Breastfeeding myths and misconceptions debunked

Thursday, August 5th, 2021 00:00 |
A mother and her child.PHOTO/COURTESY

It is normal for breastfeeding to hurt

According to Faith Gitahi, a nutrition consultant, breastfeeding can cause discomfort the first days after giving birth, but it is not usually painful and neither are the nipples always sore.

She adds that with proper positioning and attachment of the baby to the nipple, the process can be easier and painless.

When breastfeeding works, it floods a woman’s system with hormones that contribute to relaxation and mother-infant bonding. Pain does the opposite; it fills a woman’s body with stress hormones.

Babies’ guts must be cleansed before breastfeeding

In some communities, babies are fed either herbal concoctions or butter fat in a bid to cleanse their gut.

In other communities, the colostrum is thrown away and replaced with liquids, such as sugar water and honey.

However, the nutrition expert says this process is unnecessary as the colostrum is enough and suitable for the baby’s gut.

The nutrient-rich fluid comes with a number of benefits, including providing immunity and growth support and tissue repair factors. 

Mothers cannot produce enough milk

This misconception is rife, especially when a mother has smaller breasts or when she feels that her breasts are not full enough.

Experts from United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) are quick to debunk this, saying that milk production does not depend on size.

Rather, it is determined by how well the baby latches to the breast, how often they are breastfed and the flow of milk at feeding.

Importantly, they encourage continuous support for mothers, including through better nutrition and help at home.

One breast belongs to the man, hence baby can’t breastfeed on it

Several communities believe that grown men suckling on the breast is beneficial and thus are designated a breast by the lactating mother.

This weird custom sees men competing with newborns for breast milk. This leads to reduced amount of breast milk available to the newborns, which is a cause of malnutrition and diseases to the young ones.

Experts say a mother should breastfeed her baby from both breasts for adequate milk production. 

Premature babies cannot breastfeed

In babies, the suckling reflex develops by week 34-35 of gestation. As such, babies born within this period can be breastfed without any issues.

For those born before this, Faith encourages placing them in kangaroo mother care, skin to skin contact between mother and child for at least 18 hours a day. 

A baby should not be breastfed until they are named 

In some cultures, until an uncle, a mother-in-law or a prominent member of the community names a child, then that child cannot suckle on the mother’s breast. 

This, according to experts, is counterproductive to the child as it exposes them to life-threatening risk.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends breastfeeding the baby within one hour of birth for both baby and mother to enjoy the benefits, which include protection from diseases, promoting healthy growth for the child and stimulation of milk production, and increased bond between mother and child.

Only mothers with HIV should express or exclusively breastfeed

Experts say all mothers should be able to do this. By expressing milk, they will be able to sustain milk production and by exclusively breastfeeding, they will be able to provide adequate food for their child to grow within the first six months of life.

WHO and Unicef encourages exclusive breastfeeding as the optimal mode of infant feeding. 

Mothers should not breastfeed when they are sick

According to Unicef, depending on the illness, mothers can keep breastfeed when sick. However, they need to make sure that they get the right treatment, get enough rest and eat and drink well.

The antibodies generated by the bodies to fight the illness will pass on to the baby, making them stronger and building their immunity.

For mothers taking medication, alerting the doctor that they are breastfeeding and reading instructions on the medication to know if they are contraindicated for breastfeeding.

In some cases, doctors may need to provide alternative medication or restrict the mother to specific dosage or time. 

Mother can pass tiredness to the baby while breastfeeding

Exhaustion can interfere with the frequency of breastfeeding and consequently affect milk supply, but it cannot be passed on to the baby. Quite contrary, it relaxes both mother and child. Experts recommend support for mothers to comfortably breastfeed.

Stress makes milk dry up

A stressed mother will have problems with milk let-down reflex, but only temporarily, according to Faith. However, it will not affect milk production. It is, therefore, vital that such a mother receives necessary support and encouragement to reduce stress and thus breastfeed with minimal problems. 

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