REACHE board member Catherine Berglund spoke with Laurel Wilson on February 13 about her upcoming lectures at REACHE. Here’s a transcript of their chat:
C: I’m here with author and perinatal expert Laurel Wilson, who will be covering two sessions at our upcoming conference. Laurel, one of your talks will be about marijuana and its effects on pregnancy and breastfeeding. What first piqued your interest in that topic?
L: Well, I actually live in Colorado, and the question started to come up in breastfeeding support groups, breastfeeding classes, and just everywhere in our professional groups, whether or not it was safe during pregnancy and lactation. One of the big challenges is the fact that for many women, they see it as the best alternative to toxic drugs, if they have some sort of treatment that they’re looking for. The other issue is that many women are prescribed marijuana, and so there’s this sense that since it’s a prescription now (in some states) that it is also safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding. But the reality is we just don’t know. So, there’s a lot of information around that, which I will share at the conference. But it is becoming quite a big topic across the country, particularly when in this last election, we had several states go ahead and legalize for either recreational use or medical use marijuana within their state.
C: And as I’m sure you’re aware, Washington and Colorado were the first two states to legalize it…
C: So it’s timely that we have a Coloradan speaker coming to Washington.
L: I’m excited to come there.
C: Would you say that you’ve seen an uptick in marijuana’s use amongst the clients that come into your practice?
L: Absolutely. We have seen a tremendous increase in the use of marijuana, just across the board, and then also we have seen an increase in use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Again, there is this perception that it is safe, or safer than pharmaceuticals.
C: Your other talk will focus on attachment and breastfeeding, with emphasis on epigenetics.
L: Yeah, that’s one of my favorite topics!
C: Great, I was fascinated by it, too. In your daily practice, how much do you delve into the science of stress and its possible effects on the fetus and on breastfeeding? Do you keep it pretty superficial or does it depend on your clients, keeping in mind that a lot of our audience will be childbirth instructors.
L: You know, I find a way to weave it in to just the average topic that we’re talking about. For example, if I’m talking about how the baby is getting colostrum in its first couple of days post-delivery, I start to talk to them about how colostrum has all these immune factors in it which actually can either activate or suppress activation of important genes that help our babies long term, in terms of their long-term health. Or if we’re talking about vaginal delivery vs. Caesarean delivery, i start to talk to them about the fact that baby is picking up very specific and unique bacteria between those two types of delivery and those bacteria actually do interact with our epigenome and can cause long-term health consequences because of the certain genes they either activate or inactivate. So, I guess I just find a way to weave it into whatever topic I’m discussing. I don’t go into lengthy discussions often with clients about methylation and histones! It’s important, I think, for health-care professionals to understand that, to understand how that’s happening and why it’s happening and why it’s important. But for your everyday family, what they want to know is why this particular action that I may take or may not take may result in either health or disease in my child.
C: That’s a really good way to word it. You don’t want to dumb it down too much, but you want your opinions to sound like they have some science behind them.
L: Right, right.
C: We know you’ve published a couple of books on bonding and attachment in pregnancy. Are you working on any future publications?
L: I am. Right now I’m working on a book called “The Critical First One Thousand,” which is about the epigenome and microbiome and also the impact of our decisions, our parenting decisions, on brain health and brain development, so I am working on that project now. I’m working on an e-book right now on marijuana and breastfeeding as well, so that is to come. I don’t plan on publishing that in hard-back, but I do want that information available, wide scale.
C: I know your work involves a lot of travel, and not just to conferences like ours. Can you share a little about your recent trip to Greece and what you did there?
L: Yeah, so I like to every year focus on some project that allows me to participate in volunteerism and help families in a way that I don’t get to throughout the year because of my travel schedule and my work schedule, and so this year I decided to focus on Syrian refugees. I found the organization called Nurture Project International and I was able to go with a friend to Greece and I worked in a refugee camp for about ten days. The focus of my work was really to provide lactation and maternal-child health support while I was there. It was really an eye-opening experience for me on many levels. Firstly, I was really impressed with the fact that Nurture Project International had managed to make the camp, particularly the one that i was working at, 100% breastfeeding. We didn’t have any children under the age of six months receiving infant formula. They were ALL being breastfed by their mothers, which is quite an accomplishment, when you consider all of the challenges that these families are going through. But the reality is, breastfeeding is the best and the easiest thing to do in an emergency. it doesn’t involve paraphernalia, it doesn’t involve the need for electricity, it doesn’t involve the need for cleaning anything, and it also is improving the stress levels of mom and baby and improving their health outcomes, so it’s absolutely the best thing that can be done for families in emergency situations. it was lovely; as I was providing help and support for these families that have very little, they would, on a daily basis, invite myself and my peers into their tents and they would feed us. With their very meagre food that they had access to, they would every day thank us by feeding us. I just thought it was such a beautiful continuum of us helping them to feed their babies and them feeding us daily. It was a lovely experience. Also, a heart-breaking experience, to know, to hear the tragedies of where these families had come from and the unknown of what they were potentially going to experience. I was grateful to be able to help.
C: What fascinating and rewarding work, Laurel! Not really what we picture when we hear the term “lactation consultant.”
C: We really look forward to hearing what you have to say in March. Thanks for your time today.