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10 Breastfeeding Facts and Tips, What Experts Say

10 Breastfeeding facts and tips

Breastfeeding is highly recommended by experts for new mothers because it can benefit both the health of the woman and her child. Therefore, experts often look for ways to encourage new moms to choose breastfeeding.

A new survey of lactation specialists found that experts often pass along folk remedies to breastfeeding moms even though such suggestions may not be well researched. Here's what the specialists had to say, along with information on breastfeeding and 10 facts and tips for new mothers.

Breastfeeding is a critical start for your child

Although experts, including the American Pediatrics Association, continue to emphasize the importance of breastfeeding, most new mothers fail to continue the practice past a few months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted recently that while about 75 percent of new moms begin to breastfeed, only about 43 percent continue to do so at all at six months, and only 13.3 percent are breastfeeding exclusively by that time.

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Researchers have done many studies to help determine how to help increase the number of women who start and continue to breastfeed beyond six months. The new survey conducted by obstetrician Dr. Jonathan Schaffir at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center looked at what lactation specialists tell their patients.

The online survey included answers from 124 lactation consultants from medical facilities in 29 states. Overall, 65 percent of the consultants told new mothers about at least one folk remedy (e.g., using cabbage leaves or tea bags) for easing breastfeeding discomfort, improving milk flow, initiating breastfeeding, helping with weaning, or which substances to avoid because they can irritate infants.

According to Schaffir, although lactation experts often suggest folk remedies for breastfeeding issues, “there is little empirical evidence to support” their use. However, he also noted that “I’m all for anything that helps and is safe for the baby.”

Breast milk is the perfect food for infants, from the first spurt of colostrum (the yellow first breast milk that is ultra rich in antibodies and nutrients) to the more mature milk that contains the optimal balance of fats, protein, carbohydrates, and sugars for an infant’s growth and development. Therefore, if you are a new mother, here are ten facts and tips about breastfeeding you should know to help you get through the process and understand the health benefits.

  • Cabbage leaves: One of the oldest folk medicine treatments for sore nipples associated with breastfeeding is the application of cabbage leaves to the breast. This is one of the recommendations offered by the experts surveyed in the aforementioned study. Although scientific evidence is not available, it can’t hurt to place cold cabbage leaves inside the bra and leaving them there for several hours.
  • Fenugreek: The herb fenugreek was recommended by 57 of the 86 lactation specialists in the survey mentioned above to help improve milk flow. Drugs and other substances used to initiate and maintain milk production are called galactogogues. Despite claims by folk medicine practitioners, there are no scientific studies to support them. However, fenugreek seeds do contain hormone precursors that may help increase milk supply. Women should consult their healthcare provider before taking fenugreek.
  • Blessed thistle: Use of blessed thistle is another remedy that was recommended by lactation specialists in the survey (28 of 86), but no research supports the claims.
  • Tea bags: Some women claim that applying soaked black tea bags to their sore nipples eases the pain of breastfeeding. This remedy has been passed along among generations of women, and despite the lack of scientific proof to support this practice, it continues. Let’s put it this way: it can’t hurt.
  • Oatmeal: Eating oatmeal has been recommended as a way to increase milk production. Although no scientific studies have been done to support this recommendation, experts continue to suggest that breastfeeding women eat oatmeal.
  • SIDS: A University of Virginia School of Medicine meta-analysis found that infants who were breastfed for any duration exclusively had a 73 percent reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), while those who were breastfed at all (including a combination of breastfeeding and formula and/or food) had a 60 percent reduced risk of SIDS.
  • Celiac disease: A new study indicates that infants who are being breastfed at the same time gluten is introduced to their diet have a reduced risk of developing celiac disease. This finding especially applies to infants who have frequent infections.
  • Infections: Researchers reported in the Archives of Diseases of Childhood that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is the best way to ward off the development of ear and respiratory infections.
  • Diabetes: A new study in The Practicing Midwife explains that women who exclusively breastfeed their infants may be helping prevent diabetes in adulthood.
  • Other health issues: According to the womenshealth.gov, breastfeeding may also protect against development of necrotizing enterocolitis (a gastrointestinal disease that affects preterm infants), asthma, obesity, childhood leukemia, and atopic dermatitis.

The World Health Organization has recommended breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life “to achieve optimal growth, development and health” and that it should be practiced by all women “except for a few medical conditions.” Breastfeeding is one of the most important choices new mothers can make, a choice that can impact their children for the rest of their lives.

Finigan V. Breastfeeding diabetes: part 1. Practicing Midwife 2012 Nov; 15(10): 28, 30-32
Ladomenou F et al. Protective effect of exclusive breastfeeding against infections during infancy: a prospective study. Archives of Disease in Childhood 2010 Dec; 95(12): 1004-8
Mangesi L, Cowswell T. Treatments for breast engorgement during lactation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 20120 Sep 8; (9): CD006946
Ohio State University
World Health Organization