While Breastfeeding: Parenting Myths: Common Advice That's Incorrect

 baby in blanket with mom 

This is the seventh installment in our series on reducing your baby's allergy risk. If you missed the sixth installment, read it here, or jump back to the During Pregnancy or the First 24 Hours installments. 

In this lesson we bust some common parenting myths for the early months. 

Having grandparents around to help with your baby is an immense gift. But it also comes with some funny side effects like incorrect “knowledge” passed on from one generation to the other. 

Let’s talk about some parenting “wisdoms” you may have heard and how they’re not always true.

 

Your Baby Eats What You Eat

Strictly speaking, this is not true. Your breast tissue is not connected to your digestive tract (stomach and intestines). When you eat, food is processed by your stomach and passed to your intestines where the nutrients, fat, etc. are absorbed. The building blocks of those foods — proteins, sugars, antibodies, vitamins, and minerals — then enter your bloodstream to be carted around to the cells that need them.

When your baby latches, the nerve endings in the nipple and areola send signals to the brain to release prolactin from the pituitary gland. Prolactin causes your alveoli to take those building blocks from your blood supply and turn them into breast milk. 

Moral of the story? The breastmilk babies get is basically the same, no matter what you eat because it’s coming from your cell stores, not straight from your stomach. 

Mothers around the world get advice on what to eat and what not to eat when breastfeeding. But these ideas are cultural and not based in science. Case and point? Studies showed that having up to 5 cups of coffee per day had no real effect on the contents of breastmilk.

So eat healthy to keep yourself healthy, but don’t worry about giving your baby food allergies through your breastmilk.

 

Don’t Share Utensils With Your Baby

Parents used to be told not to share spoons with their babies, clean their baby’s spoon with their mouth, or clean baby’s pacifiers with their mouths for fear spreading germs, especially the bacteria Streptococcus mutants that cause tooth cavities. 

New studies actually have shown the opposite - babies whose parents boiled their pacifiers to clean them were significantly more likely to develop asthma and eczema. Our understanding about the microbiome and its role in protecting us against allergic disease is pretty new. This study shows how moms can pass their microbiome bacteria to their babies by doing normal things like using their mouth to clean pacifiers.


Don’t Let Anyone Touch Your Baby

In the first 6 weeks of your baby’s life, it’s probably a good thing to keep anyone with an obvious cold, open wounds, etc. away from you and your baby. But a lot of baby books used to tell parents not to let anyone touch their baby for the first couple months. The concern was, as always, someone could give your baby a virus they weren’t ready for. 

As we’ve seen in a number of the articles above, an overabundance of caution can be harmful in the long run. Turns out that having siblings and dogs (but not cats) protects babies from allergic disease. Your garbage-eating, butt-sniffing dog carries many different kinds of bacteria. And when he tracks that into the house or licks your baby, the diversity of your baby’s gut microbiome increases. Same goes for toddlers, who are basically as gross as dogs. 

One caveat: If you know your toddler is sick, say with a cold picked up from daycare, those viruses & germs are not good to pass onto you baby and have no protective benefits. Those germs could make your baby quite ill, so there’s no need to let a snotty big brother kiss your baby.


Sleep When Baby Sleeps, Eat When Baby Eats

Like many other moms, I got this advice to sync my schedule up with my baby’s. It made a lot of sense since in the early months you can’t really control when you baby sleeps and eats. Their needs for both change as they are rapidly growing in the early months, and  if you are nursing for 45 minutes, it’s easy to get hungry or thirsty. Might as well join in!

Turns out this is bad advice. Something that has become very clear is that exposure to food via the skin (cutaneous), especially when there isn’t simultaneous exposure through the mouth (oral), can confuse the immune system into labeling food as a threat. 

Eating food while your baby eats can lead to small amounts of the food getting on your baby’s skin, and in the early months when your baby is exclusively breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, they are getting no exposure to foods (eggs, peanut, etc) orally.

Keep a glass of water, or maybe a smoothie nearby while nursing to get in water and calories. This will keep baby’s skin free of dust, and keep you from being exhausted. 

 

What’s the craziest advice you’ve gotten as a new mom?