Thursday, February 18, 2016

Breaking Down the Zika Virus for New and Expectant Parents

by Daniel Keith, guest blogger

There is a lot of talk in the news about the Zika virus, and everyone is chiming in including doctors, scientists, and even the Pope. There are different news articles that say it is a pandemic, and there are articles that say it’s no big deal.  I have put together some research to share with you about this virus, and what it means for you today in 2016 as new or expectant parents. If you want to skip the science and data part I completely understand, but go ahead and scroll down to the end of the article where you will find my recommendations in bold. 
A layout of a mosquito showing its body and wings form different angles
Aedes aegypti mosquito

Zika Background

The Zika virus is from the Flaviviridae family and the Flavivirus genus. It is primarily carried and transmitted by the Aedes aegypti as known as the Yellow Fever Mosquito which lives in tropical and sub tropical climates around the world. This includes areas of the southeastern United States especially near the Gulf Coast and South Atlantic areas. The virus typically includes symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes according to the CDC. Zika is considered a short term virus that your body will create antibodies for and develop immunities to within days, but it may take up to a week or two in some cases. It is also mentioned that there is currently no vaccine for humans, although there have been reports of a vaccine that is still in developmental stages. 

Zika as an STD

 It has also been confirmed that the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted. In Interim Guidelines for Preventionof Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus — United States, 2016 on the CDC’s website the article sites three cases of the Zika virus being transmitted by a male having sex with a female. Currently it is not known if a female can pass it to a male. The disconcerting part of this article is the fact that it is unkown how long the Zika virus can survive in a male's sperm. The case they have looked at confirmed that a strand of Zika virus survived for at least 10 weeks in a male’s sperm. This means if a male has visited an area that is affected by the Zika virus, as a precaution, he should abstain from sexual contact or use a condom. It is recommended that these precautions be taken until further research is done on how long the virus is considered a risk to pass via sexual contact.

Zika Complications in Infants

 A significant issue with the Zika virus is microcephaly, and its link with women who have contracted the Zika virus during or right before pregnancy. Most of the information you will hear about this comes from this article published in 2015 PossibleAssociation Between Zika Virus Infection and Microcephaly — Brazil, 2015 which can also be found on the CDC’s website. There are several important points that you need to be aware of in this article. First is that it is an incredibly small sample size. There were only 35 infants included in the study. All of the mothers had either lived in or visited Zika virus affected areas during or right before their pregnancy. 74% of the mothers experienced a rash like disease during their pregnancy, and of these 35 infants 71% of them were diagnosed with severe micocephaly. It also mentions that 27 of the infants had  neuroimaging studies, and all 27 were abnormal.

Now we need to be very careful with this raw data. The sample size is very small, and correlation does not mean causation. There are numerous factors that could not be controlled for such as diets, pollution, and other externalities that could be considered factors. That being said, it is alarming that there is a high correlation between the two. The bottom line here is that more research has to be done, and in the meantime precautions should be taken if plans are made to go to a Zika virus affected area. There are other viruses for which we routinely vaccinate in the US that are also linked to microcephaly such as herpes simplex virus and rubella virus during pregnancy.

Map of Zika virus includes parts of South America, Africa, and South East Asia
Current Map of Zika Virus Affected Areas
What if you have a baby that you are breastfeeding, and then you contract the Zika virus? According to the CDC, although evidence of the virus can been seen in breast milk, there is no documented case of passing the virus through breast milk to a nursing baby. The CDC recommends that it is better to continue breast feeding, because there is not a significant risk of passing the virus through breast milk. They state that the benefits of breast feeding far outweigh any “theoretical” risk of passing the virus to an infant or nursing baby.

If you don’t read anything else in this article make sure to read these points.

 The Zika Virus is an STD, and we do not know the amount of time that is considered “safe” for sexual contact after contraction.   
Recommendation: Abstain from sex or use a condom if you or your partner has been to an area affected by the Zika virus.  

There is a possible link between microcephaly in infants and pregnant mothers who were suspected of contracting the virus. This needs more research, but is alarming.   
Recommendation: If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant contact your healthcare provider if you or your partner has been to a Zika virus affected area.   

Although Zeka RNA has been isolated in breastmilk, there appears to be no danger whatsoever to breastfeeding infants.
Recommendation: If you are a nursing mother, and you contract the Zika virus you should continue nursing.

Daniel Keith is the creative mind and force behind Coconut designs and the Danny Coconut brand. 

1.      Zika Virus General Information:
2.      Guidelines for STD transmission of the Zika Virus:
3.      Microcephaly and the Zika Virus:
4.      Breast Feeding and the Zika Virus:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Plentiful Produce Is Coming to ANM!

by Glenni Lorick, IBCLC
About a year and a half ago I learned about an amazing local coop called Plentiful Produce. Every Saturday morning for about $23 ($20 + tax and CC fee) you can pick up a basket full of delicious, fresh fruits and vegetables.  A weekly offering might include a box of luscious strawberries, a head or two of Romaine lettuce, several onions, a bag of carrots, several oranges and apples, several sweet potatoes and a cantalope. Your share varies every week, and it's always a fun surprise! One week you might get Kale, the next Spinach. I have learned to cook Brussels Sprouts and found some amazing asparagus recipes. We eat a lot more guacamole than we did and especially love it when we have both limes and avocado the same week!

Recently the South Huntsville pick-up site closed, and we were blessed to be able to step in and become a Plentiful Produce pick up site! Every Saturday morning we will have a team of volunteers here at 11:00 sorting and grouping fruits and veggies for customers who have pre-ordered a basket. Then from 12 - 12:30 the baskets will be available for pick-up. If it's pretty outside, we will do pick up right on the sidewalk in front of the store. But if it's a yucky day, it will be inside. So don't be surprised if you come for Mommy Milk Meet-up or a Cloth Diapering 101 Class only to find a team of volunteers down the middle of the store busily working!

If you love the idea of feeding your family more fresh fruits and veggies, sign up by 10:00 am tomorrow morning here. There are two other pickup sites as well, one in Madison and one in Huntsville on University Drive just east of the Parkway. When you come on Saturday to pick up your produce, it's a good idea to have some reusable shopping bags to put everything in. We're excited that we are able to host Plentiful Produce right here at ANM because we know that our customers will love how convenient it is to get your fruits and veggies here, too!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

This Simple Test May Have Saved My Life

by Heather Fair, Guest Blogger

Every day we, as parents, try to prevent our children from getting sick. We research, ask questions, and seek educated opinions because our children's health and well-being matters. Well, Mamas, we matter too; we need to be doing the same for ourselves. Anyone who has flown in a plane knows that to be of service to others you have to take care of yourself first. That is how I view genetic testing. It is a means of ensuring the best chance humanly possible that you will be on hand for every milestone in your child's life. I did my genetic testing for my children, my husband, and myself. I did this for my family, for all of us.

 As an adolescent, I watched helplessly as my mother went through a rather aggressive pre-menopausal breast cancer when she was just a little older than I am now. It was awful. It put her and our family through so much, and sadly my only available course of prevention for years was routine monitoring and praying that I would never have to repeat that scenario with my own family.
  I am getting a head start that so many more people deserve and have available to them but may not know about. I say let's get the word out.

Well, I "lucked" out. While nursing my third child, I developed mastitis (That's not the lucky bit. LOL) and was told by a breast doctor that I would need to have my mother genetically screened for hereditary gene mutation since she had already had cancer. In my particular situation, this was not a viable option. I could, however, have the screening myself. Nevertheless, insurance wouldn’t cover it, and the cost was in the range of $4000-5000 out of pocket. 

The "luck" came after some research when I read of an initiative set in motion by Hudson Alpha here in our very own Research Park to provide breast cancer gene screenings for $99, $199 or even free depending on age, gender and location. WOW!! I was able to register for my kit the very first day it became available. It was so straightforward. They mailed me a cheek swab kit with super simple instructions (Think crime show cheek swab easy.) which I followed and then mailed back. Couldn't have been easier. They later contacted me with my results. I quickly found that in cases like mine where a mutation is found, they even had some local resources to suggest. By this point, I was far beyond luck and undeniably into pure blessing! 
This simple kit can provide you with
important genetic information 

I've now known what mutation I have for a little over two weeks, and I am already well on my way to my personal path of prevention: One made for me, by me and specifically tailored to me with the help of so many wonderful professionals ON MY TERMS without the stress of a crisis situation. I am getting a head start that so many more people deserve and have available to them but may not know about. I say let's get the word out. This isn’t the only program of its kind; it was just the best one for me.

I would encourage anyone with a family history of cancer to look into this program or one similar to it for affordable testing. Advocate for yourself like you would your children. Be fierce and go for it. Knowledge is power, and for me, that statement has never been truer than now!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Former Police Officer Goes to Court Over Breastfeeding Rights

Former Officer Stephanie Hicks with her two sons.
by Glenni Lorick, IBCLC
She swore to serve and protect those in her jurisdiction, but when it came to her right to pump breastmilk for her baby, nobody was there to protect Stephanie Hicks.

Stephanie's Story

Stephanie knew from the time she was pregnant that she wanted to breastfeed. She had many struggles at first including high bilirubin and a painful latch. She wondered what she was doing wrong and stumbled through day after exhausting day, determined to give her baby the liquid gold only she could provide for him. She even considered giving up breastfeeding, but in the next moment felt like a failure for even thinking that. Fortunately the lactation consultants at Northport Breast Center were there every step of the way, and her husband was incredibly supportive. Breastfeeding got easier, and before long it was time to return to work.

As a police officer she knew that she was guaranteed the right to break time and a clean, private, non-bathroom space for pumping under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. However, the police department she worked for chose not to follow the law. They told her to pump in the locker room, definitely neither private nor clean. Her fellow officers often gawked and asked questions as she pumped. Her supervisors questioned the length of her pumping breaks (also against the law).They even planned field work during the time she would normally be breaking to pump.

When she complained, she was reassigned to another shift that interfered even more with her feeding schedule and her childcare. The reassignment also involved a loss of pay, loss of vehicle and loss of days off. In the new assignment she was asked to violate policies as an accommodation. Her milk supply began to suffer. She ultimately had to choose between her job as a police officer and breastfeeding.

Stephanie's Fight

Stephanie pumped and donated milk to the baby on the left.

It is outrageous that a woman who has chosen to dedicate her life to protecting the rights of Alabama citizens should have her own civil rights so deliberately violated by the very department for which she works. Stephanie has chosen to fight not only for her rights, but for the rights of all breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. On Monday, February 8, 2016 her claim of pregnancy/breastfeeding discrimination will be heard at The Federal Courthouse located at 2205 University Blvd. She is claiming FMLA discrimination, retaliation and constructive termination.

Stephanie stresses, "The need for more accommodations and acceptance for nursing mothers in the workplace is huge. Despite overwhelming evidence supporting the health benefits of breastfeeding, women who choose to continue breastfeeding when they return to the paid workforce face insurmountable obstacles that can make them choose between their jobs and what is in the best interest of their babies. I feel like I was discriminated against and not accommodated under the law, but also was retaliated against when I was reassigned. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. Lactation is an obvious result of pregnancy."

Her ultimate desire is to see a change in the way employers view breastfeeding: "This is one of the first cases that will be heard by a jury in the southern District. It is a cultural transition. It's going to take an enormous shift for people to come around to understand the state and federal breastfeeding/pumping laws and also the enforcement of those laws. Speaking up about this cause is a step in the right direction."

Stephanie has gone on to have a second baby and is currently nursing him. 

Join the Protest

A breastfeeding rights protest is scheduled for the same day as Hicks' trial, February 8 from 8:00am - 1:00pm at the Federal Building (2205 University Blvd). Organizers will be wearing reflective vests. The local police department has been made aware of the protest, and as long as mothers are not causing a traffic hazard or impeding traffic or blocking any entrances or exits to the Federal Building, you should not be asked to leave. Protesters are welcome to nurse as long as they need to. If at any time you believe your free speech rights are being threatened, speak to one of the organizers.

It is important to realize that not everyone who passes by will be interested in what you are protesting. This is a peaceful protest; there is no need to argue with any bystanders. You can simply give them a copy of the Department of Labor Fact Sheet or other information related to this issue. You will need to dress appropriately for the weather because the protest will be outside. It would be a good idea to have bottled water and snacks on hand. Blankets to sit on the grass are also a good idea. 

We want the community to recognize that breastfeeding mothers only want the very best for their babies, and the want the right to continue providing breastmilk even after they go back to work. Therefore, please avoid yelling insults even if bystanders insult you. Don't vandalize public or private property, or leave any litter. And please don't spit or throw water on anyone who disagrees with you. Remember that you are the face of Alabama breastfeeding mothers. This is your opportunity to stand with former Officer Stephanie Hicks as she seeks to serve and protect breastfeeding mothers across the state.