Common Myths Regarding Breastfeeding in India

Myth: First milk (colostrum) should not be given to children.
Fact: First milk is one of the best things we can give to a newborn. Colostrum helps protect the child from diseases, as it aids in the development of the newborn’s immune system. It has a cathartic effect in that it prompts the excretion of excess bilirubin from the newborn and decreases the chances of jaundice [1]. Colostrum is rich in several essential vitamins (such as vitamin K and A), as well as antibodies, which are what help the newborn’s body to fight off commonly occurring infections. No artificial feed can substitute the first milk, with all of its natural benefits, and therefore it should be fed to the child after birth.

Myth: The mother should not breastfeed if suffering from an infection.
Fact: If the mother has an infection, the baby, like any other family member, would normally contract the infection through close contact with the mother. While breastfeeding, in itself, is unlikely to pass the infection, it will pass antibodies to the baby that will help the baby fight the infection and get better faster. That being said, breastfeeding should not be stopped if the mother has an infection. However, there are certain infections, like HIV, TB, human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or II, and untreated brucellosis, which can be dangerous for the newborn, and breastfeeding should be stopped when such infections are present [2].

Myth: Infants need water in addition to being breastfed.
Fact: Breast milk is rich in water, so breastfed babies do not need additional water. Feeding on water and other fluid supplements decreases the newborn baby’s interest toward the breast milk. The decreased demand for milk from the baby results in the decreased secretion of oxytocin and prolactin, which ultimately decreases the milk production in the lactating mother [3].

Myth: A woman who becomes pregnant must stop breastfeeding.
Fact: Breastfeeding does not have any effect on the pregnancy or the quality of the breast milk, so it can be continued during pregnancy and after the birth of the newborn. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a child needs to breastfeed for 1 year or longer, as desired by mother and infant. The WHO recommends six months of exclusive breastfeeding for newborns, based on a trial comparing 4- and 6-month durations. [4, 7]

Myth: Breastfeeding changes the shape and size of the breasts.
Fact: Partly true! Hormonal changes during pregnancy alter the look and feel of the breast. When you first begin breastfeeding, your breasts may become swollen with milk and grow to be larger in size. However, a regular, timely feeding for the appropriate duration will diminish the size of your breast. Depending on hereditary factors, breast size may then remain larger or return to their original size [5].

Myth: Nipples should be washed each time before feeding the baby.
Fact: Washing the nipple makes the area dry by removing all the naturally protective oils. Use of soap should be especially avoided around the nipple. Rubbing hind milk (the milk that comes at the end of the breast feed and is rich in fats) on the breast after feeding can keep the nipple moist and hydrated, as well as prevent soreness [6].

Myth: A baby needs to be given sugar-water or honey before the first breastfeeding.
Fact: These substances have traditionally been given before the baby is first breastfed, however this does more harm than good in newborns, as they predispose the baby to infection. The newborn fed on breast milk from the start has less chance of developing a respiratory tract infection, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), GIT infection, necrotizing enterocolitis, obesity, diabetes, childhood leukemia and lymphoma, celiac disease, or inflammatory bowel disease [7].

Myth: A neonate cries predominantly because of inadequate breast milk.
Fact: Not true! Excessive crying doesn’t mean inadequate milk, alone. There are several reasons for a baby’s excessive crying. Fever, ear infection, abdominal pain, general discomfort, and simply wanting to be picked up are all reasons for which a baby could be crying. However, it is recommended to see a pediatrician if crying is excessive to a point of concern.

Myth: No drug is safe to take while breastfeeding.
Fact: There is a limited number of medications that are contraindicated during breastfeeding, for they could potentially pass through the milk to the newborn, but the rest can be taken safely [8]. According to the regulatory requirements by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) for inserts in medication packaging, they should possess the information regarding the safety of using the medication during pregnancy. This will help to prevent any drug-related problems while breastfeeding the baby.

Myth: The amount of milk secretion in the lactating mother depends on the size of breast.
Fact: Milk production in the lactating mother depends on the demand of the milk from the baby, rather than the size of the breast. An infant sucking at the breast increases the secretion of oxytocin and prolactin in the mother, which ultimately results in the increased secretion of milk [5]. Milk production is dependent on the number of secretory glands in the breast, which is basically the same in all breasts. Size is only determined by fatty and connective tissues, factors irrelevant to milk production and breastfeeding.

Gaurav Gupta, MD Dr. Gaurav Gupta is currently the pediatrics consultant at Charak Child Care in Mohali, India and is also the CEO of TravelSafe Clinic (www.travelsafeclinic.com). He is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP), with extensive publications and presentations in national and international journals & conferences.

References (click to show/hide)

  1. Aragon O. Breastfeeding Myths. [cited 2014 May 12]; Available from: http://motheringthemothers.org/breastfeedingmyths.pdf.
  2. Goncalves DU, Proietti FA, Ribas JG, Araujo MG, Pinheiro SR, Guedes AC, et al. Epidemiology, treatment, and prevention of human T-cell leukemia virus type 1-associated diseases. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2010;23(3):577-89.
  3. Wight N. La Leche League International Conference Session–The Premature Infant and Breastfeeding: Myth. Reality and Evidence-Based Practices, San Francisco, CA. 2003.
  4. The optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding: report of an expert consultation. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2002 [cited 2014 May 12]; Available from: http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/optimal_duration_of_exc_bfeeding_report_eng.pdf.
  5. Donovan P. Dangerous myths. Hygie. 1992;11(2):7-8.
  6. Breastfeeding myths and facts. [cited 2014 May 12]; Available from: http://www.breastfeedingindia.com/breastfeeding/breastfeeding_myths.html.
  7. Eidelman AI. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk: an analysis of the American Academy of Pediatrics 2012 Breastfeeding Policy Statement: Breastfeed Med. 2012 Oct;7(5):323-4. Epub 2012 Sep 4.
  8. Committee on Drugs, American Academy of Pediatrics. The transfer of drugs and other chemicals into human milk. Pediatrics. 2011.

 

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