Busting the Myths About Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is nature’s way of welcoming the newborn and comforting the new mother. But there are many myths that surround breastfeeding

Woman breastfeeding her child

Breastfeeding is a natural and physiological process—one that provides nutrition to the baby and also helps the mother recover from childbirth.

Pregnancy causes changes in the breasts which prepare the body for breast feeding. The delivery of the placenta initiates the colostrum [first milk that is produced at the end of pregnancy and just after delivery] and the stimulation provided by the infant helps the milk to mature and then everything progresses very smoothly.

But along the way there are many ifs and buts. Many of these seem to be just hearsay, old wives tales or myths. At times, these can be very confusing for a new mother making her anxious. Breast milk has all the nutrients that a baby requires in the first six months of life. Supplements are not required and even water is not needed. Practices such as placing a drop of honey on a newborn’s tongue should be avoided.

There are only two requisites for increasing the secretion of breast milk:

  • Frequent stimulation: By the baby or with the help of a breast pump
  • A happy mom: Yes, high stress levels in the mother can reduce milk supply. Breast milk is produced by the action of two hormones – oxytocin and prolactin. Oxytocin is also known as the love / happy hormone. If the mom is anxious and stressed, there is less oxytocin and hence less or no breast milk.

6 Prevalent Myths About Breastfeeding

1. Certain foods can increase breast milk supply

In Indian culture, some foods have been glorified as breastfeeding foods and some others have been given a bad name. There are no special foods which make more milk. Yes, there are some foods like methi [fenugreek], cumin seeds, oats and papaya, which are considered as galactagogues but their main function is to purify the blood and hence improve nutrient absorption.

2. Moms must avoid having anything cold when breastfeeding

Eating cold foods doesn’t make breast milk go cold and if the mother has ice-creams, it doesn’t cause a cold in the baby.  Spicy foods don’t make the milk spicy and foods like chole [chickpeas] don’t cause gas in the baby. It is important that the mother takes a balanced diet and consumes everything in moderation. If the mom is craving a treat like an occasional ice-cream, she should go ahead and have it as it will help her to feel happy and satisfied, which is most essential.

3. Ghee and sugar is a must

For a mother who is breastfeeding, special ladoos are prepared with a lot of ghee and sugar. There are other so-called mandatory ingredients like dry fruits and nuts, edible gum that are surely healthy for the mother. But eating excess ghee and sugar will only cause the mother to gain weight. Remember, women all over the world breastfeed their children and do it without consuming loads of ghee and sugar. Again, moderation is best approach.

4. One top feed at night

Many mothers feel that giving the baby one top feed at night will help the baby to sleep better, but this is not true. It is possible for the baby to sleep well after consuming just breast milk. In the first few days, the baby’s stomach is very small and hence the baby needs to feed often. The supply of breast milk in the first few days is less but enough for the baby. What the baby needs is frequent small feeds and a lot of cuddling. The baby is in a new world and is overwhelmed, hence is fussy and cries often. When the mother holds the baby close to the chest, the baby feels secure and can hear the mother’s heartbeat. This helps the baby to calm down. Mothers may mistake this for the baby being hungry, but in reality the baby is only looking for some comfort.

5. Bottle to the rescue

To give the baby top feed, the mother may also end up using a bottle, which can get the baby hooked on to the bottle. At times, just one or two bottlefeeds can teach the baby that it is easier to feed on the bottle and cause the baby to reject the breast. This itself causes a lot of stress and anxiety to the mother. If top feed is required, it should be given only with the prescription of the pediatrician and it should be given using a small bowl and spoon or a medicine dropper.

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6. If the baby suckles it wants more milk

Babies are born with an inborn need to suckle. Being at the breast is not only nutrition but also comfort. The suckling reflex and the tongue thrust action are very strong in the first six months of life. At this time the baby needs to feed at the breast or suckle to satisfy these reflexes. Many times a baby will resort to sucking on the thumb or fingers or even the whole fist. This is a sign that the baby wants to suckle and is not necessarily hungry. It is best to offer the breast frequently in the first few months as this will keep the baby from sucking on thumb and fingers.

A new mother should have a lot of support during the initial period to help her feel that she will be able to produce enough milk. At times, just helping the mother relax will increase the milk supply.

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