Breastfeeding myths busted

Breastfeeding myths busted

By Dr. Celeste Gomez | Illustration by Roc Verdera

The heavy downpour couldn’t stop over 1,000 attendees from participating in the First Asia Pacific Breastfeeding Congress (the seventh Breastfeeding Congress in the Philippines) held at the EDSA Shangrila in early August.

Organized and hosted by Mandaluyong’s tertiary hospital, Victor R. Potenciano Medical Center, in collaboration with The Philippine Pediatric Society, this congress boasted of five foreign speakers and 34 local speakers that gave plenary talks and intensive workshops.

The largest ballroom was packed with midwives, nurses, pediatricians, general practitioners, and lay breastfeeding advocates listening intently to the talks lined up. Each speaker shared both scientific and personal insights about breastfeeding and the benefits of breast milk for babies.

Dr. Jennifer Thomas, Karolyn Vaughn, RN, and Dr. Natasha Sriraman came all the way from the US and Australia to share the latest scientific data about breast milk at the molecular level. Dr. Asti Praborini from Jakarta and Dr. Chuslip from Bangkok shared their own breastfeeding advocacies and various methods done to help their community sustain breastfeeding.

Below are the most important current beliefs or myths that were busted and thoroughly discussed during the congress.

There are so many products out there especially at baby fairs, that advertise that they have lactation cookies and food that increase milk production. Do these products really work?

Dr. Jennifer Thomas, IBCLC, an executive board member of American Academy of Pediatrics Section of Breastfeeding Medicine, shared that there is no food that (magically) increases breast milk production. Milk removed (from the breast) is milk produced.

Local cultural practices advise mothers to eat lots of soups, food such as malunggay (moringa) and clam soups with papaya. Chinese practices advise “ge-lai” food, such as black chicken and lapu-lapu in soup, which supports milk production and healing of the birth scars. Since breastfeeding has been widely advocated, numerous products have also popped up to ride the bandwagon. You will see lots of homemade lactation cookies and brownies that contain galactagogues (brewer’s yeast, oats, and flax seeds, to name a few) advertising themselves as the solution to the problem of increasing breastmilk supply. These food items are all beneficial to the mother and the baby with proper macro and micronutrient contents. The malunggay contains a lot of iron needed by the baby, while the clam soup contains iodine that is needed by the mother. Black chicken and lapulapu are high in calcium needed to improve the quality of the breast milk. These “galactagogues” also have nutritional benefits to the mother. They do not increase breastmilk production, however.

To increase the mother’s milk production. One has to latch more often, and empty the breast more often. Our body works with a “demand-supply” feedback system mechanism. As the baby latches and pulls out the milk from the mother’s breast, this action creates a “demand” and thus signals the mom’s brain to produce more milk.

Does the concept of foremilk and hindmilk exists? Is it true that after 10-15 minutes of breastfeeding in one breast, the milk changes to hindmilk?

Dr. Natasha Sriraman, also a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and an international boardcertified lactation consultant, clarified that the old concept of foremilk and hindmilk has been disproven and there are no two types of breast milk that come out of the breast. The old wives’ tale claiming that “one breast is water and the other one is milk” has also been debunked.

In each feeding session, there is a certain gradient of milk fat that changes the longer you feed on each breast. There is a lower fat gradient at the beginning of each feed and the gradient increases the longer you feed. And so to get the optimal macronutrient for your child, one has to feed longer per breast.

Is choosing breast milk all about giving the best, most organic food option for your baby?

Breastmilk is not about giving your baby the most organic form of nutrition. New molecular studies have found out that breast milk is first and foremost about protection and immunity, and then nourishment.

Dr. Jenny Thomas emphasizes that the mammary gland is made to protect the baby first, then to feed and nourish. At the beginning, after the baby is born, the first milk produced by the mom is the colostrum, which contains numerous proteins that protect the baby from infection. One of the proteins that is a pillar of protection and nourishment is the alpha-lactalbumin. This protein, only found in breastmilk, has been studied to have several immune system functions such as to defend the baby from gram positive and gram negative infections. At the same time, it also synthesizes lactose in breast milk to provide energy for your baby.

Milk supplements may be able to have micro and macronutrients close to that of the breast milk, but it still has a long way to go with mimicking its antibacterial and enzymatic properties.