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book coverThe Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk by Diana West and Lisa Marasco While I’m not at all happy that I have personal reason to need this book right now, I am really thrilled to have found it. West and Marasco are both IBLC-certified lactation consultants with personal experience with low milk supply. They are very reassuring and nonjudgmental – you will find neither the idea that problems are all in your head or your fault nor the idea that everyone needs to supplement. First, they go over common things that people think are signs that babies aren’t getting enough but really are not. Then they talk about how to tell if you baby isn’t getting enough. If not, is the problem your baby, your feeding habits or something on your end. They go into quite a few specific situations here, covering many problems that I’ve known people to have. For instance, I hadn’t known that milk production is stimulated most heavily by night nursing, so that the common practice of pumping during the day so that Dad can bottle-feed baby and let Mom sleep is doubly harmful to establishing milk supply. They also go over supply problems caused by PCOS, hormone imbalance, and low breast tissue (either from nature or from breast surgery). Next, solutions, and a whole raft of them: how to best establish a good milk supply; how to optimize with pumping; various pharmaceutical and herbal galactagogues and when to use them. Finally, dealing with the emotions of low milk supply and how to define your own success. It’s also linked with a web site, http://www.lowmilksupply.org , designed to provide further support. Mamas, if you are concerned about your supply, this is the book for you.
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book coverThe Vaccine Book by Dr. Robert Sears Many parents I know are concerned about vaccines. For the most part, unbiased information about them is really tough to find. On the one side, people who claim that vaccines cause autism and reduce the ability of the immune system to deal with disease. On the other hand, mainstream doctors who say that this is pure hogwash and vaccines are absolutely safe, effective and necessary. This book, while not entirely neutral (Sears believes at least in the theoretical value of vaccination) does the best job I’ve seen of discussing the proven benefits and risks of vaccines. For each disease we vaccinate for, the book lists what the disease does, how common (in the US and abroad) serious and treatable it is, the ingredients and side effects of the vaccines, and where it falls in the recommended schedule. He discusses for each how important the vaccine is from an individual and a community standpoint. Do vaccines help prevent diseases? Yes. Can they have serious side effects? Indeed they can, and Sears includes discussion of and reference to studies published in mainstream medical journals, including any industry ties the authors had. The one vaccine I was surprised by his reaction to was the new HPV vaccine. That’s one that seems to me very little testing and a whole lot of money to provide a very limited amount of protection from an easily detectable and treatable disease - but he’s wholeheartedly in favor of it.

In later chapters, Sears discusses controversial ingredients and alternative vaccine schedules. He’s especially concerned about aluminum, which is known to be dangerous given intravenously and is regulated in IVs but not vaccines, where it is often present in much higher doses than allowed in IVs. Studies of aluminum in vaccines have looked only at short term, visible effects, when it’s known that the dangers need to be tested for and often effects show up later. This is even more concerning when multiple aluminum-containing vaccines are given at the same visit, and when newer combo vaccines include many times more aluminum than the sum of the old separate vaccines.

Sears avoids giving straight-out recommendations for the most part. He divides parents into three main groups (ignoring those unwilling to do any vaccinations): those who have no problems with the standard vaccine schedule, those uncomfortable with vaccines who are only willing to vaccinate for serious diseases that their child might get, and those who want to vaccinate on a schedule that spreads out the number and vaccines per visit as well as limiting the total amount of aluminum per visit. For the latter two groups he includes alternative vaccine schedules, putting vaccines so that they will protect from diseases as needed. For example, the minimal vaccine schedule skips the controversial MMR vaccine as well as chicken pox, since most parents in that group would prefer for their children just to have chicken pox. He recommends getting the pertussis and rotavirus during infancy, when they can be deadly, and postpones the sexually transmitted Hep B from birth until age 12. Similar changes are made in the “get them all, but spread them out” schedule, which does no more than two shots per visit and keeps close tabs on the total amount of aluminum per visit, including listing which brands contain less when relevant.

Given the limitations of research - looking only at mainstream studies and written by a busy practicing doctor - this book seems as good as one might hope. Sears is open about the fact that he went into vaccine education believing that fears about vaccines are overblown. He’s still in favor of the idea of vaccines, but has found things to be genuinely concerned about, such as the aluminum issue, that are not discussed in the many places that discuss vaccines from an either entirely pro or con standpoint. I looked for information and especially alternative schedules like this when LB was wee, and plan to make good use of it with New Baby.
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book coverBody, Breath and Being: A New Guide to the Alexander Technique by Carolyn Nichols I’ve studied the Alexander Technique myself for over a decade now, and credit it for pulling me out of chronic tendinitis in my wrists and keeping me free of back pain during my pregnancy. But what the technique is and does and how to explain it to the vast majority of people who’ve never heard of it before has always been a challenge. While common in Australia and Britain, it’s relatively unknown here, and that, too, makes it difficult as it’s really best to work with a teacher and those are hard to come by here. This book does an excellent job of explaining both the theory and the practice of it. It talks about how to recognize and inhibit unhelpful habits and gently encourage your body towards better use. Nichols profiles several of her students from their own points of view, explaining their difficulties before starting the Technique and how it helped after they started. I’ve seen other similar books use fictional, overly-easily resolved examples instead of real people; hearing the real stories, including where there are still difficulties, and including pictures of the people doing their work, was very helpful. While I could feel my body improving just by reading the book, it also includes an audio CD with guided workshops for each chapter. I didn’t have a chance to try them myself, but have heard from another Alexander student that they are very good. While there’s obviously no substitute for a trained teacher working with you personally, as your own bad habits feel right to you, this is the first book I’ve seen that looks like it could help you improve on your own. The Alexander Technique is traditionally used by those in the performing arts, but anyone whose life or work causes physically tension or pain will benefit from this book.
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I finally got around to reading this after noticing it on the new book cart a couple of years ago…

book cover
Natural Health for Kids by Sarah Wilson Parent and health journalist Wilson talks about combing standard and complementary health care in this handy reference guide. First, she goes over a whole host of different complementary treatments, from more well-known ones like nutritional therapy and standard Western herbalism to relatively obscure ones like iridiology and kinesiology, including homeopathy and essential oils along the way. She starts with a summary of each kind of alternative therapy, but the real meat of the book is a page-by-page listing of 50 common complaints – eczema, teething, colds, and more. For each issue, she lists possible symptoms and causes, conventional medical treatment, and treatment in what she’s determined to be the most relevant complementary therapies. Both conventional and complementary include when you can treat yourself and when you need to take your child to a practitioner. The British origins are obvious from such things as her saying that homeopathy is considered mainstream, if you didn’t get that from the article on nappy rash. The usefulness is limited, however, as Wilson does not include references for anything, neither books about the therapies she’s discussing nor citations when she occasionally says, that studies have shown xyz effective at reducing abc. On the one hand, it’s novel and useful as a reference to have different treatments together in one book. On the other hand, readers will either have to take her at her word or do their own research on her recommendations.
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book coverAn American Plague by Jim Murphy This is, as the subtitle says, the true and terrifying story of the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. Over the course of a few short months, the population of Philadelphia, then the capital of the United States, was laid waste by a disease with no cure. Everyone who could afford to fled the city, leaving masses of sick and poor and only a few officials with no authority to do anything. The book describes the panic, the reactions of authorities, the arguing among doctors as to cause or cure, the heroic efforts of black nurses sent by the Free African Society, and the eventual waning of the disease. The United States government was unable to do anything during this time, as no one dared to enter the city, but the Constitution forbade convening Congress anywhere else. We hear about the lasting changes to emergency systems and the medical disaster that could still happen today: while we now know the cause of yellow fever, there is still no cure. Every chapter begins with a reproduction of a document from the time, so you can read, for example, the letter that mayor wrote to the newspaper, different ideas for cures, and the names and occupations of the dead. The text is lively, and frequent quotes from diaries, letters and newspapers bring us close to this long-ago event. This is an exciting book that would go well with Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever, 1793.
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book coverHow Doctors Think by Jerome GroopmanDoctors think fast. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are scarily wrong. And the methods that doctors who make correct diagnoses even in tricky cases are not the methods that medical students are taught to use. Groopman writes as both doctor and patient, pulling apart cases of the best and worst medical thinking both to help doctors improve their own thinking and to help patients give better information to their doctors and know when to ask for something else. The examples were fascinating, and fortunately nearly all with happy endings. My biggest quibble was that I wanted it to do a better job of pulling out specific steps and questions for both doctors and patients. The chapters were organized around medical specialties rather than specific errors or strengths in thinking, leaving the pulling together for the individual reader. Still, it was useful and interesting for anyone who deals with doctors, and those interested in puzzling medical cases for their own sake will find this fascinating.
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Here's one for Earth Day, a day early.

I'm happy to say that things have changed for the better since I had Mr. Froggie Pants. When I was pregnant and reading about how to have a green baby, everything seemed very fringe. The products they recommended were astronomically expensive, available only by mail order (I'm ok with mail-ordering diapers; paint, not so much) and looked like they would fall apart under normal usage. It all seemed so scary that I just ignored most of it.

book coverGreen Babies, Sage Moms by Lynda Fassa

Now comes this very accessible book, full of solid advice on every aspect of keeping dangerous chemicals out of your baby’s life. It's geared towards pregnancy and baby care, but since just about everything in the house affects a baby, it covers enough to be useful to anyone wanting to improve their health and the environment at the same time. Here's a short list: food, beauty products, gifts, cleaning, baby gear, clothes, detoxing the home, outside play, winning over family and neighbors, and connecting to other mothers. The advice is solid, and comes from a woman who didn't want to give up mascara or spend all her time in the kitchen cooking. The reasons for going green are covered without being too scary, and sources are given for everything she recommends. She has numorous small contributions from experts in the field, including makers of chlorine and gel-free disposible diapers and makers of cloth diapers. Every chapter ends with a summary, dividing steps to be taken into three levels of green: evergeeen, pea green, and spring green, with the easiest and most important steps under spring green. That makes it easy to determine your level of commitment or to take things in smaller steps. For example, for food, spring green is buying only the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables organic, pea green is buying all organic, and evergreen is buying all local organic. The resource guide at the back includes even more resources than are given in the main text. This is a great start for anyone looking to go organic.

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