5 Nursing Myths Busted: Here Are the Real Benefits of Breastfeeding

There are many benefits of breastfeeding. However, myths surrounding this process can potentially prevent mothers from nursing their babies. This article debunks those myths and highlights the real advantages of breastfeeding.

Woman breastfeeding her child

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are many benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and baby. Unfortunately, quite a few myths still sow the seeds of doubt amongst breastfeeding mothers. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages of nursing a baby and the misconceptions surrounding it.

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

It’s been proven that breastfeeding can have numerous positive outcomes for the mother and baby. The advantages of breastfeeding for an infant are a sufficient intake of essential nutrients and protection against infections and food allergies. These include lower rates of diarrhoea and respiratory tract infections. It can also promote healthy intellectual and motor skills development.

Breastfeeding is also beneficial for mothers. It stimulates the uterus to contract and return to its normal size. It can also lower the risk of anaemia, breast and ovarian cancers, suppress postpartum bleeding, and reduce the frequency of urinary tract infections. Nursing a child can also accelerate postpartum weight loss while helping moms maintain a consistent breast milk supply. 

Debunking the Myths of Breastfeeding

A young asian mother nursing her baby on a sofa
Breastfeeding is a bonding moment between a mother and her baby. It’s also a healthy practice for moms.

While there are many science-backed benefits of breastfeeding, many new mothers are still uncertain about nursing their babies. This is mainly due to false information about breastfeeding and breast milk.

Myth #1: Mothers can only eat certain types of foods when breastfeeding  

THE TRUTH: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breastfeeding women should eat a healthy and well-balanced diet. Generally, most types of foods are acceptable as long as they are taken in moderation.

However, moms should limit the intake of fish and seafood that are high in mercury. Caffeine is also not recommended.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), breastfeeding mothers are also advised to watch their diet. A simple and balanced consumption of food whilst staying hydrated is key. Drink more soup and water but stay away from cold and spicy foods. You should also refrain from eating fried foods as it can lead to ’heatiness‘ in the baby. “The excessive consumption of these foods can harm your spleen and stomach, which leads to a decrease in milk production. This is because these organs are linked to the body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food and produce sufficient milk,” says Eu Yan Sang Physician Ho Li Ying.

She suggests the consumption of appetite-improving, spleen-invigorating ingredient like Si Shen powder, Codonopsis (Dangshen), Poria (Fuling), Chinese yam (Shanyao), and red dates (Dazao) in whole and tea forms.

Myth #2: Breastfeeding when youre unwell can harm your baby  

THE TRUTH: Only a select few illnesses require you to stop breastfeeding your child. For example, diseases that are caused by a contagious virus. Usually, minor ailments would not pose a risk to you or your child when you breastfeed.

Even when you are feeling under the weather, it’s advisable to continue breastfeeding as breast milk contains antibodies, which help prevent and fight infections in babies. A recent study shows that mothers who have acquired immunity via the Covid-19 vaccine, produced robust Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies. While these Covid antibodies can be passed on to infants, scientists caution that they are not a substitute for vaccination and do not provide nursing babies with protection against Covid-19. 

It’s crucial that you stay in the pink of health after delivery. TCM advises new mothers to replenish their blood and qi (vital life energy) by consuming herbal formulations. Some good examples include bird’s nest, essence of chicken, and roasted rice tea. You can also take herbal soups containing astragalus (Huangqi), American ginseng (Xiyangshen), and Chinese Angelica (Dongquai) to nourish the body. Additionally, light exercises can help to improve blood circulation and overall vitality.

Myth #3: Weaning a baby off breast milk is harder after a year 

THE TRUTH: There isn’t any evidence to indicate that stopping breastfeeding after a year is more difficult. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends nursing for up to two years.

Myth #4: Breastfeeding can make you fat 

A slim and slender asian mother breastfeeds her baby
One of the benefits of breastfeeding is that it burns calories, thus helping you get in shape.

THE TRUTH: Many women believe that breastfeeding can cause them to put on weight. However, study shows that the primary cause of weight gain in new mothers is a poor diet and lack of physical activity. The study further states that less than 30% of breastfeeding women eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. Moreover, a majority of them are not meeting physical activity recommendations. These factors lead to weight gain, which causes many women to turn to crash diets.

Interestingly, breastfeeding may help you lose weight instead. According to a study, women who breastfeed require an additional 500 kcal/day. If breastfeeding mothers maintain their regular calorie intake, body stores or body fat will be used for lactation. From this perspective, women who nurse are actually burning more calories than non-breastfeeding moms.

Rapid weight-loss diets are unsuitable for breastfeeding moms as they can impair milk production. To ensure a healthy milk supply and safe weight loss (0.5 to 1 kg per month) in the first six months after delivery, consume a nutritious, balanced diet.

Myth #5: Having small breasts prevent you from producing enough milk

THE TRUTH: The size of your breasts doesn’t matter. Essentially, breast tissue growth is a direct, natural response to your need to feed your baby. It’s also worth noting that apart from adequate hydration, sufficient rest, a balanced diet and consistent breastfeeding regime, the use of herbs can also be good for stimulating milk production. 

A few of the herbs that a breastfeeding mum can consider include Codonopsis (Dangshen), Radix Platycodi (Jiegeng) , Vaccaria seed (Wangbuliuxing), rice paper pith (Tongcao) and Taiwan maple fruit (Lulutong). 

There are many proven benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby. If you want to try herbal remedies to enhance your milk production, speak to a licensed TCM practitioner. This ensures the right formula or ingredients for your specific body constitution. 

This is an adaptation of an article, “The benefits and myths of breastfeeding”, which first appeared on Health123 website. 

References

  1. World Health Organization. Breastfeeding. [Accessed 22 November 2021] 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. Maternal Diet. [Accessed 16 December 2021] 
  3. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2020. Healthy eating and physical activity among breastfeeding women: the role of misinformation. [Accessed 16 December 2021] 
  4. University of Rochester Medical Center. 2021. New Study Finds Evidence of COVID Antibodies in Breast Milk of Vaccinated Mothers. [Accessed 20 December 2021] 
  5. US National Library of Medicine. 2017. Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation. [Accessed 20 December 2021] 
  6. Parents. 2012. Breastfeeding Myths: Experts Set the Record Straight.[Accessed 20 December 2021] 

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