Breastfeeding myths debunked

Shelby Schroeder and Shelby Schroeder

The answer is no, eating onions will not make your breast milk taste like sauerkraut.

How foods affect mothers’ milk was one of the topics expert Nancy Howe addressed at this week’s Brown Bag Luncheon in the Women’s Center.

For this week’s presentation, ‘Myths and Realities of Nutrition in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding,’ the center delved into largely unknown facts and frequently-held myths of prenatal and infant nourishment. Proper knowledge, according to Howe, can make a world of difference in how a mother cares for her child.

As director of Seneca County’s Women, Infants and Children program, also known as WIC, as well as a 20-year history as a hospital dietitian, Howe’s passion for spreading truth was marked by a detailed PowerPoint and at least a dozen fact-jammed pamphlets and handouts for guests.

The first myth-buster of the program: Moms and mothers-to-be can eat nearly anything on the menu.

‘What you put in your mouth doesn’t come out of your breasts,’ Howe said.

Fact is the body derives nutrients from those in the mother’s diet, so the common belief a pregnant or nursing mother is ‘eating for two’ isn’t as literal as one might think.

The largest portion of the discussion aimed at the myths surrounding what Howe prefers to call ‘artificial breast milk,’ or infant formula.

According to Howe, it’s important to de-emphasize the cultural belief that the enriched mixture is an ideal substitute for the real thing, because aside from knowing that formula doesn’t provide everything contained in breast milk, there are also no long-term studies into the effects of formula feeding.

Howe said that the addition of nutrients and minerals to formulas without proper study is dangerous.

Sexism and centuries of male-prescribed feeding guidelines are partially to blame, said Howe, for widespread misinformation and the shift towards formula use by healthy mothers.

Among all the typical cases against formula feeding were the less usual, including increased environmental pollution from formula and packaging production, as well as the possibility of infant malnutrition or death resulting from natural disasters that would cut formula supplies – a real scenario that America witnessed after Hurricane Katrina.

Breast milk also affects the immune system of infants, providing antibodies to protect them from disease and illness shortly after birth, said Howe.

‘Everytime you breastfeed your child,’ she said,’ it’s like they’re getting a booster shot.’

Dara Musher-Eizenman, a professor in the department of Psychology, noted too, the psychological health benefits associated with breast-feeding.

‘Children seem to develop healthier eating habits as they grow,’ said Musher-Eizenman, adding that hormones in the milk regulate a child’s appetite.

She said infants gain extra weight from being formula-fed because they’re eating a fixed amount rather than stopping when they’re full, as with regular nursing. Varying tastes of breast milk is also believed to lead children to be more accepting of new foods as they get older.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services fully recommends breastfeeding by healthy mothers and has organized a National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign to reach out to new parents considering the use of formulas.