The Modern Mom: New Challenges, New Solutions

Becoming a mother is one of life’s great joys -- but given the pressures of modern life, it can also be one of life’s most overwhelming challenges.

 A group of entrepreneur moms gathered recently at Palisades Village to discuss how they’re working to support moms through the new challenges of modern motherhood. In an honest, unfiltered conversation, they shared their own ups and downs as parents, and shared advice and tips.

The panel, moderated by KTLA’s Serene Branson, included Lactation Lab founder Stephanie Canale, MD, lactation and parenting expert Elyse Bennett, and Anna Schafer and Sarah Wright Olsen, founders of BAEO organic skin care products. It was assembled by Little LAMMA, a personal concierge service for children’s gifts that aims to take the stress out of gift giving, that was recently featured in The Wall Street Journal,

The discussion covered a range of issues, including how to get kids to eat healthy, managing kids’ “big feelings” and using meditation and essential oils to de-stress.

One recurring theme was the importance of paying attention to what we put into and on our bodies, minimizing exposure to toxins and other environmental hazards.

BAEO co-founders Schafer and Wright Olsen said concern over environmental toxins inspired them to create their line of bare essential organic skincare products. It wasn’t until she was trying to get pregnant with her first child that Wright Olsen started researching not only the foods going into her body, but also the products she was using on her skin. 

Dr. Canale, who created a breast milk testing kit so women could know more about what is in their breast milk, expressed her surprise at the levels of environmental toxins such as arsenic that have shown up in the breast milk of some of her patients. The initial impetus for the breast milk test kits that she developed was to make sure babies get sufficient levels of key nutrients such as protein, fat, vitamins and amino acids. 

For example, she noted that little attention is paid to Vitamin A levels because dairy products are fortified with vitamins A and D. However, the increasing number of moms who do not consume much or any dairy (such as vegans) make it more important to make sure they are getting enough vitamin from other sources.

Increasingly, Lactation Lab’s test kits are being used to check for toxins, especially as there is mounting evidence of toxins such as arsenic making their way into the food supply. Sometimes the solution is a simple as reducing or eliminating rice from the diet, according to Dr Canale. Rice is now known to frequently contain unacceptable levels of arsenic, and newborns’ developing brains and nervous systems are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of toxins.

Most of the panel used meditation for themselves and even for their toddlers, though Canale (a Canadian) said she has an unusual distressing technique for a mom: a family hockey scrimmage, which requires her total focus and therefore no opportunity to dwell on the issues causing stress!

One technique for dealing with kids’ emotional outbursts offered by Wright Olsen is a “thinking chair,” which is used not as a punishment but as an opportunity for alone time to think about what’s going on.  

Infant Exposure to Heavy Metals -  A Cause For Concern

Infant Exposure to Heavy Metals -  A Cause For Concern

Consumer Reports has weighed in on the topic of exposure to toxic heavy metals by infants.

Consumer Reports’ testing shows concerning levels of arsenic, cadmium and lead in many popular baby and toddler foods.

This includes foods made just for babies and toddlers, such as popular snacks, cereals, prepared entrées, and packaged fruits and vegetables.

Over time, exposure to heavy metals can harm the health of adults and children. One of the biggest worries: cognitive development in very young children.

Why We Test Breast Milk - A Case Study

Why We Test Breast Milk - A Case Study

I’m often asked why it’s helpful to test breast milk -- and one of the best answers is in addressing a very common issue: helping babies who aren’t gaining enough weight through breastfeeding.

It’s a common occurance: a mom feels passionately about breastfeeding, but baby isn’t gaining enough weight; her pediatrician recommends formula to supplement and that’s the end of the story. But now that we can test breast milk for fat and calories, that story can be rewritten.

Here’s an example. Baby S’s birth…

Can Lead Be Present in Breast Milk and Is It Harmful?

Can Lead Be Present in Breast Milk and Is It Harmful?

Recent reports of high levels of lead in baby formula raise the question of whether lead can be found in breast milk. The short answer is that while breast milk is generally safe, it is possible for it to contain lead. Lead is a common contaminant in the environment and can make its way into breast milk if absorbed by the mother through food, water or airborne pollution.

Dr. Stephanie Canale, founder of Lactation Lab, developed a unique and proprietary test kit for measuring the level of lead and other toxins in breast milk.

How Much Protein Does a Breastfeeding Mom Need?

How Much Protein Does a Breastfeeding Mom Need?

How much protein does a breastfeeding mom need? And does it matter what kind? These are a couple of questions raised by a recent Consumer Reports article suggesting that most people require less protein than they think.

Proteins are important for immune and neurological function and are the building blocks for tissues, muscle and bones, says Dr. Stephanie Canale, founder of Lactation Lab. “It’s important that when we’re talking about a mother's recommended protein intake, we take into account a breastfeeding mother’s need for protein to recover from the physiological strain of pregnancy and childbirth," she said.

Educating Breastfeeding Mothers About DHA Pays Dividends

Educating Breastfeeding Mothers About DHA Pays Dividends

Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as DHA are essential nutrients required for normal health, growth and development. Increasing evidence shows that feeding infants breast milk with a higher DHA content improves  their vision and neuro-development.

So, does educating mothers about the DHA levels in their milk have any impact on those levels? Numerous studies have found a link between maternal intake of DHA (through diet and supplements) and increased DHA levels in breast milk. A study in South Dakota examined 84 women who were educated about their DHA levels and looked at the resulting impact on the DHA levels in their milk. 

Do Supplements Really Work to Increase Milk Supply?

Do Supplements Really Work to Increase Milk Supply?

My patients often ask me about the efficacy and safety of the supplements that claim to increase your milk supply. Do they really work?

If you’re struggling with milk supply issues, the first step is to evaluate simple factors including latch evaluation, oral examination of the infant, frequency of feeding or pumping and thoroughness of breast emptying. A lactation consultant, often available at your local hospital or breastfeeding support store, can be invaluable in identifying if there are underlying issues contributing to milk supply.

Breastfeeding Boosts Babies' Good Bacteria

Breastfeeding has long been known to positively impact the health and immune systems of babies, but now new research is uncovering the power of breastfeeding in helping to prevent long term illnesses including asthma, allergies, celiac disease, Type 1 diabetes and obesity.

The New York Times reports that many studies have strongly suggested that the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the human body influence our current and future health and may account for the rising incidence of several serious medical conditions.

How Can I Be Sure To Pump Enough Milk?

It has been said many times over and most mothers who nurse would agree that there is no better breast pump than baby! From my experience, there appears to be a growing proportion of women who choose to pump milk from the outset. Some women either have difficulty with latching, have nipple issues or simply prefer to pump.

Here are a few tips I would like to share as a physician, mother, and “master pumper!”

Low Vitamin B in Lactating Mothers Can Slow Baby's Growth


Low levels of B vitamins in breastfeeding mothers can translate into low levels in their babies, and may slow growth in the early stages of life.

That's the conclusion of a paper analyzing the scientific research on the topic by Lindsey H. Allen of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A lack of data places some limits on these conclusions, as much of the evidence is from the world's poorest areas where malnutrition is prevalent.  But the overall picture  points to an urgent need to improve the information available on breast milk quality.

Poor maternal status of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, and choline, causes the concentrations of these nutrients to be low in breast milk and the infant to become deficient.

Mothers with a low intake of animal source foods are at higher risk of nutrient deficiency, especially for riboflavin and vitamin B-12.  Inadequate intake of thiamin and vitamins B-6 and B-12 could contribute to reducing babies' growth in the first year of life.

Taking supplements during lactation rapidly increases the concentrations of thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6 in milk, but increases in vitamin B-12 levels are small even when high doses are given to the mother for 2 months.

The first month of a baby's life is thought to be a special period of vulnerability to vitamin B12 deficiency as it can be linked to poor neurodevelopment and slow growth. 

Nutrient deficiency is usually not an issue for mothers consuming a healthy diet, but since animal products are the main dietary source of Vitamin B-12, vegetarians should be careful about deficient vitamin B-12 levels.

“Uncertainty over the nutrient composition of breast milk is what led me to develop a test for exactly what is in it,“ said Lactation Lab founder Stephanie Canale, M.D.

"While breast milk of mothers consuming a healthy diet is typically nutritious, special diets and other factors can result in less than optimal nutrition for the baby. Lactation Lab’s test kits and followup recommendations are designed to help ensure that a mother’s breast milk is the best it can be.” 

Mothers who are concerned about the nutrient composition of their breast milk can use Lactation Lab's test kit to find out whether they need to adjust or supplement their diet.  

Read more: B Vitamins in Breast Milk: Relative Importance of Maternal Status and Intake, and Effects on Infant Status and Function

Probiotics have benefits for baby, too



The live active cultures found in yogurt and probiotics have been shown to promote healthy gut bacteria in adults, with positive effects on digestion and bowel regularity.

A new study suggests that consumption of probiotics by mothers may also be beneficial for their breastfeeding babies.

In a study of 57 moms, those that took a daily probiotic supplement had higher levels of iron, calcium and other nutrients in their breast milk than those that did not. Their babies also gained slightly more weight. The experimental group was supplemented with two synbiotic capsules containing different probiotic strains 30 minutes after dinner for 30 days.

UCLA physician Stephanie Canale recommends breastfeeding mothers take a probiotic, such as PRO-Women from Hyberbiotics.

For mothers who want to see how their diet affects their breastfeeding babies, Dr. Canale has developed a simple breast milk test that measures levels of iron and calcium and other nutrients.

“I developed these tests as I was concerned about my own breastfed baby gaining weight fast enough. Now we are delighted to offer these tests to any breastfeeding mother, from the comfort of their own home.”

Source: R. Mahdavi et al. / Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology 30 (2015) 25–29


Arsenic in rice: A cause for concern

A recent study by Healthy Baby Bright Futures finds that infant baby cereal contains six times as much arsenic as other cereals.  

International Rice Research Institute

International Rice Research Institute

While arsenic is strictly regulated in drinking water, it is legal in any amount in infant rice cereal. It is a potent human carcinogen and a neurotoxin shown to permanently reduce children’s IQ.  

Arsenic is also found in higher concentrations in brown rice and rice milk, leaving us to wonder whether there is any risk to breastfeeding babies if the mother consumes large amounts of brown rice or rice milk.

“Infants are especially vulnerable because their bodies are so small, and on a per-pound basis, they’re getting much higher exposure than anyone else in the population,” HBBF research director Jane Houlihan told the New York Times. “They’re also vulnerable because it is a neurotoxic compound, and their brain is developing.”

The study’s sponsors, an alliance of scientists, nonprofit groups and private donors that aims to reduce children’s exposures to chemicals that may harm developing brains, recommends choosing these cereals instead of rice cereal: oatmeal, mixed grain, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, and wheat.

“As a precaution, I recommend breastfeeding mothers limit consumption of rice products,”- Stephanie Canale, MD, founder of Lactation Lab and a practicing family physician at UCLA.

Consumer Reports says rice eaters seeking to minimize their exposure to arsenic should  choose either white basmati or sushi rice from California, India or Pakistan, or brown basmati from the same origins. Further tips for reducing consumption of arsenic through rice can be found here.                                                               

As an added layer of security, Lactation Lab’s Premium Test Kit detects and measures levels of arsenic and other toxins in a mother’s breast milk, all from the comfort of her own home.

“Our tests revealed elevated levels of arsenic in one breastfeeding mother’s milk, which we believe originated from regular rice consumption at dinnertime,” said Dr. Canale. “With this information, she was able to adjust her diet to limit the risk of arsenic in her milk.”

Source: Arsenic in 9 Brands of Infant Cereal

Avocados linked to more nutritious breast milk


Avocados offer a range of beneficial nutrients that can make a substantial contribution to a nutrient-rich diet when offered as a staple food for the breastfeeding mom.

That’s the conclusion of recent research published by the Journal of Nutrients.

The researchers note that avocados are unique among fruits and vegetables in that, by weight, they contain much higher amounts of the key nutrients folate and potassium, which are normally under-consumed in maternal diets.

Avocados also contain higher amounts of several non-essential compounds, such as fiber, monounsaturated fats, and lipid-soluble antioxidants, which have all been linked to improvements in maternal health, birth outcomes and  breast milk quality.

Did you know that avocados contain high amounts of folate, potassium, fiber, antioxidants, Vitamin A and Oleic acid - an essential omega 3 fatty acid?

Maternal diet affects every major aspect of reproduction from the early peri-conceptional period to the postnatal stages. It influences the entire range of maternal functions, including the production of adequate and nutritious breast milk.

The researchers recommend that avocados be considered for inclusion in future dietary recommendations for expecting and new mothers.

Source: The Role of Avocados in Maternal Diets during the Periconceptional Period, Pregnancy, and Lactation by Kevin B. Comerford (University of California), Keith T. Ayoob (Albert Einstein College of Medicine), Robert D. Murray (Ohio State University) and Stephanie A. Atkinson (McMaster University).


Why do babies spit up?


The medical term for spitting up" is gastroesophageal reflux, or reflux. It happens when milk or solid food in the stomach comes back up into your baby's esophagus (the tube that joins the mouth and the stomach).

Babies spit up when they've eaten too much or when they've swallowed too much air while feeding. Spitting up usually happens when babies burp or drool. Spitting up is not vomiting and babies usually don't notice when they spit up. Vomiting is forceful and painful. Spitting up is common for most babies until about the time they can eat solid foods (usually around 6 months to 1 year of age).

While reflux is normal in babies,  you should contact your doctor if you notice your baby has the following symptoms:

  • Not gaining weight
  • Spits up a large amount of milk (more than 1 or 2 tablespoons)
  • Spits up or vomits forcefully
  • Has fewer wet diapers than normal
  • Seems very tired or lethargic
  • Spits up green or brown liquid


Image of baby spit up

When should I burp my baby?

Whether feeding your newborn by breast or a bottle, you may be stumped as to how often to do so. Generally, it is recommended that babies be fed on demand - whenever they seem hungry. Your baby may cue you by crying, putting fingers in his or her mouth, or making sucking noises.

A newborn baby needs to be fed every 2 to 3 hours. If you're breastfeeding, give your baby the chance to nurse about 10-15 minutes at each breast. 

Some newborns may need to be awakened every few hours to make sure they get enough to eat. Call your baby's doctor if you need to awaken your newborn more frequently or if your baby doesn't seem interested in eating or sucking.

Babies often swallow air during feedings, which can make them fussy. You can prevent this by burping your baby frequently. Try burping your baby every 2 to 3 ounces (60-90 milliliters) if you bottle-feed, and each time you switch breasts if you breastfeed.

if your baby tends to be gassy, has gastroesophageal reflux, or seems fussy during feeding, try burping your little one every ounce during bottle-feeding or every 5 minutes during breastfeeding.

Image of burp the baby

What should I eat while breastfeeding?

The best diet for a breastfeeding woman is well balanced and has plenty of calcium, This means eating fruits, vegetables, whole-grain cereals and bread, meats, beans and milk and dairy foods such as cheese.

         A breastfeeding mom needs to get enough calories -- about 500 more per day than           usual -- and needs to drink more fluids.

A balanced diet that includes 5 servings of milk or dairy products each day will provide enough calcium. If you don't eat meat or dairy products, you can get the calcium you need from broccoli, sesame seeds, tofu, and kale.

Talk to your doctor about taking extra calcium if you don't think you're getting enough from your diet. If you are concerned about the nutritional value of your breast milk, you can order one of our test kits.