Despite the annual observance of the World Breastfeeding Week for 24 years now, it’s astonishing how several myths still continue to surround the act of nursing.
In the absence of professional guidance, several young mothers remain unaware of what needs to be done – failing to distinguish myth from fact. Indian women, unfortunately, seek professional advice only when things go out of hand. Understandably so, considering that unsolicited wisdom is available all the time, thanks to grandmothers, elder sisters, next-door aunties and – occasionally – random women who are only too eager to help.
To debunk the myths surrounding breastfeeding, we bring to you expert advice from lactation consultants from across the nation.
1. Myth: Drinking cold beverages can infect the child
Fact: It is perfectly okay for lactating women to consume cold beverages. It won’t affect the baby as viral infections do not get transmitted through breast milk. Dr Payel Biswas, a lactation specialist from Diwakar Speciality Hospital in Bangalore, says, “When the mother has a cold, she produces antibodies that pass through breast milk. This, in fact, protects the baby.
2. Myth: Nursing mothers should not eat spicy food
Fact: According to Dr Preeti Gangan of Cheers Child Care, Mumbai, women should not eat spicy food for at least 40 days after delivery as it may cause constipation. However, after the first-and-a-half months, mothers are relatively free to choose what they want to eat.
3. Myth: Do not breastfeed right after C-section
Fact: As it takes time for the mother to recover from a C-section surgery, babies usually do not get enough skin contact and are deprived of the first feed. This practice is not healthy. Dr Chitra Nagaraj, a lactation consultant from Bangalore, says, “The mother should breastfeed the newborn with colostrum soon after the delivery, even if it’s through C-section.”
“However, in situations when it isn’t possible for the mother to nurse the child, she should still be kept in the same room as the baby. This helps initiate the process of breastfeeding,” she adds.
4. Not a myth: The nutrient intake of the mother impacts the baby
Whatever food a mother eats breaks down into carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and micronutrients, which – in turn – helps in the production of milk. “So, if a lactating woman eats spinach, there will be iron and other micronutrients in her breast milk. If she maintains a healthy diet, the same nutrients will be passed on to the baby. However, if her diet is lower on nutrients, her body reserves will start leaching into the breast milk,” says Dr Biswas.
The mother’s health will deteriorate in such a case, even if the infant gets the nutrients it needs, she warns.
5. Myth: Women on medication should not breastfeed
Fact: Only a very small amount of most medicines can be found in a mother’s milk, which is not a bother. “In any case, there are effective and safe alternatives to strong medicines,” says Dr Gagan.
6. Myth: The mother’s diet decides the milk composition
Fact: A mother’s diet does not directly affect the quality of milk she produces. But if the mother is severely malnourished or fails to consume a balanced diet, the quality of breast milk can be adversely affected, says Dr Nagraj.
7. Myth: Refrigerated expressed breast milk cannot be used the next day
Fact: It can be. “Working mothers can refrigerate expressed breast milk for up to five days,” says Dr Biswas. However, the milk should not be used after four hours if it’s kept at room temperature, she adds.
8. Myth: Don’t breastfeed the baby if it is nauseous or suffers from diarrhoea
Fact: Babies should, in fact, be given mother’s milk for gut infection. “Mothers must stop giving other foods to the infant for some time, but continue to breastfeed. Only under exceptional circumstances is breastfeeding not advisable,” says Dr Gagan.
9. Not a myth: Heating expressed breast milk in a microwave is not healthy
Expressed breast milk is not heated homogeneously in a microwave. There is a good chance of the baby suffering burns if fed microwaved breast milk. It, moreover, kills several immunological factors and infection-fighting compounds, says Dr Nagraj.
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