How Probiotics Have Helped Me Feel Healthier

Many of us have heard about the health benefits of probiotics, but are the stories true? 

I struggled for a long time with frequent bowel movement problems, as well as bouts of cramping and crushing headaches. I was eventually diagnosed with IBS, and my doctor recommended I begin taking a regular probiotic supplement.

Within weeks, my intestinal symptoms, as well as my head pain, abated tremendously. I truly feel these supplements helped me get my life back. Once I began incorporating probiotics into my diet, they helped just about every system in my body work more smoothly.

Boost Metabolism

I’ve noticed since I started taking probiotics that I actually have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight. At first, the connection wasn’t clear, and it seemed especially weird since they had cleared up my tummy problems and I was therefore back to eating more again. But I began researching it and, indeed, there is some sort of connection between metabolism and probiotics. 

While the exact connection is still not fully understood, recent studies have shown that probiotics help to reverse the weight gain that seems to creep up on us as we age due to our slowing metabolism.

Improve Overall Gut Health

Probiotics are perhaps best known for improving gut health. The value of this cannot be understated, as millions of people suffer from conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome that impact their overall quality of life.

I went through a period of time where I was literally afraid to eat. Every time I ate pretty much anything, my stomach started cramping as though I had really bad gas or period cramps. But since it wasn’t just gas or period cramps, there was really no way to calm the pain at the time. Unlike with period cramps, my body wasn’t responding to any over-the-counter painkillers. I basically had to wait for it to pass, and it made me fear eating.

After I started taking a regular probiotic, I noticed a clear difference in the amount of pain I felt after eating. It decreased significantly and is sometimes not there at all.

If you have IBS or something similar, you should be discussing it with a doctor. However, for me, probiotics were a great place to start. Probiotics help to maintain the correct balance of healthy bacteria in your small and large intestines, so they can help aid digestion. There is also evidence that probiotics can help ward off certain foodborne illnesses such as salmonella because they help the gut build a protective film to combat illnesses.

Maintaining a Healthy Vagina

I learnt that adding probiotics to your diet can also help your vaginal health. This is because, just like your stomach, your vagina requires the correct balance of healthy bacteria. Probiotics create a slightly acidic environment in your vagina that helps ward off infection.

Interestingly enough, I was first told to take a probiotic years back, before I started experiencing IBS. I had a simple bacterial infection that some antibiotics helped clear up, but I was told to take a probiotic in the weeks following to get my pH back on track. It did seem to help, as the situation resolved itself. I had no idea back then how important probiotics would end up being to my health later in life.

Women who frequently suffer from yeast infections can help stave them off by adding a daily probiotic supplement. If you’re trying to get pregnant, adding probiotics could help boost your chances by creating an environment conducive for getting the sperm to the egg.

Boost Mood

Recent studies have shown that your stomach and your brain are more intricately connected than previously thought. Some researchers believe that mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, can be exacerbated by an unhealthy digestive system. By bringing the stomach back into balance, you get a mood boost as well.

This is just my experience, and if you’re worried about your health you should talk to a doctor or health professional.

But take it from me – it’s worth researching how your diet could support your own health and wellbeing. I’m big on holistic health, and there are so many things out there to try!

Forget the ‘Mommy Wars’ – Breastfeeding Inequality is the Real Issue

Too many heated words and firey tweets are being spent on the breastfeeding ‘mommy war’. It needs to stop.

Whether or not a well-educated and well-off mother chooses to breastfeed is not the big issue. The real problem – one impacting tens of thousands of lives – is breastfeeding inequality. Too many mothers are NOT getting equal opportunity to breastfeed.

Did you know that in the US, breastfeeding rates vary wildly from state to state? In Louisiana, 57% of infants are ever breastfed. In California, it’s 93%. That’s a huge difference.

It’s no surprise that Louisiana is one of the poorest states while California is one of the wealthiest. In fact, socioeconomic forces drastically affect breastfeeding rates. This visual guide by WeTheParents brings the shocking reality of breastfeeding inequality into focus.

Women born into socioeconomic hardship tend to have lower family income, lower level of education, and lower breastfeeding rates.

It’s not fair for the baby or the mother.

Some of the reasons for reduced breastfeeding are:

  • Less access to paid maternity leave
  • Lower paid jobs that are less likely to allow for pumping breaks
  • Inadequate maternity and lactation support in hospital
  • Less effective family and community support
  • A culture that doesn’t treat breastfeeding as a desirable status symbol (in contrast to the ‘crunchy mommies’).

The problem is intensified because babies born into conditions of hardship are less likely to receive adequate healthcare, parental involvement, and nutritious supplementary food once weaning begins.

This means that the babies who would benefit most from breastmilk are the ones least likely to get it.

Mothers Unite

This week is World Breastfeeding Week organized by World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). It is the perfect opportunity to begin reframing the debate.

The mommy wars are a distraction. Let’s not waste valuable energy debating whether or not a well-off, middle-class mother is right to breastfeed her child. Yes, breast is best, but it’s likely her child will get a good start in life either way.

Mothers, let’s all come together and fight for breastfeeding equality. Surely we can all agree, that if a woman wants to breastfeed, she should be given the best possible chance to do so. The fact that less well-off mothers often don’t have the same knowledge or opportunities to breastfeed their babies is simply not right.

Instead of dividing along tribal lines, let’s unite and push for all mothers to have the same access to breastfeeding information, support, and workplace lactation programmes. It’s this that will really drive up breastfeeding rates and improve health outcomes for mothers and babies.

And so, the next time you find yourself caught up in breastfeeding guerrilla warfare taking place within the comments section of some blog, remember the real issue: breastfeeding inequality.

Neve is a mother of two, writer and breastfeeding advocate. You can find her trying to simplify parenting and empower new moms to meet their breastfeeding goals over at her blog WeTheParents.

 

Breastfeeding for Nutrition, Food Security & Poverty Reduction

Some time has passed since the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – an inclusive agenda to create positive, sustainable change. To say the least, we’ve got work to do! Breastfeeding is a vital part of sustainable development.

In 2016, the United Nations placed nutrition at the heart of sustainable development by declaring 2016-2025 as the UN Decade for Action on Nutrition. Breastfeeding is a non-negotiable component of this globally intensified action to end malnutrition. An infant, at the very start of life, is assured optimal nutrition and protection if breastfed. Breastfeeding also ensures food security, especially in times of humanitarian crises. Breastfeeding contributes to poverty reduction by being a low cost way of feeding babies and not burdening household budgets compared to artificial feeding.

Increased rates of exclusive and continued breastfeeding can only be achieved by cooperating and collaborating across all sectors and across generations. Fortunately, the importance of working in partnership is now recognised and translated into various global initiatives. A key recommendation in the Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health is access to good nutrition:

“By working in partnership, we can ensure women, children and adolescents, everywhere, can access adequate, diverse and nutritious food throughout the life course, which will help them survive, get an education, become resilient and thrive. In turn, so will their communities and countries, empowering them to break poverty cycles and contribute to inclusive, sustainable, healthier, more prosperous societies.” – Every Woman Every Child

Success in breastfeeding is not the sole responsibility of a woman  the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding is a collective societal responsibility which states have an obligation to ensure. Together, we can achieve success and ensure adequate nutrition, food security and poverty reduction in the generations ahead.

“If we want to change the world for girls and women—and we sure do—we need to work together. Collaborate, not duplicate. Integrate, not separate. We all have a part to play in achieving a healthy, happy world, where hunger and malnutrition are things of the past.” – Women Deliver

Women Deliver apply a gender lens to the SDGs in their new campaign Deliver for Good, which promotes 12 critical investments in girls and women that will foster progress for all.

“No matter where you start, investments in girls and women bring about high social and economic returns. For example, bringing water and sanitation to communities keeps girls in school which then leads to increased use of contraception, less child marriage, less gender-based violence, increased economic stability, and better health outcomes for generations of families.” – Women Deliver

The Deliver for Good campaign – developed and driven by a diverse set of founding partners – focuses on partnership and inclusion identifying siloed sectors, data, and funding as pervasive challenges in achieving global development. It proposes that cross-collaboration is fundamental in achieving the SDGs. Breastfeeding is included in the Deliver for Good campaign targets as a way to ensure maternal and child survival, health and nutrition.

To ensure that breastfeeding is a central part of the Sustainable Development Goals, it is time to raise our voices and advocate at national levels. We need to ensure that our governments create an optimal environment for women and children to thrive – and do so in partnership with civil-society movements, NGOs, and partners at multiple levels. One way for us to influence decision-makers is to remind them of the Return of Investment of breastfeeding – saving lives as well as saving resources.

In our advocacy, as well as in creating lasting policies, we need to make sure that no one is left behind and put our focus on young people and vulnerable groups – such as adolescents, single mothers, and migrants. In order to truly address the challenges of breastfeeding, we must use a gender lens, understanding that breastfeeding protection, promotion and support requires increased investments in gender equality and human rights.

Breastfeeding is not a woman’s issue. All of us, in all segments of society – from business owners to family members and government leaders to citizens – need to be involved in safeguarding women’s and children’s right to breastfeeding.

World Breastfeeding Week takes place from 1 – 7 August 2017. Celebrating collaboration and sustainability, it will focus on the need to work together to sustain breastfeeding. World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has created an online platform with downloadable resources available in a range of languages to support individuals and organizations in their own campaigning and advocacy. 

SDG 2: The future of Agriculture for African Women

September 2015 marked a key step in global development’s future. U.N. member states convened the Sustainable Development Summit to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 2 of the new agenda is to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”.

The SDGs don’t just represent a new level of ambition on eradicating hunger and malnutrition, they’re about leaving no one behind and about getting to zero for all not just some. The ambitious aim to eradicate hunger completely by 2030 seems a great next step. Extreme hunger and malnutrition remain a huge barrier to development in many countries. 795 million people are estimated to be chronically undernourished as of 2014, often as a direct consequence of environmental degradation, drought and loss of biodiversity. Over 90 million children under the age of five are dangerously underweight. And one out of four people still goes hungry in Africa.

The new SDGs will take on the challenge of solving chronic poverty and advancing global development in an integrated style. Goal 2 clearly addresses hunger, food security and for the first time sustainable agriculture. This Goal has eight targets including ending hunger and malnutrition, in particular amongst vulnerable groups; ensuring resilient agricultural systems that increase productivity and respond adaptively to climate change; and improving agricultural markets with increased rural infrastructure, technological advances, and better market performance for small-scale food producers like women, family farmers, and indigenous group. The SDGs aim to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people, especially children and the more vulnerable,  have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round. This involves promoting sustainable agricultural practices, improving the livelihoods and capacities of small scale famers and allowing equal access to land, technology and markets. It also requires international cooperation to ensure investment in infrastructure and technology to improve agricultural productivity.

It should be clearly understood that food security is not just about getting everyone enough nutritious food. It is also about access, ending waste, moving toward sustainability, efficient production and consumption. Irrigation and other investments in agriculture and rural development can help many and build pathways to sustainable future growth. My hope is that Goal 2 will strengthen this process of investing in agriculture for global development with its enhanced attention to both food security and sustainable agriculture.

Women produce more than half of the world’s food, yet own only two percent of titled land and receive less than 10 percent of credit available for small businesses. These inequalities must change if we ever hope to break the cycle of poverty and hunger in rural areas of the developing world. When women are given economic opportunities, they make investments that benefit not just themselves but their families and their communities. In Africa, where women are responsible for much of the continent’s agricultural production, sustainable agriculture depends on women adopting sustainable practices. Governments together with community based organizations need to initiate comprehensive farmer training programs for grassroots women. These trainings should cover topics such as organic soil management and proper use of organic fertilizers, crop rotation best practices, conservation methods, agro forestry and sustainability of farms cultivated by these Women. For women farmers, it is always hard to access the resources available due to the patriarchal contexts under which many of these farming businesses operate.

Due to cultural norms, women don’t reap the rewards of their labor.  Whatever they get from the crops that they grow doesn’t come to them most of the time. If sub-Saharan Africa is to eliminate extreme poverty, this has to change. Women need to be empowered in agriculture in order to increase productivity as when women have resources from their production they will always reinvest it in their children and in their households. Many changes have to take place for empowering women who work in agriculture, such as aligning laws in sub-Saharan Africa with international norms on women’s rights. Women need to be allowed to own land and have equal access to resources and basic public services and our governments should also get involved in the process of changing societal norms and breaking barriers to women’s economic empowerment.

If we enable and support rural women farmers to innovate and use climate-smart practices, it’s not only hunger and poverty that will decline: Economic growth will increase, jobs will be created and families, communities and countries will reap the benefits of women’s empowerment. It’s time we help women harness the power of agriculture as a tool not only for ensuring food security and improved nutrition for all, but for gender equality and women’s empowerment as well.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.

Innovation for Maternal and Child Health

Originally posted on International Innovation 

Ros black and whiteCEO Ros Davies talks to International Innovation about the many dangers and injustices faced by mothers and infants in low-resource settings, and how communities can work together to create effective interventions and reduce pregnancy related mortality and morbidity. 

Women and Children First work in some of the world’s poorest communities to prevent maternal and infant mortality. Can you outline some of the organisation’s priority areas for action?

In general, our priority areas are marginalised communities in countries that still suffer from high rates of maternal and newborn mortality. Our main body of work focuses on populations in rural settings, who often have great difficulties in accessing health services because of distance, poor transport links or unaffordable costs.

The ‘Countdown to 2015: Maternal, Newborn & Child Survival’ has highlighted that there are still 75 countries with unacceptably high maternal and/or newborn death rates. As we’re a small organisation with limited resources and funding to work internationally, we focus on a small number of countries – currently, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Malawi and Uganda. We’ve also got plans to work in Sierra Leone, Guatemala and Nicaragua. As we are not in the business of building our partners’ organisational capacity, we endeavour to find strong and stable organisations on the ground with a good reputation with which we can share our tried and tested women’s group approach. We’ve chosen these specific countries because, in addition to them having high maternal and newborn mortality rates, we have identified suitable local partners there. Our history of collaborating closely with colleagues at University College London’s Institute for Global Health led us to organisations with which they had established good working relations, and others were identified because Women and Children First’s staff had worked with them previously.

Why did you decide to dedicate your career to advocating for the health and safety of mothers and children?

I haven’t been in this field all my working life; half of it was spent on community development and women and children’s issues in London. It was initially by luck that I became involved with international development issues. I was doing a Master’s degree, and took on a part-time job at Marie Stopes International to look after their office administration. As I was specialising in Latin America, and nobody else on the team could speak Spanish, I started working on some of the programmes. Much of the work was on family planning, and I soon realized how grossly unfair it is that women in Western countries have access to family planning and fertility services, while those in many developing countries face constant barriers, and do not often have knowledge about or access to health services – or even contraception. As time went on and I gained more experience, I began to look further into maternal and child health and the dangerous and exhausting cycle of pregnancy, wherein families have more children than they wish to have or can afford to look after, which can limit educational opportunities and damage women’s health. So my general interest is in international development, but I specifically focus on women’s issues, such as empowering them to be able to control their own fertility and improve their economic circumstances.

What are some of the biggest risk factors affecting mothers and infants during pregnancy, childbirth and in the following weeks and months?

There are a wide range of factors that can affect mothers and babies across these time scales. I’ve talked about family planning, and related to that is the fact that pregnancies become more risky when women can’t control their fertility. It is particularly dangerous for young girls (often as young as 10) and older women to become pregnant. Risks are also involved when pregnancies occur too closely together; the ideal spacing is three years, but without contraception, there are women who fall pregnant year after year. In addition, conditions that may not be life threatening in a non-pregnant woman, such as malaria, can result in severe problems for both mother and baby. Pregnancy-related conditions, including pre-eclampsia, can also be fatal where health services cannot be reached.

Many women don’t have access to antenatal or postnatal care, or skilled attendants to deliver the baby. This can result in an increase in complications, leading to mortality or morbidity. Often, mothers must live with physical disabilities, pain and stigma – as in the case of obstetric fistula (characterised by incontinence), which is difficult to manage and can lead to them being ostracised by their families and the community.

In brief, there are three delays that contribute to increased risk in childbirth: delay in deciding to get skilled care when ready to give birth or during pregnancy (no antenatal care in the first trimester); delay in reaching a health facility when in labour (which can lead to serious complications); and delay in assessing the pregnant woman once she arrives at the clinic (wherein she may not receive the exact care required).

Over 70 per cent of infant deaths occur within the first year of life, many of them in the first 28 days. Could you describe some of the most effective interventions to safeguard newborns?

In areas where there are still very high rates of newborn mortality, small changes can make quite a big difference in reducing deaths. As mentioned, antenatal care is vital so that any problems are flagged up as early as possible, particularly for those with high-risk pregnancies. Postnatal care, often recommended within the first 48 hours of birth, is also essential to detecting any suffering in the newborn. Skilled practitioners will identify danger signs, such as the risk of maternal exhaustion in a prolonged labour or a blockage, which can affect a baby’s airway – but parents should also be given the knowledge to recognize risk factors, such as fever, which can be life threatening in a newborn.

Practices that people might think are a good idea, like washing a newborn, can result in problematic decreases in body temperature, so something as simple as keeping the baby warm is an effective intervention. In terms of traditional customs, some populations put dung on an umbilical cord because they think that will protect it, but it is far more likely to cause an infection. Others may feed infants cow’s milk, which they can’t digest. We would recommend immediate and exclusive breastfeeding for newborns. In Kangaroo mother care, the newborn baby is wrapped skin-to-skin against the mother and can easily breastfeed
and be kept warm. This is particularly effective for premature babies.

Moreover, getting timely treatment for any infections from a skilled medical practitioner is very important. Even though attendance at medical centres has not increased significantly in our programmes, newborn death rates have reduced quite dramatically. Addressing these simple, basic habits and changing behaviour can be extremely effective with very low to no cost, as we have shown with our work.

What are the greatest benefits of running self-help community groups for women?

The groups provide women with an environment in which to learn all about how to look after themselves properly during pregnancy, including getting skilled care for themselves and their newborn babies, as well as going to a health centre for the delivery. More generally, the groups empower women because their awareness is raised. Although the focus is on running women’s groups, we mobilise the communities and bring on board husbands, brothers, fathers and mothers-in-law – those who can help but are often also the gatekeepers, and prevent women from attending the clinic or hospital because of the cost of transport or medicines, or due to local customs. The groups are designed to create positive, sustainable change within the local communities, empowering them to address what they themselves see as the biggest problems faced during pregnancy, childbirth and the newborn period. They work together to devise solutions, such as lobbying for a bicycle ambulance to overcome the obstacles created by distance from a health facility, or setting up a village fund to address lack of financing to travel there. In order to tackle poor nutrition or anaemia, they might set up a communal vegetable garden or keep domestic animals like pigs or chickens. If more knowledge is required, they may organise health education talks and spread the word.

We estimate that for every one woman who is in a women’s group, around two or three more will benefit because they talk to each other, especially intergenerationally. I’ve been at several open days in Malawi where they have brought together the communities and women’s groups in the area and involved the local district officials and Members of Parliament, so the whole community can really work together. Once a women’s group has been set up in a community, it is very low cost to run and it is likely to carry on after project funding comes to an end. In Nepal, for example, many groups have been meeting for seven years without any external financial inputs. Looking from the outside, the main benefit is that this approach has been demonstrated to reduce newborn mortality. Seven randomised control trials have been conducted in Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Malawi and a meta-analysis of the results has been accepted by the World Health Organization (WHO), which recommends women’s groups to improve maternal and newborn health, particularly in rural settings with poor access to services. On average, we have shown that the groups are reducing newborn mortality rates by 33 per cent and maternal mortality rates by 49 per cent.

Cover photo credit: European Commission, Flickr Creative Commons

US Government Shutdown: Food Assistance Shortage for Women & Children

When the U.S. Government shut down two weeks ago, I couldn’t believe it at first. When I finally accepted what had happened, I thought it would last for a day or two, at most. I thought there was no way such an asinine approach to hindering a constitutional law would actually work, and things would go back to normal when everyone realized how ridiculous it was. The duration of this shutdown and the childishness occurring in the US Government is really starting to make me mad. Every US citizen – and world citizen for that matter – can probably find at least one reason to take this situation personally by now. Fellow Girls’ Globe Blogger, Emma Saloranta, wrote an article about how the government shutdown is affecting women’s reproductive health and her own family planning. That article was published a few days after the shutdown. Now two weeks later, more problems are emerging and the same problems are becoming worse.

Featured Image WIC
Featured image:
© Alexandrabel | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

The WIC program provides “supplemental nutritious foods, nutrition education and counseling at WIC clinics, and screening and referrals to other health, welfare and social services” to low-income, nutritionally at-risk infants, children (up to age 5), and pregnant women.

WIC began in 1972 and was developed by physicians who were witnessing their patients, women and infants, suffering from illnesses caused by a lack of food and nutrients. After being provided healthy food, these women and children no longer needed medical treatment. (Coincidentally, WIC helps lower the cost of the overall US health care system, but that’s another story.) Learn more about the program through visiting the WIC website.

“WIC serves 53 percent of all infants born in the US!”

Due to the shutdown, the program is running out of resources, and in some states not providing new vouchers.

Among the numerous services cut off to the people of the US right now, I find it sickening that women with INFANTS and young CHILDREN are being cut off as well.

It’s time to get personal! WIC is not only crucial for the MILLIONS of women, infants and children that are supported by the program in this country, but it played an important role in my own family. When I was five years old my parents became the foster parents of my 2-month-old cousin. Having two brothers, I was ecstatic to gain a baby sister. Little did I know the sacrifices my parents made to make sure my cousin would not be taken to an unknown foster family. Without the WIC program and government support she may have not grown up as my sister. At that time my mother was in law school and my father was an editor for a local newspaper. My mother is now an attorney and works for the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch and my father works in the Connecticut public school system. 

Not only were our lives made a little bit easier and our stomachs more nourished through the WIC program, I was also able to learn a little bit about nutrition at age five. I knew that Cheerios were healthy and that Fruit Loops were not even an option. I could find my way through the grocery store, picking out the WIC approved items on my own: formula, two percent milk, eggs, orange juice, etc. As my dad’s grocery partner, I never felt ashamed to stand by his side when he pulled out the WIC vouchers (of course I was 5, and didn’t know the what that type of social humiliation felt like). However, I think my parents’ demeanor while grocery shopping helped me feel comfortable. Even today, I will put up a fight when people shun those on government food assistance. Maybe we could have raised my sister without WIC, but we would have been a lot more stressed out and a lot more strapped for cash than we already were. 

I learned a lot from the WIC program, but most importantly it taught me that people are supposed to help each other when times get hard. This has been a guiding force in my life and has directed both my educational and career endeavors. I know that everyone is not as lucky as me to have such empathetic parents, but let’s use some common sense here. Open the U.S. government, get the WIC program back underway, and allow our fellow citizens more access to health care!

How has WIC helped you? If you have a personal story to share, I would love to hear it! You can post a comment here, tweet @LizAFort, Email me directly at liz.fortier@gmail.com, or send a message to the Girls’ Globe contact page. Don’t forget to check out our guidelines for commenting first!

I know I am not the only one who has a personal account of WIC. Feminist Hulk , fellow WIC recipient and online feminist superhero agrees. Follow her on Twitter and look to her website to find resources for women with children while WIC services are cut off during the government shut down. You can also read about a recent NPR interview with Feminist Hulk here!