Breastfeeding between medicine and tradition: six false myths
False myths about breastfeeding…and slips on covid. Davanzo: “It’s a mistake to separate positive mothers from their children”.
“Nutrition lends itself to the interweaving of popular traditions and medicine, sometimes with negative results.
For the breastfeeding woman, there are rules, present in historical memory and in the recommendations handed down by the population, which today no longer make sense.
My study cleans up the dangerous mix of knowledge and pseudo-scientific knowledge’.
These are the words of Riccardo Davanzo, president of the Ministry of Health’s technical committee on breastfeeding, paediatrician and former neonatologist at the IRCCS ‘Burlo Garofolo’ Maternal and Child Health Institute in Trieste, in his report to the 76th Italian Congress of Paediatrics, organised in digital mode by the Italian Society of Paediatrics (Sip).
Contraindications and obstacles. Davanzo explains how a topic such as breastfeeding suffers from traditions, culture and poor scientific dissemination, and he does so by starting from some distinctions
“First of all, we need to clarify the difference between contraindication and obstacle, which sometimes is not clear even in the health world.
A mother with HIV has an absolute contraindication in Italy to breastfeed, as the risk is that the newborn will become infected.
This is the real contraindication to breastfeeding, one of the few.
The mother may have a non-specific fever and have to take medication.
But these, in 99% of cases, are not contraindications,” explains the specialist, “because the risk of the baby becoming infected is almost nil: if the mother is forced not to breastfeed, the baby will lose the benefits of breastfeeding.
Here is a brief guide to six false beliefs about breastfeeding to help ‘clean up’ the dangerous mix of knowledge and pseudo-scientific knowledge:
– I’ve got the flu, I can’t breastfeed. False.
“If a mother has the flu she should not stop breastfeeding her baby, because thanks to breastfeeding she also passes the antibodies on to the baby and then to stop would be a late intervention, the baby could already have come into contact with the pathogen.
It is therefore a false belief, which emphasises a negligible risk, that the child will contract a cold.
With regard to childbirth, pregnancy and breastfeeding,” says the expert, “the overall balance between risks and benefits should be considered.
– I am Covid positive, stop breastfeeding. False.
“A very precautionary attitude had, at the beginning of the epidemic, made breastfeeding be considered a very high risk factor, but the Italian Society of Neonatology, in agreement with the Italian Society of Paediatrics, immediately moved to secure breastfeeding for Covid-positive women.
Studies have shown that milk is not a transmission vehicle,” Davanzo continues.
– I am pregnant again, I have to stop breastfeeding. False.
“This is one of the most common clichés. Contrary to popular belief, a mother who becomes pregnant while breastfeeding does not have to stop.
Some common beliefs that were widespread in the past, such as that breastfeeding during pregnancy can harm the foetus, or that the mother may ‘fail’ because she does not have adequate nutritional resources, or that breast milk is not of good quality, are not supported by scientific evidence.
– I can’t do physical activity while breastfeeding. False.
“Doing physical activity while breastfeeding does not change the composition of breast milk and does not reduce the amount of milk produced; on the contrary, it increases it by 10%.
Furthermore, the lactic acid produced by sport is a metabolite that does not cause any harm to the baby.
So exercise is welcome, with no sporting restrictions, only intensive competitive activity is not recommended because there is a risk of fluid deficiency (or at least it must be compensated for),” the doctor explains.
– CT and MRI scans are bad for babies. False.
“One of the many false myths in breastfeeding concerns the contrast medium of one of these investigations.
A woman who has had a CT or MRI scan with contrast medium is sometimes incorrectly forbidden to breastfeed without any solid scientific basis.
Very little contrast medium is passed on to the baby and there is no point in throwing away the milk produced in the hours that follow, interfering with the natural and peaceful progress of breastfeeding.
– Beer ‘makes milk’. False.
“This is news that will not please those who appreciate the mug, but there is insufficient evidence to support this cliché,” concludes Davanzo.