When Medical Advice Contradicts Science
Recently I attended a breastfeeding support group, and I was astounded by some of the advice given to breastfeeding moms. Some of the advice was given by family members and coworkers. One woman shared that her husband wants her to quit breastfeeding because he thinks that if she switches to formula, the baby will sleep through the night and she will get more sleep. Another woman shared that a coworker criticized her for continuing to breastfeed and informed her that the baby should be sleeping 12 hours a night. Most of this advice is based on opinion and, while mothers can certainly be pressured by family, friends, and coworkers, many of them continue to breastfeed despite the opposition they face.
But what about when mothers are given bad advice by their family doctor or other healthcare professional? One mother shared her journey of delivering a premature baby and all of the struggles that she faced making sure that he received her breastmilk while in the NICU, and I was amazed at her strength and determination. When the baby was 6 months of age, her pediatrician recommended that she quit breastfeeding because it had been “long enough”. This advice contradicts the AAP and the WHO guidelines for nursing for at least the first 1-2 years. Fortunately, she continued breastfeeding. Then she took her son to the dentist as a toddler and was told to quit breastfeeding because the breastmilk would give him cavities. Again, this mother decided that it was best to continue nursing. Another mother was told by her doctor that it was OK to take cold medication that lowers milk supply as long as she drinks enough water.
And recently, the CDC recommended that women not breastfeed their babies if they have the flu. This advice is puzzling considering the vast amount of information we have about the immune protective qualities in breastmilk. Truly, not providing our milk during sickness is the worst advice one could give.
This may be the 21st Century, and we may have decades worth of research behind what we recommend to clients, but we still must deal with medical professionals who are ill informed about the many benefits of breastfeeding. This underscores the importance of providing evidence based information to moms so that they can share what they learn with others, including their family doctors, pediatricians, dentists, family, and friends. Hopefully we can turn the tide of misinformation and prevent mothers from ceasing to breastfeed for reasons that are not based in science but are myths from a bygone era when breastfeeding was not supported.
Joanna Lovell is a doula from Northeastern Pennsylvania who lives with her husband and five children and is pursuing her love of herbs, aromatherapy, babies, and supporting the many women and families in her community.
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