By: soham shah
August 7 2023
Image source: Reuters/Wu Hanren
One of the most effective ways to ensure a child’s health is breastfeeding and breast milk is considered a great source of nutrition for most infants. While it is argued that breast milk protects the mother and child from certain illnesses and diseases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “fewer than half of infants under 6 months old are exclusively breastfed.”
To create more awareness and promote policies that help break barriers women and families face to achieve their breastfeeding goals, the first week of August is celebrated as World Breastfeeding Week. This year’s theme, “Let’s make breastfeeding at work, work,” focuses on supporting breastfeeding across workplaces as evidence indicates that breastfeeding rates drop significantly when women return to work.
Considered an ultimate “child survival and development intervention,” we spoke to Ruth Patterson, lead lactation consultant at Cloudnine Hospital, Bangalore, to debunk some commonly associated myths around breastfeeding.
According to WHO guidelines, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life.
The American Academy of Pediatrics describes a case of an infant who was fed raw goat milk and developed problems with blood flow supply (intracranial infarctions) to the brain along with excess waste products in the blood (azotemia) and high blood sodium levels (hypernatremia).
Another study published in 2020 points out that the most similar to human milk is mare milk but “none of the mammals’ milk will replace women’s milk for infant nutrition. Thus, exclusive breastfeeding is recommended.”
Patterson told Logically Facts, “Mother’s milk is safe and best, with appropriate nutrition. It adjusts according to needs for the baby.” She added that goat milk does have higher protein content as compared to cow milk but this does not mean it can be used as a substitute for breast milk.
Goat milk as a substitute for breast milk was popularized by banned Australian naturopath Barbara O’Neill.
The national health agency in the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommends that mothers can continue breastfeeding when they are sick with certain illnesses like the flu, COVID-19, or diarrhea. However, it also recommends that a mother shouldn’t breastfeed if she has been diagnosed with HIV, classic galactosemia, ebola virus, or has been using illicit drugs. There are several other contraindications that can be read here in detail.
Speaking to Logically Facts, Patterson said, “There is no indication that a mother should not breastfeed in these situations,” and added that a mother’s body will produce antibodies when she has a fever, which will be passed on to the baby through breast milk.
Patterson also said that the mother should not stop breastfeeding if she is pregnant again, or even after birth of the second child. “This is called tandem feeding. The first child can continue to breastfeed and the second child will not face issues of lack of supply.” She also clarified there is no relationship between sexual intercourse and breastfeeding.
WHO recommendation states that babies be “exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life – meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water.”
Patterson said, “This is a myth. As per WHO recommendations, no newborn should be given anything other than breastmilk, including water.” She said that immature kidneys, liver, and intestines of infants cannot digest ghee.
Patterson explained that although wet nurses – a person breastfeeding another person’s baby – feeding babies was a practice in certain communities generations ago, it is currently not advised by doctors. Explaining this in detail, she added that certain diseases and viruses such as HIV/AIDS can pass on to the baby through breastfeeding and it might not be feasible to screen a wet nurse for diseases beforehand.
“If the mother’s mlk is not available, for safety reasons milk formula as an alternative is better,” Patterson said. She also said that if safety can be established by screening the wet nurse for possible communicable diseases, then wet nursing can be a good option.
The WHO in its Breastfeeding and COVID-19 FAQ says that wet-nursing may be an option said that wet nursing can be considered as an option but prospective wet nurses should undergo HIV counseling and rapid testing in settings where HIV is prevalent.
CDC says that breastfeeding mothers don’t need to limit or avoid specific foods. In fact, they should be encouraged to eat a healthy and diverse diet, but there are certain types of seafood that should be consumed in limited amounts and mothers may wish to restrict caffeine intake.
The agency further says that a mother’s iodine and choline need increases during lactation. Iodine can be found in dairy products, eggs, seafood, while choline can be found in dairy and protein food groups like eggs, meat, beans, peas, lentils, and some seafood.
Patterson said, “A mother should have a balanced diet that provides her with proper nutritious value. Some families make the mother consume excessive cow milk, thinking that this helps with breast milk production. Cow milk cannot provide all required nutrients to the mother.”