Will she be healthy?
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The Other Side of the Rainbow: Don’t Forget the Good News

7:03 pm in Activism, Children's Health by Mary Brune

Today is my last day at work before my maternity leave begins. As part of my daily ritual, I read this morning’s Above the Fold digest from Environmental Health News. For those unfamiliar with the publication, it’s an unbelievably robust collection of environmental news articles from a variety of sources on almost any environmental health subject you can imagine. Because I work in the field of environmental health, and am concerned about reproductive and children’s health in particular, I’ve customized my feed to send me articles that pertain to toxins that affect children’s development, infertility, women’s health—not especially lighthearted topics— so the daily dose of information that winds up in my inbox is sometimes a bit overwhelming.

Usually, I read over the daily digest searching for inspiration for blog posts for the MOMS site. Past inspiration has come from articles linking autism to flame retardant chemicals, or air pollution to asthma. Today, though, there was too much inspiration to settle on one article in particular, so I decided, instead, to write about all (well, most) of them.
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Intern Stories: Julia Hannafin

9:57 pm in Activism, Living Simply by Julia Hannafin

When I first walked into CEH’s office in downtown Oakland for my internship interview, I knew little to nothing about environmental toxins affecting public health. I considered myself relatively knowledgeable about environmental health – after all, I had grown up in Berkeley, California (one of the most liberal cities in the nation, if not the world), and environmental science had been present to varying degrees in my schooling ever since elementary school. I took an AP Environmental Science class my senior year of high school, and after that, I can (shamefully) say that I always viewed environmental health as something that should have been more a part of my life, but one that took a back burner to other things.

One major thing I learned this summer was that one of the best things anyone can do for themselves is to stay aware about environmental health risks. But first, beyond learning the countless ways to get exposed and not exposed to toxic chemicals, beyond learning how important CEH’s issues are, working in an environment as unique and special as CEH’s was what truly made my summer.

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The Common Bonds of Mammal Motherhood: Pregnant Whales and Me

5:40 pm in Body Burden, Breast milk, Children's Health, Fertility & Reproduction, Legislation by Mary Brune

As a pregnant woman in the third trimester of pregnancy, I confess I sometimes feel an affinity to the whale. While no one has (at least not to my face) used the term “whale” in reference to my growing midsection, it’s still true to say that I feel like whales and I have a lot in common these days. (Although I must say I do not share their grace. I’m very un-whale-like in that regard when putting on underpants, tying shoes, or heaven forbid, trying to shave my legs.)

But last week I was reminded of another common bond between myself and the majestic mammals of the sea: the chemicals we are exposed to are taken into our bodies and passed on to our children in utero. A truth I wish neither of our species had to contend with.

In one of the first studies to measure the transfer of toxins during pregnancy, Arctic researchers sampled blubber from pregnant whales, and then took samples of the calves and compared the exposure levels of PCBs and PBDEs (two classes of flame retardant chemicals) and they found about 11 percent of the total of each chemical was handed down from mother to fetus.

What’s so significant about this study is its ability to show directly that the chemicals are passed on to the fetus during gestation. Depending on when the fetus is exposed,   exposure to these chemicals can interfere with normal growth and development and could even impact future health well into adulthood. Especially concerning is that the chemicals sampled in the study –PCBs and some of the PBDEs tested for—have already been banned. In the case of PCBs, which were banned back in the 1970s, it means that chemicals long extinct from the manufacturing plant are still wreaking havoc in our environment and on our bodies and will continue to do so for generations to come.

That’s quite a heady realization to have while pregnant. And it would be so easy to climb into my bed, pull the covers over my head and pretend it’s not happening. If only it were that easy to make it go away.

So, you might ask, what DO you do? To which I might reply: Whatever it takes. Knowing what we know about chemicals like PCBs  and PBDEs  and knowing what we know about the health effects of those and other long-lived, persistent, bio-accumulative toxins in our environment that are still in use, we must do whatever is necessary to get rid of them now, so what we can to stop the cycle of replacing old toxic chemicals with new toxic chemicals that pollute our environment and damage our health.

You can start by helping to pass The Safe Chemicals Act, which will be up for a vote on the Senate Floor in September.

You can also help put an end to outdated flammability standards that require the use of these flame retardant chemicals in the first place. Encourage the CPSC to enact its draft standards now!

Now I’m off to go to the pool. All this talk about whales makes me want to go swimming.

It’s Time For A New Air Quality Standard

8:39 pm in Air, Body Burden, Children's Health, Legislation by Julia Hannafin

Olivia's suffered from asthma since she was little - perhaps aggravated by air pollution such as black carbon pollution.

Olivia's suffered from asthma since she was little - perhaps aggravated by air pollution such as black carbon pollution.

My younger sister Olivia is 13 years old, nearly six years younger than me. She’s kind, hilarious, bold, hyper, silly, and wonderful. She loves rap music (2 Chainz, anyone?), dying her hair a different color every week (it’s magenta right now), our black lab Jasper, dancing with me in the street, and spending all the time she can with her friends.

For longer than I can remember, Olivia has had asthma. Asthma, for the very small number of readers who aren’t familiar with the disorder, is a chronic airway disorder. People with asthma suffer from periods of irreversible airflow obstruction caused when their airway is inflamed and the small muscles surrounding it contract. My mom Audrey is very active, and always encouraged me and Olivia to get into sports when we were growing up. I played soccer, but Olivia didn’t find a sport she liked. As things turned out, due to her asthma, sports weren’t really her thing. She tried basketball for a season, and despite being the tallest girl on the court (a trait that runs in the family), she would find herself out of breath before the second quarter had even begun. While Olivia’s asthma has been manageable, she has, and will, struggle with it all of her life. Just like millions of others with the disease.

Asthma rates in the US are at an all-time high. In 2010, an estimated 18.7 million adults and 7 million children had the disease. That makes 1 in every 12 Americans with asthma. Asthma’s symptoms can be controlled with various drugs, but the disorder is currently incurable. Read the rest of this entry →

Flame Retardants linked to Autism? Yet Another Reason I Want FRs Out of my Couch

11:40 pm in Activism, Body Burden, Children's Health, Legislation by natalie-dayton

Every day my little brother sits, plays, eats, and is read to on this couch. Unfortunately, cheerios are not the only things being taken in by his body— toxic flame retardant chemicals find their way in as well.  Now is the time to take action. Stop the little bodies and minds of those we love from having their current and future health toyed with. To us, it’s more than a couch.

Every day my little brother sits, plays, eats, and is read to on this couch. Unfortunately, cheerios are not the only things being taken in by his body— toxic flame retardant chemicals find their way in as well. Now is the time to take action. Stop the little bodies and minds of those we love from having their current and future health toyed with. To us, it’s more than a couch.

Last summer I had the privilege of working with one of the most inspiring, fun-loving groups in the world: children. I spent three warm summer months creating fond memories, sharing enriching experiences, expanding knowledge, and growing with these children. Over the course of my child care experience, I had the chance to communicate with children of various ages, nationalities, family backgrounds and personalities. I especially appreciated the opportunity I had to work with three children who identified with the autism spectrum disorder community.  Their talent, attitude, and character demonstrated each day was incredible.  The way they overcame personal challenges was admirable. The love I developed for these children forever changed my outlook on how I respond to difficulties in my own life— Because of these personal experiences, I have a developed a keen interest in research involving the potential causes of autism spectrum disorder. Read the rest of this entry →

The Debate Over Flame Retardants Heats up in California

8:14 pm in Activism, Consumer Products, Legislation by natalie-dayton

Tuesday, June 26th, marked an exciting time in the recent battle of human and environmental health vs. corporate profits as the California State Assembly held a public hearing on the science of flame retardants to provide the opportunity for scientists, environmental health activists, furniture manufacturers, firefighters, burn specialists, and community members to inform state legislators on this time sensitive issue. This issue was of the utmost importance to address due to the recent exposure of the deceptive nature of big name chemical companies (see The Chicago Tribune) seeking to cover up serious concerns about the harmful health effects of flame retardant chemicals. Read the rest of this entry →

BPA in Cans: There’s No Silver Lining

6:03 pm in Body Burden, Consumer Products, Fertility & Reproduction, Food by Julia Hannafin

Last year, in my final month of high school, my parents sat me and my sister down one afternoon and said they had something serious to discuss. Almost instantly, the look of worry etched into my moms’ faces foreshadowed that the discussion wouldn’t be a happy one. My moms (I have two; Dawn is my birth mother and Audrey is my sister’s) sat down across from us, paused, and then shared the news that changed the course of our lives. My mom Dawn had breast cancer.

After three months of chemotherapy, Dawn lost her hair, her appetite, her energy, but never lost her positive spirit, despite feeling weakened by her illness. My mother is beautiful, kind, warm-hearted, and resilient. She has the character traits best equipped to handle an unsuspected onset of cancer; however with that said, months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy can break down even the strongest individual.

Our family rotated around her cancer like planets around the sun. Following radiation treatment in December, she beat the cancer in her breast, but discovered a new threat: cancer in her brain. While currently undergoing her seventh or eighth round of radiation treatment, Dawn and her doctors are hopeful this will be the final treatment step towards full recovery.

Over the past year, our family was so consumed with fighting the cancer, we didn’t stop to wonder what had caused it in the first place. I recently discovered that cause of her cancer (and the cancer of many others across the nation) could be from a seemingly harmless action: EATING CANNED FOODS.
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Proposition 29: We’re on it Next Time

12:01 am in Activism, Air, Legislation by natalie-dayton

June 5, 2012 marked the day I had been waiting for since I first saw my mother proudly sporting the “I just voted” sticker on her shirt.  The opportunity had finally arrived for me to speak out as a citizen to make a difference in this country where the power is fully invested in the people.

As I carefully reviewed the ballot to determine my position on the various candidates and propositions proposed, my eyes were quickly drawn to California’s Proposition 29, a proposition intended to add an additional $1.00 tax on cigarettes. As a public health student, I saw this proposition not only as a way to lower smoking rates consequently resulting in enhanced air quality, but also an opportunity to raise much needed revenue for state programs.
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“Stealth Chemicals”: Are they Lurking Inside You?

8:58 pm in Body Burden, Fertility & Reproduction, Food by natalie-dayton

EDCs often find their way into our systems through the foods we consume. Several EDCs can be found in pesticides. Shopping for organic produce is a good preventative step to take to reduce EDC intake.

EDCs often find their way into our systems through the foods we consume. Several EDCs can be found in pesticides. Shopping for organic produce is a good preventative step to take to reduce EDC intake.

That time of the week has arrived again – grocery shopping. Aside from struggling to find the perfect combination of healthy, pesticide-free, cost effective, and taste-bud satisfactory food, it seems obvious grocery shopping for the environmentally and health conscience mother is no easy task. Even after having done your research, as you haul that gallon of milk into your cart, are there still life-altering chemicals waiting to be ingested come dinnertime?

Dr. Shanna H. Swan, a reproductive medicine specialist and professor at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, recently conducted an interview with EurActiv about the potential effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) or “stealth chemicals” as Dr. Swan nicknames them.

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