Holistic Moms Network – Grassroots Support for Healthy Parenting

Parenting is tough for everyone. And living holistically has challenges of its own. But being holistic and a parent, too? You may need support for that.

That’s why Executive Director Nancy Massotto created the Holistic Moms Network, a nonprofit organization that brings together holistically minded parents to share ideas and support each other. Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke by phone with Massotto to learn more about this rapidly growing, grassroots movement. — Publisher

New Jersey members of the Holistic Moms Network. Photo Courtesy: Holistic Moms Network

HMN Members in Middlesex County, NJ Chapter. Photo: Courtesy Holistic Moms Network

MASSOTTO: The original chapter, which is the ongoing Essex County, NJ, chapter, was started by three holistically minded mothers. In 2002, by a stroke of luck, I met two mothers in a breastfeeding support group. We were all parenting differently in terms of choosing holistic health care options for our children; and being advocates for things like natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and eco-conscious living. We were finding it very difficult to navigate our way in parenthood without having other parents around us who felt the same way. So we teamed up to launch the original chapter in northern New Jersey and ran it for about a year.

At our first meeting, about a dozen moms came, which was really exciting. We realized it was an incredibly empowering experience for like-minded people to be in the same place and to support each other. Over the course of a year, the local chapter grew to about 80 or 90 members. Moms came from all over the place to connect with our core group, and it escalated quite a bit.

It was at that point I said to the other two founders that we should be an organization, not just a local chapter. There were clearly parents across the country who could benefit from the support, education, and information we were experiencing collectively. I suggested we launch Holistic Moms as a nonprofit national organization with chapters all over the country, and the two other moms looked at me like I was completely crazy. It was way more work than they were interested in doing. So, I took on the task of building the national organization. I’ve always been a type A personality, and there was certainly no reason to stop now. So in October 2003, I put the organization in motion.

BPGL: How many chapters do you have now?

A New Jersey Holistic Moms Network member with her kids. Photo Courtesy: Holistic Moms Network

Holistic Mom, Middlesex County, NJ Chapter. Photo: Courtesy Holistic Moms Network

MASSOTTO: We have about 120 active chapters in the U.S. and a couple of chapters forming in Canada. We’re not interested in expanding outside of North America right now; it’s just a little more than we could we handle at this point.

BPGL: What kind of members do you attract?

MASSOTTO: We have parents of all ages: parents of adult children, grandparents, dads, and expecting parents. It’s a really diverse population, even though we started with a focus on moms.

We encourage dads to join as well. Our online community has special boards for fathers, and we do have a few chapters that have meetings specifically for dads. Our Leadership Team is very committed to our name, Holistic Moms, but we are trying to bring more fathers in. There are quite a few who are very active. They attend a lot of meetings and events and organization, and it works out really well.

BPGL: What happens during a typical meeting? Specifically, what could I expect as a parent new to the group?

MASSOTTO: All of our meetings are based on a specific theme or topic and may or may not involve a guest speaker. A guest speaker would be a professional in health or parenting, such as an herbalist, to teach you about a certain subject, such as herbs for medicinal purposes or organic gardening. It’s usually someone from the community who has a level of expertise of knowledge to share.

If it’s your first meeting, you will be introduced to the group and the leader will explain what Holistic Moms is, what we do, and how we run. We always do introductions, because, as I said, a large part of what we do is about community, and you need to get to know each other. So we often take time to introduce ourselves to each other and talk about our holistic passions. And then you may have the guest speaker present for usually about 30 or 45 minutes. Then you have an opportunity to connect and talk more with moms who are there and learn what the community is doing.

BPGL: Let’s say I’m a mom who wants to start a chapter, what kind of support services will you give me?

MASSOTTO: We have a whole process. When you want to start a local chapter, you first apply. There is a small leader’s fee, a one-time fee that you pay to cover materials and training. First we set up a phone interview. We will sit down and talk about what Holistic Moms is, what it does, what their desire is for starting a chapter, and discuss their local community and resources that are available to them. After that they’ll receive a complete manual, which is basically a step-by-step guide on how to start a chapter. It has everything in it from how to find an appropriate meeting location, to how to write a press release, to possible meeting topics they might want to cover or activities they might want to include in their chapter.

We also send them materials: brochures, fliers, and business cards representing the Network. Then the potential leader has a conference call training, where we go over the keys to building a successful chapter. We also connect them to an online community, just for chapter leaders, where they can exchange ideas and information about running a chapter.

Once the leader has started their chapter, we offer regular support calls throughout the year on a variety of topics, such as outreach and publicity for their chapters, time management, and organizational skills, or we simply share information with the leader to help them continue to build a successful group.

They learn a lot about how to build a successful local community, but many women use the professional skills they already have. It can be very empowering for them as a leader.

BPGL: So, in addition to building chapters, you’re actually building women as leaders?

MASSOTTO: We are, and it’s interesting, because it wasn’t something I anticipated. One of the beautiful, unexpected benefits of Holistic Moms is that a lot of the parents who come to us are enormously well-accomplished women who have stepped back from their professional jobs to be parents. By becoming Holistic Moms leaders, they find the whole experience to be empowering on a personal level, because they’re using their skills and gaining a sense of purpose, passion, and motivation for what they do.

I find some really emotional responses from leaders that I did not expect. A lot of women feel disoriented when they transition from their professional careers to being an at-home mom. This has really answered that call for them, which I think is amazing. In addition to creating communities and offering moms support for holistic options, we are also helping empower them as women.

BPGL: What are your mission and purpose?

NoVa-Leaders-2

Northern Virginia chapter leaders. Photo: Courtesy Holistic Moms Network

MASSOTTO: In a nutshell, our mission is to support and educate parents who are interested in holistic health and green living. We do that through grassroots community-building by creating chapters where parents can connect and learn. Holistic Moms also integrates those chapters into local areas so that business owners, practitioners, and educators who are passionate about holistic living can bring their knowledge into the group as well.

BPGL: Do you take a position on issues, or do you just provide information and let the parents form an opinion?

MASSOTTO: Our intention is to educate people about certain issues and give them the ability to make an informed decision. We’re not here to argue with people’s philosophical or religious beliefs, but certainly to provide an alternative look on lifestyle choices. We don’t want parents to blindly fall into a trap of what most people do. We find that a lot in our organization. Parents will come in saying they didn’t know XYZ is an option. They just listened to what their girlfriends, doctors, or parents said, and never even questioned it. We want people to make conscious choices.

BPGL: What are some of the first things a new mother should do? If breastfeeding is number one, what would you say is number two?

MASSOTTO: It’s not necessarily a specific set of things, because it varies so much among children. The most important aspect is that parents are educated and informed. Moms with a newborn really need to think organic in every aspect of their life. They also need to consider the products in their baby’s environment. What kind of bed are they sleeping on? What toys are they putting into their mouth? What other food is being put into their mouth, if they aren’t breastfeeding? We hope most women are breastfeeding, but certainly when they’re introducing other foods, they need to be aware of what is in them.

A lot of that is a step-by-step process, and there many different elements they need to look at in their own homes. There are so many different avenues where we can improve the health and well-being of our children. It’s a very personal, individual program for making really radical change.

BPGL: What do you think is the most important issue right now for the health of children?

MASSOTTO: Broadly, environmental toxins. Our children are being bombarded on many different levels by toxins in our food, air, and water — also, potentially, from the vaccinations they are receiving. Their bodies are being overwhelmed. The rising rates we see in children’s diseases are a factor of that burden. It’s getting to, if not already at, extremely critical levels that are not being addressed.

BPGL: I saw on your website you have almost a whole page that addresses dental fillings and issues related to mercury. It sounds like a scary issue.

MASSOTTO: It is. There are many concerns about what we are putting into our bodies, for children and adults. There is a very strong disconnect between the chemicals we put into the environment and that go into our bodies, and what’s going on with our health. I think we really need to start making those connections.

BPGL: It sounds like you almost need to have a chemistry degree to be a holistic parent.

MASSOTTO: We certainly aren’t experts in all areas, and I certainly don’t profess to be. That’s one of the challenges of being a holistic-minded parent. Many people become very overwhelmed with all of the news and information about everyday elements being dangerous and toxic, they just don’t know what to do or where to start.

One of things we hope to do is really help people make small changes that work for them. Not everyone makes the same choices as a holistic mom. We are all working toward a similar goal and mission for our lives, families, and the planet, but we don’t all do it in the same manner. We believe people have to be educated and know what those options are, know the risks and benefits of all those choices, and make the best choices for their family. We definitely are not about telling people what to do.

Moms at a Holistic Moms Network meeting. Photo Courtesy: Holistic Moms Network

Holistic Moms and their kids. Photo: Courtesy Holistic Moms Network

BPGL: I’ve heard of some parents overprotecting their children from germs. Do you ever run into that problem? If so, what do you advise them to do?

MASSOTTO: I do think there is a little bit of germ-phobia, but it’s not so much the germs we should be focusing on. We should be concentrating on preventive health. It’s all about the immune system — what we can do to make our bodies as strong as possible. There are always going to be germs in the world, no matter what we do. The question is, can we withstand those germs, or can’t we? If we are living an unhealthy lifestyle — a lot of which has to do with nutrition, stress, or the air we breathe and chemicals in our environment – we are weakening our immune system. Looking at it from a holistic approach is looking at the whole equation, not just focusing on germs.

BPGL: Do you collaborate with any other organizations?

MASSOTTO: We do, some. We are philosophically aligned with a number of groups, because we share a lot of different philosophies. A holistic philosophy is so overarching, it encompasses so many different aspects. We have collaborated with a lot of different organizations on special projects or education campaigns to move things forward. We support many different groups, like La Leche League, for breastfeeding promotion. There is an enormous amount of potential for Holistic Moms working with other organizations on many different levels.

BPGL: Do you do any lobbying?

MASSOTTO: No. We are a 501(c)3, so we aren’t in a position to lobby. We do know our members have been locally active, getting involved in their communities, but it’s not a position that we can get involved in because of our status.

BPGL: Why did you choose to be a 501(c)3, rather than a for-profit entity?

MASSOTTO: For a lot of different reasons. We want to further our mission and purpose in a way that furthers our credibility. We believe we are here to serve the public good in a very large way, in terms of education and support. Nonprofit status is what represents our mission and purpose.

BPGL: How do you survive financially?

Holistic Moms produced a cookbook as a fundraising project. Photo Courtesy:

Holistic Moms produced a cookbook as a fund-raising project. Photo Courtesy:

MASSOTTO: We struggle. We’re a membership-based organization. Membership is our predominate financial resource at this point. We have started a sponsorship program, which is hopefully going to help bring more financial resources to us. And we have some other options in terms of fundraising. We do hope to get into grants from foundations, but we are still a very small and new operation. Holistic Moms is lucky enough to have a lot of wonderful people volunteer their time and effort to make the organization work. But expanding our financial base is certainly one of our objectives for the future.

BPGL: What other challenges are you faced with? What were some of the things you’ve overcome?

MASSOTTO: Clearly, the biggest challenge is building the organization from the ground up. I’ve worked in nonprofit organizations in the past, but never started one from the bottom. It’s been a real learning experience. One of the greatest challenges we’ve faced is that our growth has outpaced us a little bit. I established a website around October 2003, when we started, and within three days of putting up the website, someone contacted me saying they wanted to start a chapter. I just sat there and said, “Wow, I don’t even have a process for this yet.” It wasn’t even ready; we were just kind of playing with it. We’ve been playing catchup ever since.

We ended our first year with 20-some chapters in 14 states. It was just mind-boggling. But we’ve been fortunate to attract a really dynamic group of people, who are inspired by the mission and purpose of our organization. They’ve been willing to volunteer a lot of time to make Holistic Moms grow and fill all of these ideas we have. There is certainly no lack of ideas for us; it’s a matter of having the finances to make that all happen. It’s been a good challenge in a sense, that we have so much to do and so much interest, it’s hard to keep up. It’s certainly a challenge we want to have.

BPGL: How do people hear about your organization?

MASSOTTO: People predominately hear about us through word of mouth and the internet. We’ve made very valuable connections with holistic practitioners, business owners, and people who are trying to live green and sustainable. Social marketing has been great for our network, because it is a very social, personal approach. We grow so fast from moms reaching out to other moms.

BPGL: Do you have an annual meeting or conference?

Holistic Moms Network Conference. Photo Courtesy: Holistic Moms Network

Holistic Moms Network Conference. Photo Courtesy: Holistic Moms Network

MASSOTTO: We do. It’s called the Natural Living Conference. It’s held every year in October, and will be in October again this year. We try to bring in speakers of interest to our members. We also have vendors, exhibitors, and sponsors. It’s a pretty custom event and has been very successful and popular with our members. Information for our conference is on our website and annualconference.holisticmoms.org.

BPGL: What else would you like parents to know about the Holistic Moms Network?

MASSOTTO: One thing I like to make people understand is that it doesn’t matter how holistic or how green someone is when they’re deciding if they want to be a part of the Holistic Moms community. Parents will say “I didn’t have my children naturally,” or “I didn’t breastfeed,” but it doesn’t really apply. It doesn’t matter what choices you’ve made along the way, or whether or not you’re achieving or struggling with your goals. We welcome a really diverse membership into our group. It’s all about the goals and objectives you have. Wanting to live more consciously for yourself and planet is a journey. Some of us have been on the journey for a long time, some have just started, and others are in the middle. We want people to come with an open mind and take what works for them.

Megan Lisman

Intern

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Green Living Pet Care: A Holistic Look at Vaccinations

In recent years, a growing number of parents have expressed concern about the immunizations they’re being told to give their children. Their fears include side effects from the sheer number of vaccinations and from the vaccines themselves. By challenging the status quo, these parents have caused some in the scientific community to re-examine accepted practices and initiate further research in the quest for a safe immunization protocol for all children. But who is advocating for pets?

Your pets count on you for safe care. Photo: Doreen Hock, DVM

Your pets count on you for safe care. Photo: Doreen Hock, DVM

If your veterinarian follows drug company recommendations, you probably have your pets vaccinated every year to prevent disease. But, in my opinion, that’s not beneficial to the health of most companion animals. For most pets, the greater danger lies in over vaccination.

Drug companies — the funders of drug efficacy studies — have only been required by the government to prove that the duration of immunity they claim is true. In other words, if they say a vaccination is good for one year, they must prove that animals are protected from that illness for one year.

But they’re not required to determine the potential time a vaccination could actually protect an animal from disease. So they arbitrarily pick a time frame, study whether the vaccine is effective for that time, then make their claim.

Is it in their interest to study whether a vaccine can protect a pet for a longer term? Let’s put it this way, if they were to tell pet owners that a vaccine is good for two years instead of one, that would cut their profits in half. And claiming longer efficacy would slash their sales even more.

In veterinary school, we learned that vaccinations were good for companion animals. We never dreamed they could cause harm. Yet, in the past ten years or so, vets have been reporting an alarming number of tumors forming at the vaccination site in cats.

When we started realizing that the tumors were associated with vaccinations, suddenly people wanted to reevaluate how often they should vaccinate. Immunologists chose three years as the arbitrary period of effectiveness, with recommendations to do titers to test whether a vaccine is still able to protect the pet after that. As long as the pet is protected, it doesn’t require a booster.

Unfortunately, few veterinarians are testing animals for immunity; they’re simply following the drug companies’ recommendations. But the holistic veterinary world is challenging the old beliefs.

It’s widely known in veterinary medicine that rabies and distemper vaccines create tumors in many dogs and cats. In Oregon, where I practice, these vaccines are required only every three years in an adult dog, and not required at all for cats. This may not be the case in other states, and each pet owner should follow the law in their own state, territory, or country.

Cats

Indoor cats are not likely to be at risk for rabies. Photo: Doreen Hock, DVM

Indoor cats are not likely to be at risk for rabies. Photo: Doreen Hock, DVM

Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can cross from other animals to humans. If not treated early, rabies is fatal in humans and always fatal in cats and dogs. In my area of the U.S., rabies is very low risk. If a cat stays indoors at all times, there is virtually no way for it to contract the disease. In Oregon, a cat would have to catch a rabid bat and be bitten by it before catching rabies. Most cats don’t fight with rabid skunks, so the risk of rabies is low.

From a Health Department perspective, however, the concern is that cats can easily transfer rabies into the home. If rabies is prevalent in your area, then rabies is a vaccine you’d choose for your cat. You and your vet should talk about it.

The distemper vaccine covers four viruses, including those that attack the upper respiratory system, as well as distemper. In cats, distemper is a lifestyle disease. In cats, distemper is a relatively rare disease. Unless you live in an area where distemper is present, I don’t recommend giving a vaccine not likely to be needed — especially when three additional, optional vaccines are included. I call these “optional,” because the upper respiratory viruses are not considered fatal.

Indoor cats that live in homes are generally safe from catching distemper if they live where no other animal has had the disease in the past year. The exception is cats living with people who work in animal shelters, kennels, or catteries, because people can carry the disease on their hands. Another way to catch distemper is through fleas and other insects, so be sure to vaccinate a cat if insects are a problem.

It’s a good idea, on the other hand, to vaccinate an outdoor cat or one that is likely to be exposed to other animals.

Outdoor cats are at greater risk for disease. Photo: Doreen Hock, DVM

Outdoor cats are at greater risk for disease. Photo: Julia Wasson

Feline leukemia is similar to the human AIDS virus and is transmitted through bodily fluids. It causes immune suppression, resulting in cats easily acquiring other diseases. Feline leukemia is especially common in wild cats and cats that are sexually active. The disease is transmitted sexually, through mother’s milk, and through wounds sustained when fighting with an infected cat. The decision to vaccinate should be based on an evaluation of your cat’s lifestyle and if it is in the high-risk category.

At our clinic, we test kittens to see if they have acquired leukemia from their mothers. If they are outdoor cats that might fight with strays, then a leukemia vaccine is a good idea. For indoor cats, the vaccine is unlikely to be necessary. Similar to a healthy human living with someone infected with HIV, a healthy cat often can live with a leukemia-positive cat without contracting the disease.

Dogs

Puppies definitely need to be vaccinated. Most veterinarians give a 5-in-1 vaccine called a DHLPP (distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza). But I don’t give the “H” (hepatitis) or the “L” (leptospirosis). This is controversial; your veterinarian may not agree with me.

Puppy shots are essential for good health. Photo: Julia Wasson

Puppy shots are essential for good health. Photo: Julia Wasson

Some dogs in Oregon get leptospirosis, but often they’ve already been vaccinated. In most cases, the “L” in the vaccine doesn’t give adequate protection, because the street virus is mutated from the strain in the vaccine. Also, part of the vaccine is left out because of side effects, so it does not provide complete protection for the animal. In my opinion, the limited protection provided is not worth the risk of giving the vaccine.

Viral hepatitis is very rare in my region. In fact I have not seen any cases of it in my years as a vet. Although many resources you might find on the Internet call canine hepatitis a “common” disease in dogs, Dr. Susan Wynn, a highly respected holistic practitioner, researcher, and author, says canine hepatitis “is rarely seen today….”

So, as with some other vaccines, I consider that the risk of giving the hepatitis vaccine to my canine patients outweighs the risk of contracting the disease. If it’s a common problem where you live, however, you should discuss this vaccination with your veterinarian.

Parvovirus (parvo) is a big risk for puppies. It’s a very hearty virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea and is usually fatal without intensive treatment. The virus can live in the ground for a year. If you happen to walk where a dog with parvo vomited — even months before — you might bring the virus home to your dog on your shoe. Parvo is highly contagious, and not worth the risk of leaving your puppy unprotected by vaccination.

My recommendation is to give puppy shots, then to carefully select which boosters to give beyond that. Parvo is very rare in an adult dog — even one that hasn’t been vaccinated. In my 20 years as a vet, I’ve seen only one case in an adult dog.

Healthy animals make good companions. Photo: Doreen Hock, DVM

Healthy animals make good companions. Photo: Doreen Hock, DVM

Many vets recommend giving shots of the 5-in-1 (DHLPP) vaccine at 8, 12, 16, and 20 weeks. I only give the parvo and distemper vaccines, and I only give them twice, but I use a specific brand of vaccine in order to be able to give just two puppy shots. It would be a mistake not to give those vaccines.

If you live in an area where veterinarians insist on the four-shot series, and that’s your only option, then do it for your puppy, because parvo protection is so important. Then, shop around for a vet who will give only the vaccines your dog really needs.

I only give the parainfluenza vaccine with Bordetella as a kennel cough vaccine when required by a kennel for boarding. Kennel cough is not a fatal disease and, therefore, I don’t feel its risk outweighs the risk of vaccination.

Boosters

In my view, a mistake most people make is to allow vets to give their dogs yearly boosters of all five vaccines in the 5-in-1 shot. That’s a lot of vaccine. The adverse effect is that we over-stimulate the dog’s immune system. If the immune system is revved up all year, that leads to allergic reactions and possibly increases their risk of cancer. I see animals with allergic reactions all the time. Remember, unless an immunization is mandated by law, you do not have to agree to it.

I give puppies vaccinations for parvo, distemper, and rabies. Every three years after that, I give a rabies booster, as mandated by law in Oregon. At seven years, I give boosters for parvo and distemper. This is a lot less than what most vets give, but it’s a regimen I trust for most dogs in my practice. If you feel like you need more surety in your pet’s protection from contagions, a simple blood test can check the levels of immunity still present after vaccination. This test is called a titer, and many veterinarians are now offering it for people who request it.

Older Dogs

Studies in the Journal of Veterinary Medicine describe an increased correlation with serious life-threatening diseases in the two weeks following vaccinations in older dogs. Most vets vaccinate older dogs just like younger dogs. I will not vaccinate dogs over seven years (except against rabies). This is very controversial, but it’s not my opinion alone.

Protect your pets with only the vaccines necessary to assure robust health. Photo: Doreen Hock

Protect your pets by giving them only the vaccines they need for robust good health. Photo: Doreen Hock

Veterinary doctor Ronald D. Schultz, professor and chair of the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Veterinary Medicine, has independently studied the efficacy of canine vaccinations. I say “independently,” because his funding did not come from the pharmaceutical industry. His findings, which were published in 2003 in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association and revised in 2006, have been the cornerstone of new recommendations that significantly reduce the frequency of dog vaccinations.

I’m confident that veterinarians who recommend yearly boosters honestly believe that what they’re doing is the safest course of action for pets. Most vets want to do the right thing by their patients and their patients’ owners. Yet, holistic vets like myself disagree that a yearly booster shot is a wise choice for the pets that you love.

We’re not likely to have a definitive answer very soon, as there is little funding to research this question. Schultz’s work stands nearly alone. It’s difficult to find funding for such a study when nobody will make money from not doing vaccinations.

Until we have that answer, titers are an important screening method to verify whether your pet needs specific shots. According to Dr. Wynn, “Antibody titers are not going to save you any money, and they should still be done every 1–3 years, until we know how long these antibodies actually last in the blood. These annual tests will give us peace of mind, while at the same time helping to establish just how long vaccinations actually protect the average dog or cat. Knowledge of how to more safely and judiciously vaccinate our pets will save many thousands of pets unnecessary illnesses caused by our well-intentioned vaccine programs.”

In human medicine, you and I don’t get booster shots every year. We don’t get a tetanus shot more often than about 10 years, and tetanus isn’t even an effective vaccine. So when it’s time to take your cat or dog for a checkup, have a conversation to find out what your vet really thinks about yearly shots.

If your vet insists on yearly boosters for your healthy pet without testing to see if they’re needed, recommend Dr. Schultz’s work. If your vet still won’t listen, find someone who will. Your pet is counting on you.

Doreen Hock, DVM, Pacifica Veterinary Services

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)