There's nothing like a bunch of old wives' tales to both make you laugh and convince you that you're putting your child in harm. It doesn't matter if you're pregnant or a new mom, somebody has told you something — like that you're not supposed to lift your arms above your head or you'll strangle your baby — and you've thought about it a beat too long and felt like an unfit mother. But the ones that pertain to nursing? They are laughable, sure, but there are a few old wives' tales about breastfeeding that are totally true.
I know. Your grandmother's told you a million things about pregnancy and babies and they all go against everything you've ever learned about science while getting your PhD in chemistry. But listen, there is some truth to a few of those old wives' tales about pregnancy. University of Utah Health noted that research has found a correlation between heartburn and delivering a baby with hair on its head and according to Baby Center sex can help induce labor when your body is getting close. But are bigger breasts going to produce more milk? Not necessarily. Some of the old wives' tales about breastfeeding sound ridiculous and some? Well, they also sound ridiculous, but they are totally true, like these eight old wives' tales.
1. You Can Introduce Your Child To New Flavors Through Your Breast Milk
Ever had an old relative tell you to chow down on those veggies so junior will eat his broccoli, too? There's some truth to that, according to Lauren David, RN, BSN, IBCLC with Drops of Hope Lactation & Wellness Consulting. "Absolutely! Baby tastes what you eat while you’re pregnant as they swallow amniotic fluid, and the same is true with breast milk. Eat a wide variety of healthy foods to help support your body as it heals from pregnancy and nourishes a new human being, and help them form a more varied palate for when they’re ready for solids after 6 months."
2. Drinking Dark Beer Can Increase Your Milk Supply
OK, so it's not so much the beer that makes this true. In fact, KellyMom noted that alcohol can actually decrease your milk supply some. But the old wives' tale about dark beer increasing your supply has some truth to it. (When my aunt gave birth in England in the early '80s, they actually stored Guinness in the new mothers' nightstands.) "The part about beer helping with supply comes from the fact that barley is a galactagogue (a substance that helps increase milk supply). So, foods and drinks made with barley could possibly have that effect," David says. "But, alcohol in beer can actually decrease the let-down reflex temporarily, which would reduce the amount of milk baby would receive. Make that dark beer a non-alcoholic version, and you’d have a better let-down all around." If you want to save some money and potentially boost your supply, David suggests making a batch of barley water for the benefits.
3. Skin-To-Skin Contact Can Increase Milk Supply
Nurses, lactation consultants, and grandmas will tell you to open up your shirt and let your bare-chested baby snuggle in close to your skin for milk production. Guess what? It totally works. "Yes, yes, yes! Early skin-to-skin (immediately after birth) has been shown in numerous studies to help breastfeeding begin earlier, get off to a better start, and help moms breastfeed longer," David says. "The actual act of skin-to-skin, where baby is in full frontal contact with mom, stimulates oxytocin release (the love hormone), which is essential for milk transfer. Not to mention, all the feel-good sensations that help you fall in love with your baby. Frequent skin-to-skin allows baby unrestricted access to the breast, which provides more stimulation and in turn, more milk."
4. Eat Garlic To Make Your Baby Nurse More
I read this in a book once and thought it sounded like the most ridiculous thing in the world, but hey, it actually works. Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Massachusetts noted on their website that research has found that after eating garlic, the flavor peaked in a mother's breast milk about two hours later. When the flavor levels are high, the babies suckled more vigorously and actually drank more milk than before. If you like garlic, it's worth a shot to get your baby to take in more milk, and David approves, too. "Yep! Studies show that babies love flavor in mom's breast milk and actually take in more milk when she’s eaten garlic."
5. Drink Plenty Of Fluids For Milk Production
David says this old wives' tale about drinking a lot of fluids is kind of true. "Yes and no. Mom should drink plenty of fluids for her health to make sure she doesn’t get dehydrated. But, drinking too much water can actually have the opposite effect and reduce milk supply. A good rule of thumb is to drink to thirst, or have a glass every time she sits down to nurse or pump." Parenting also noted that while you should have a healthy fluid intake to keep your milk production up, it doesn't really matter which liquid you're drinking.
6. Your Baby Can Get Nipple Confusion With Pacifiers & Bottles
I'm not saying don't give your baby a pacifier or bottle, but the old wives' tale that your baby could then refuse your breast is true. "Yes! Baby’s mouth is very impressionable in the early days and weeks. It doesn’t take much to reshape the oral cavity. Not to mention, babies have to use a totally different sucking mechanism on pacifiers and bottles than they do on the breast," David says. "Think about it — look at any bottle or pacifier — have you ever seen a breast that looked like that? Even the newer bottles that are supposedly 'more like mom's breast.' They may initially have that shape, but they don’t stretch and mold like mom's breast does when baby latches on. They actually cause baby to have to use a biting mechanism to move milk from them — guess what? Baby may start doing to you when they go back to breast. Ouch."
David also says that every bottle flows differently and much faster than a breast. "Babies often develop 'flow confusion' more so than 'nipple confusion.' They quickly get used to that fast flow and instant gratification instead of the slower, more delayed flow from the breast. It’s best if parents can wait at least a month before introducing artificial nipples, and be sure to use paced bottle feeding whenever they do so. I always advise my moms to have someone else introduce the bottle and for her to walk out of the room. Baby can smell mom from up to 20 feet away. And, you want baby associating mom with breastfeeding and someone else with bottle feeding when mom is away."
7. Put Cabbage Leaves In Your Bra For Engorgement
It sounds so bizarre, right? Like drinking castor oil to start labor (don't). But the cabbage leaves totally work. "Yes they can! Women have recommended this to other mothers as a means of 'drying up' milk supply, making breastfeeding moms hesitant to try it when they are miserably engorged. In fact, cabbage leaves only work on the interstitial fluid in the breasts — not the milk-making cells — to help reduce swelling. They’re helpful for any type of swelling all over the body, from toothaches to sprained ankles. It’s recommended to use them for breast engorgement once or twice a day, not continuously."
So if you're suffering from engorged breasts, cabbage leaves won't totally ruin your supply, but will help you get some relief. "Apply clean, cooled leaves that have been pierced with a fork or crushed a bit with a rolling pin to the breasts, enough to cover all of the swollen tissue. When the leaves become limp, remove," David says. "Of course, if you’re having severe engorgement that lasts more than a couple of days or if you have painful/cracked nipples along with it, seek the care of an IBCLC for help with latch ASAP."
8. Your Baby Won't Like Your Milk After You Work Out
OK, this one is true if you just read it for what it is. There is nothing wrong with your milk when you are working out, but according to KellyMom, babies may seem very fussy when they breastfeed after you work out and refuse your milk altogether. Chances are, they just aren't keen on the salty taste of your breast after you've been sweating yourself into shape. David says, "I don’t have any proof of this, but some say an enzyme could cause a temporary change in flavor immediately after a really intense workout. I haven’t had any moms actually complain about it to even say it’s true. I would advise a mom to nurse and maybe pump a bit before a strenuous workout simply for her comfort, so that she isn’t as full during the workout."
This post was originally published on Aug. 23, 2016. It was updated on Aug. 29, 2019.
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