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Hey, there, it’s been a while!
I just realized that the first week of August is World Breastfeeding Week!
I don’t know if you guys know, but I am a staunch advocate of breastfeeding.
Like, did you know I breastfed my youngest until he was five? (while going to work full time?)
Through the years, I bet you have heard a lot of superstitions and old wives’s tales about all the special (and weird!) things a breastfeeding mother must do to breastfeed successfully and prevent her milk from drying up.
(I know, I know! We Filipinos have lots of old wives’ tales about increasing milk supply!)
There were times when my dwindling milk supply made me follow these old wives tales, BUT!, there surprisingly is little diet, exercise, and health care advice a nursing mother must follow.
In fact, experts say that there probably are only THREE HARD AND FAST RULES FOR BREASTFEEDING MOTHERS:
- Don’ t ever ever take recreational drugs because they may impair brain cell development. If you need to take a medication to treat a medical condition, go ask your doctor for guidance.
- Don’t drink!
- Don’t smoke! Did you know nicotine can be directly transferred into your baby’s body through your milk? Smoking can affect your milk supply and second-hand smoke puts your baby to a lifetime risk of asthma, heart disease, and cancer. (Besides, cigarette smoke JUST stinks!)
Now, for the 7 Breastfeeding Myths:
MYTH 1: If a nursing mother’s diet is not nutritionally perfect, the quality of her milk will suffer.
Every breastfeeding mom should aim to eat a balanced, nutritious diet.
However, experts claim that the quality and quantity of your breast-milk may change little, if any, when your diet falls short of ideal.
For the most part, your milk’s nutrient composition and volume stay quite steady despite changes in your diet.
Of course, if you are severely undernourished, there would be a significant change in the quality and quantity of your breast-milk. In addition, vegetarians who completely avoid all animal foods, including dairy foods and eggs, run the risk of their milk being deficient in Vitamin B12, which is found almost exclusively in meats and animal products and which is important for red blood cell manufacture and nerve fiber protection. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for B12 is 4 micrograms. Some soy milk is B12-fortified and fermented foods can supply some B12, but a daily B12 supplement containing the RDA may provide the best insurance that a vegan mother’s milk does not become deficient.
Of course, the fact that only quite marked malnutrition is likely to compromise your milk shouldn’t be a license to eat haphazardly. It should simply assure you that if you eat reasonably well on most days, you don’t need to worry excessively about the quality of your milk.
MYTH 2: Nursing mothers must drink an additional 2 to 3 quarts of water a day.
At least six separate studies have now concluded that all this extra fluid does not improve, increase, or help maintain milk production.
In fact, one study even found that the practice of consciously trying to include over 3 quarts of water a day seemed to have a slightly adverse effect on milk volume.
So, ladies, quit forcing yourself to drink huge glasses of water every time to you breastfeed. Drinking to satisfy your thirst and not to literally drown yourself in water is ok.
Here are two things you should keep in mind:
- First, when you work out or the weather is hot, you may not feel thirsty immediately, like your thirst signals are lagging behind your need to really hydrate. During these times, make sure to drink more water even if you don’t feel thirsty.
- Second, you need to be sure to satisfy your thirst primarily with water. Coffee, tea, sodas and other caffeine-containing beverages are diuretics. When you drink too many of these beverages in a day – more than 1 to 2 cups per day, you increase the risk of becoming dehydrated.
MYTH 3: You need to drink lots of milk in order to make enough milk.
Drinking cow’s milk does not lead you to produce breast milk. There is simply no connection between the two things.
The reason you might want to include milk in your diet is so that you get an adequate supply of calcium (the RDA for calcium while breastfeeding is 1200 milligrams). If you don’t get enough calcium for your diet, your body will withdraw it from your bones, putting you at risk in later life for osteoporosis .
Still, you want to make sure you get enough calcium.
To figure out if your diet is calcium deficient, use this formula:
- Multiply by 300 the number of cups of milk, yogurt, or calcium-fortified orange juice you consume in a typical day.
- Add the milligrams of calcium you get from a supplement.
- Subtract this from your RDA of 1200. This represents your deficit.
The easiest way for most women to balance a deficit is to up their supplemental calcium intake. The idea is to make meeting your calcium needs an easy, natural habit. It should not be something you have to think about all the time.
In spite of arguments that food sources of calcium are far superior to pill supplements, most osteoporosis experts agree that it doesn’t matter where you get your calcium. What is important is that the calcium you get is bioavailable. Bioavailability refers to how well your body absorbs and utilizes the calcium from a particular source.
For example, although green leafy vegetables are often touted as calcium sources, they also contain phytic acid which binds calcium and makes it unabsorbable.
Likewise, some supplements are manufactured with substances that prevent the calcium in them from dissolving properly. However, this does not mean that picking a supplement has to be complicated. Tums, Os-Cal, and Caltrate are three brand name choices that not only contain easily absorbable calcium, but also require you to take only one or two tablets per day – others may require four or six pills. Plus, they are toxin-free.
To test the bioavailability of a supplement: Put the tablet in a glass of vinegar (which mimics stomach acids), then stir every five minutes for a half hour. If the pill disintegrates completely, it will probably be well absorbed.
If you prefer to get more calcium from food, milk, yogurt, buttermilk, and calcium-fortified orange juice all provide approximately 300 milligrams of high-quality, easily absorbable calcium per cup. Of course, other foods contain calcium, but none are reasonable choices. For instance, how likely are you to consume 4 ounces of canned salmon or 2 cups of ice cream or cottage cheese, each of which provides about 300 milligrams of calcium, on a daily basis?
MYTH 4: Women who are breastfeeding need about 2,700 calories a day in order to produce a good supply of milk.
Studies have found that the range of calories that appears to be compatible with good milk production, and at the same time, gradual maternal weight loss, is quite wide. In other words, while some women find they can eat 2,700 calories a day and still lose weight, others find they need to eat quite a bit less to drop pounds. It all depends on the amount of tissue reserves a woman has, what her personal metabolic rate is, what her activity level is, and what her unique baseline calorie needs are.
As a general rule, if you are gradually dripping postpartum pounds (at a rate of one-half to one pound a week) and feel reasonably fit and energetic, you will know you are on the right track. Some research has found that for many women 2,200 calories a day is a level that, typically, leads to good weight loss, nourishment, and milk production.
Try not to be impatient: Your weight loss may not be as dramatic as you would like in the first three months postpartum, but by six months postpartum, you are likely to be quite pleased with your progress.
If you are not losing weight, then your best bet is to focus on moderating the amount of food in your diet that are low in nutritive value, but high in calories and fat. Ice cream, candy, cookies, cakes, potato, and tortilla chips, fried foods, and foods sauteed in lots of oil or butter, for example, are things you can cut down on without compromising your intake of nutrients.
Eating under 1,800 calories is not recommended. Eating too few calories make it extremely difficult for you to get all the nutrients you need, even if you pick foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein. Plus, eating under 1,800 calories may make you feeling tired and you need all the energy you can get with a baby to care for.
MYTH 5: Breastfeeding mothers must drastically limit their choice of foods because of the danger of passing contaminants, pollutants, and pesticides to their babies via their milk.
The list of hypothetical dangers from pesticide residues used in the flour to make pretzels to hormone and antibiotic residues in beef is extensive. However, there is virtually no hard evidence that the food you buy at your average grocery store poses special risks to your nursing baby.
There are three approaches that you can take to the problem:
- You can totally disregard the potential risk of pollutants. This is not an unjustified stance, since studies have shown that breast-fed babies whose mothers were eating normal fare are healthier than formula-fed ones.
- You cant try to eliminate as many toxins as possible in the belief that it is better to be safe than sorry. Although there is no proof, for example, that only eating organic produce or only buying foods from the health food store will reduce your baby’s health risks, there is always the chance that this will be proven the case later down the line.
- You can take a middle-of-the-road approach, avoiding some of the more potentially harmful foods but not committing yourself to only buying organic foods, which can be hard to find and/or expensive.
For instance, it might make sense to limit your consumption of fish more likely to contain pollutants such as blue fish, carp, catfish, striped bass, swordfish, tuna, and freshwater fish from polluted waters.
It does not hurt either to get into the habit of washing all fruits and vegetables first before eating them. Peeling waxed fruits make sense too, since the wax tends to contain fungicides.
The ideas is to take as many prudent steps as you easily can, to ensure that the food you eat is safe, without making yourself frantic about the issue. In the end, the final word simply isn’t in on how safe or unsafe our food supply really is. With a middle-of -the-road aprroach, you hedge your bets.
Of course, everyone should eat a varied diet; that is probably the best defense against a potentially polluted food supply at this point in time, since that way you spread your risks and your breastfeeding baby’s of getting a dangerous amount of any toxin
MYTH 6 : Breastfeeding is an ineffective, unreliable method of birth control.
Actually, breastfeeding’s contraceptive effect is comparable to many other modern contraceptive methods. When a woman is still amenorrheic – i.e., has not resumed menstruation yet – and is not feeding her baby solid food supplements or formula and her baby is under six months, breastfeeding appears to confer 98 percent protection against pregnancy.
Even when the conditions aren’t as rigidly defined, when the only conditions are that you are breastfeeding and you haven’t gotten your period yet, nursing appears to provide 97 percent protection against pregnancy at six months and 93 percent protection at twelve months postpartum.
But what about the fact that ovulation – which is the time when conception occurs precedes your first postpartum menstruation by about 14 days? It appears that most first ovulations are followed by what is called an insufficient luteal phase; when the luteal phase isn’t the right length, pregnancy is rare. In fact, a short luteal phase is a common cause of infertility. The real key is to introduce another contraceptive method immediately after you have your first period.
Unfortunately, breastfeeding does limit a woman’s already limited choice of birth control methods. Combination oral contraceptives (which release both estrogen and progestin) and the progesterone intrauterine device seem to affect milk production and so are generally not recommended for nursing mothers.
Myth 7: Mothers who exercise vigorously risk losing their milk supply.
As long as you eat enough to support the energy expenditure of the activity you engage in plus get enough rest that you are not exhausted, there isn’t any evidence that working out will reduce your milk volume.
Of course, the more vigorous the activity you participate in, the more attention you will probably need to pay to eating right and resting adequately. All in all, however, for the majority of breastfeeding women, there is every argument in favor of exercising.
Not only does regular exercise help you lose postpregnancy weight and protect you against heart disease, osteoporosis, but it can also help you combat common postpartum problems, such as mood swings and depression, plus it can help give you a sense of well-being and control.
Finally, there is one general workout rule that applies exclusively to nursing mothers: Breastfeed first, then exercise. Your workouts are bout to be more enjoyable if your breasts are not uncomfortably heavy with milk. Also, some but apparently not all babies seem to become fussy and irritable when offered postexercise milk, probably because this milk tastes a bit sour due to increase in lactic acid, a by-product exreted by muscles after workouts. Lactic acid appears to stay elevated in the milk for at least ninety minutes after vigorous exercise, so it makes sense to try to breastfeed immediately before you work out. Then, by the time of your next feeding, your milk should have regained its normally sweet flavor.