Fallacies about breastfeeding still abound even as decades of research have proven its benefits to a child’s growth and development. The good news is that the number of babies being exclusively breastfed in the first six months almost doubled in the last 18 years, according to the latest Philippine National Nutrition Survey. Still, 45 percent of Filipino infants are not being exclusively breastfed. Breastfeeding remains the best nutrition for babies early in life which sets their path to better health, nutrition, education and wellbeing as they grow up.
Unicef, the United Nations organization working for children’s rights, sits down with lactation expert Dr. Michele Griswald, for a mini-parenting Master Class to debunk myths and misconceptions about breastfeeding. Dr. Griswald is a registered nurse, breastfeeding researcher and an advocate. She also represents the Global Breastfeeding Collective, an initiative by Unicef and the World Health Organization which calls on governments and society to provide mothers the support they need to breastfeed.
“Did you know that your nipples have good bacteria, so you don’t have to wash them before breastfeeding?” Dr. Griswald starts.
“When babies are born, they are already familiar with their own mother’s smells and sounds. The nipples produce a substance that the baby smells and has ‘good bacteria’ that helps to build babies’ own healthy immune system for life,” she says.
Here are some of the common myths on breastfeeding every mother, father and caregiver should know:
I can be separated from my newborn baby after birth so I have time to rest.
The skin-to-skin practice between mother and baby immediately after birth — also called “kangaroo care” — is encouraged and widely practiced by doctors, nurses and midwives. This is very important to help babies find and attach to their mother’s breast.
“Keeping the baby against the mother’s skin will calm the baby enough to find the mother’s breast on their own within 30 minutes to an hour after birth,” Dr. Griswald explains. A baby’s reflexes are very strong at this time, making it easier for a mother to start breastfeeding. A health care provider can help a baby latch on to her mother’s breast if difficulties arise. Frequent skin-to-skin contact and putting the baby to the breast will help to get breastfeeding going.
I should be worried because my nipples are sore from breastfeeding.
Many mothers experience discomfort in the first few days after birth when they are learning to breastfeed. With the right support with positioning your baby for breastfeeding and making sure the baby is correctly attached to the breast, sore nipples can be avoided. If you face breastfeeding challenges like sore nipples, support from a doctor, nurse, midwife or a health care worker can help.
I should only eat plain food while breastfeeding.
Generally, there is no need to change food habits. Mothers who breastfeed still need to eat a balanced diet like everyone else. While in the womb, your baby was already exposed to your food preferences. Once born, your baby will taste whatever you eat through your milk, which will prime them for table foods when they’re about six months old. If your baby reacts to a specific food that you eat, consult a specialist.
Exercise affects the taste of my breast milk.
There is no evidence that exercise affects the taste of your milk. Exercise is healthy even for breastfeeding mothers.
I should not breastfeed while I’m sick.
Depending on the kind of illness, mothers can usually continue breastfeeding when they’re sick. You need to make sure you get the right treatment, and to rest, eat and drink well. In many cases, the antibodies your body makes to treat your disease or illness will pass on to your baby, building his or her own defenses.
I cannot take medication while I’m breastfeeding.
Inform your doctor that you are breastfeeding and read the instructions with any medications you buy over the counter. It might be necessary to take medications at a specific time or in a specific dosage, or to take an alternative formulation. You should also tell the baby’s doctor about any medications that you’re taking.
My baby shouldn’t eat so much as a newborn.
Your baby should show signs of hunger about eight to 12 times in 24 hours. Newborn babies need to eat a lot because they’re growing rapidly. They double their birth weight in the first six months of life, or before. So you can imagine how much you would need to eat if you had to double your weight.
I should wean my baby right away.
Babies will naturally wean starting around one year of age or so because developmentally, they’re changing so much. They’re becoming less focused on their mother, and more focused on learning about the world around them.
I will have to wean my baby when I go back to work.
As a lactating mother, you need time and support to continue to breastfeed, so it is important to get support from family, your workplace, employers and the entire community. Breastfeeding is part of a nurturing care package that helps children to grow and thrive throughout their entire life.
There are no family-friendly policies that support lactating mothers like me.
The Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act 2009 or Republic Act 10028 mandates employers to provide safe and hygienic lactation rooms in places of work. Lactation periods should be no less than 40 minutes within an 8-hour work period, in addition to meal breaks. Additionally, the Expanded Maternity Leave Act or Republic Act 11210 states that all working mothers in the government and private sector are guaranteed with 105 days of paid maternity leave credits, with seven days transferable to fathers. An additional 15 days of paid leave will be granted to single mothers.