Feature: Pediatrician allays fears on breastfeeding myths

Rebecca Mu’azu, Gombe

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In most parts of Nigeria and even Africa, there abound some myths on breastfeeding that experts consider harmful to a new born baby.

For instance, in most places in Nigeria, it is forbidden for a pregnant woman to breast feed her baby, because it is believed that, at that point, the breast milk has become contaminated and unfit for the baby’s consumption.

Some mothers also feel that it is wrong to give children only breast milk for the first six months, because it is considered evil and that water is God’s gift to everyone, especially babies.

These beliefs are still being practiced and expressed by some parents who spoke with Voice of Nigeria in Gombe.

Mrs. Jacinta Okeke has mixed feelings about exclusive breastfeeding and breastfeeding during pregnancy.

“Yes I did, but I stopped at five months and one week, because the breast milk is not enough for the baby. She always cries whenever I gave her only breast milk. It showed that she needed something to support the breast milk.

“I am not supporting somebody to breastfeed her baby while she is pregnant with another baby, because it’s not normal. It will harm the baby. I have seen someone that did that and it affected the baby.

“Two of her babies later died because she did that thing. There is another woman who told me she breastfed her child while still pregnant and the thing did not affect the baby she was breastfeeding.

“They say it doesn’t affect, but I don’t know and I have seen somebody that did it and lost two children. I won’t do it, even if I conceive, I will stop breastfeeding my baby,” said Mrs. Okeke.

For Hajia Hajaratu Mohammed Ali, an exclusively breastfed child turns out to be healthier.

“By mere seeing, you will know that a baby is not taking water. These fever, purging, you hardly notice it in the child for the first six months of their lives. I also exclusively breastfed my last baby. All my other children were not breastfed exclusively, only my last baby was exclusively breastfed, because I was educated on its benefits.

“I advise other women to follow the new trend, because everything works out on research. People have researched and have seen the benefit, so we should follow. For those who do not breastfeed their children because they are pregnant.

“This one is ignorance now. The pregnancy has nothing to do with the breastfeeding. Once you are pregnant, you take what you are supposed to take and continue with your breastfeeding. But if you do not breastfeed, you are harming the baby that is already outside.

“So, pregnancy and breastfeeding should go together. God loves you now, look at baby, look at the other baby is coming now. So, you should not prevent the other one from getting the food,” said Hajia Hajaratu.

Some fathers also say they do not believe in some of the breastfeeding practices being advocated for by the experts.

According to Mallam Usman Idris, “It’s good, it’s good, I agree, because it helps the baby and I believe in that. I also believe she can breastfeed her child till she gives birth, because they say it is true. After sometime ma, they say she can breastfeed the two babies.”

For Jamil Soye, “I believe in it, but what I am thinking is like you are torturing the baby. Because, how can you not give him water. They say is good to breastfeed exclusively for six months. But they fed me with water when I was a baby.

“So, how comes. I will allow my wife to give the baby water, if she can purify the water and make it clean. They say it is unhealthy for a pregnant woman to breastfeed a baby during pregnancy, because it affects the baby.

“For me to allow the baby to be breastfed by a pregnant mother, I google and read about it first and then come to the doctor and then compare and contrast.”

A Paediatrician, Senior Registrar with the Department of Paediatrics

Department at the Federal Teaching Hospital, Gombe, Dr. Yasangra

Rabo Adeniji, allay the fears of those who believe in the myths.

Dr. Adeniji said almost all of the breastfeeding myths believed and applied by parents in most Nigerian societies were wrong and harmful to the baby.

She said beliefs such as not breastfeeding during pregnancy, discarding of the first yellowish milk, exclusive breastfeeding and not breastfeeding for fear of having sagging of the breast, were all misconceptions that do not in any way affect the child negatively.

The Paediatrician said breast milk contained the correct quantity and proportion of nutrients, which is available in the right temperature sufficient for the mental and physical growth of the child and subsequently the society.

“That first milk that comes out is call colostrum. It is thick and yellowish and it is very, very important for the child because it contains antibodies and vitamins and minerals that are essential for the child’s growth and development. It is so important and we discourage women from expressing it and discarding it. Because that child needs that colostrum, it’s very, very important,” Dr. Adeniji said.

There are beliefs that a mother’s breast milk is possessed by some evil spirits and babies who feed on such milk end up dying at a tender age. Some experts say these are mostly HIV cases, where a positive mother feels breastfeeding a child in that condition will infect the child with the virus.

A story like that is often then shrouded the mysterious beliefs that the breast milk is actually posed by an evil spirit.

However, Dr. Adeniji said there were regulations on how to breastfeed children in HIV cases to prevent infections.

“That’s a miss conception. A pregnant woman can breastfeed her baby she can keep breastfeeding, even up to the 3rd trimester. It will not have any effect on the baby.

“A pregnant woman can breastfeed her baby up to the time of delivery, in fact, there is what we call tandem breastfeeding, where she can breastfeed both the new baby and the older baby. So, it’s a misconception that maybe the child will fall ill because he is taking bad breast milk because the mother is pregnant. It is not true, it is a misconception,” Dr. Adeniji said.

Dr. Adeniji said sagging of breasts all depended on genetics and the connective tissues in the breast, in which pregnancy brings changes to the breast.

Such changes include increase in size, whether a mother breastfeeds a child or not, while some women’s breast will also sag, irrespective of breastfeeding or not.

The Pediatrician has therefore advised mothers to breastfeed their children properly and sufficiently for the benefit of the entire country.