There’s nothing like having a baby to inspire you to ponder the pursuit of healthy living. That was actress Jenna Elfman’s experience in 2007, when she was pregnant with her first child. Invited to a house party sponsored by Healthy Child Healthy World, a movement that raises awareness of harmful chemicals, she heard for the first time about low-VOC paints and chlorine-free diapers.
Fast forward five years, and Elfman — best known for her role as Dharma in Dharma and Greg — has transitioned from guest to host, ushering 60 pregnant women and mothers into her Los Angeles home one Saturday in April. As they wandered through her home exploring the latest in nursing bras laid out in Elfman’s bedroom and green cleaning products in her kitchen, they got a primer on clean living for mom and baby and the importance of breast-feeding, which has become a personal passion of Elfman’s after she personally struggled to get the hang of it with her firstborn.
Representatives from Healthy Child and Best for Babes, a breast-feeding advocacy organization, were on hand to answer questions. Ladies lunched on tea sandwiches, and Elfman — along with celebrity hosts Laila Ali and Kelly Preston, who is still nursing her 16-month-old son, Benjamin — lent their famous-mom cachet to the event. And, in true Hollywood fashion, there were swag bags — in this case, they were crammed with $1,500 of loot, including a $200 gift certificate for nursing clothing from Leading Lady and $199 towards a svelte Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair.
Here, Elfman talks about why she buys only organic produce, but still lets her sons, Story, 4½, and Easton, 2, munch on the occasional hot dog, and how she knew from the time she was 11 years old that she wanted to breast-feed.
Healthland: So do you feed your kids all organic produce?
Elfman: Only organic produce and as much organic stuff as possible. In terms of canned foods, I try to use canned goods from this one company that doesn’t use BPA [Eden Foods]. I’m not a full hippie granola make-all-your-own-stuff kind of person. I’m not good in the kitchen. If I was a better wife and homemaker, I would make more of my own stuff, but that is not who I am.
Are you strict about what they eat when you’re out and about?
The majority of our life is organic. When we’re out and there’s a birthday party or we’re somewhere and there’s a hot dog, I’m like, eat a hot dog.
After you attended a Healthy Children party, what changes did you make?
I got an organic crib mattress and used low-VOC [volatile organic compounds] paint in the nursery, bamboo floors in the kids’ rooms, chlorine- and alcohol-free diapers and wipes and organic baby shampoos. I use cleaning products that are not massively chemical-based. Vinegar and soap and water go a long way.
Who did you invite to the party at your home?
Friends, celebrity moms, friends of friends and tastemaker new mothers. We wanted no press there during the event because we wanted whoever was going to be there to feel safe talking about their nipples. We did a walk-through of the house. Easton’s room had organic diapers and there were non-toxic art products on the kids’ art table. There were chemical-free beauty products for moms in my master bath and lactation consultants and nursing bras in the master bedroom.
Why do you think so many women decide not to breast-feed?
There are familial barriers and institutional barriers. In my prenatal classes, breast-feeding was talked about for five minutes. It was like, Hold your boob like this, and I didn’t even know what she was talking about. And these were private lessons. My mom didn’t breast-feed me. My generation was all formula-fed mothers. The first time I saw someone breast-feed I was 11 or 12. And I was like, Whoa. I thought it was awesome, and I wanted to do that. It felt so right to me.
Didn’t you have trouble breast-feeding Story?
I received practically zero education before having the kid. I had a C-section and he was was eating every hour and a half and I couldn’t get him to latch on properly. I didn’t even know what a latch was. All prenatal classes should really educate women about breast-feeding.
It’s like driving. You can’t just tell people to put the keys in the ignition and go. You need to teach women how to do this. I didn’t know and I had such damage to my nipples and by the time they healed, he was no longer interested in going back on my breast. I pumped for 10½ months, in the back of cars, driving down freeways, in airplanes in my seat. I was a pumping machine. I had milk falling out of my freezer.
I had a friend whose sister was pregnant and gave birth to a baby while on methamphetamines. My friend took care of the baby. They tried every formula, and they were telling me about it one day while I was opening my freezer and breast milk was falling on my toes. They took some home and immediately he started flourishing. I saw first-hand what human milk will do for a child. I feel like his fairy godmother.
Why did you want to host this event at your house?
My own breast-feeding experience was so rough. Now I am always on a quest to ask pregnant women if they are planning to breast-feed. If I’m on the subway in New York and there’s a pregnant woman, I’ll start talking. If they say they’re not interested, that’s fine. But I want women who want to breast-feed or may be ambivalent to know they can do it. When it’s done right, it’s so awesome to breast-feed your kid. You just get to sit there and recover, and your baby gets to know you and it’s so amazing and healing.
There are people who would say you’re being elitist and snobbish with all your emphasis on organic produce, for example, which can be very expensive.
It’s so not elitist and so not snobby because we’re talking about health. Cleaning with vinegar instead of toxic products is not elitist and probably a lot cheaper than things people are buying. I understand the expense of organic but I think there are ways to handle that, even if you just change the apples. Take just one fruit and one vegetable for your kids and make it organic and that is probably better than what you’re doing already.
There’s a balance. Just do what you can. The majority of people out there want to make things better for them and their family. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t start making things better. There are so many Americans who have absolutely no idea the amount of toxins in their households. If I can make them stop and put the brakes on for a second and think, Wait, is that bad?, if I can inspire people to make changes, that’s great. I just wanted to start raising awareness.