20 October 2006

Breastfeeding: beliefs and malpractices

Many myths and malpractices around breastfeeding still abound and result in premature weaning from the breast.

Do you add “versterkdruppels” to your baby’s bottle or do you believe that foremilk and colostrums in breastmilk should be thrown away?

Many myths and malpractices around breastfeeding still abound and result in premature weaning from the breast or mothers preferring the bottle to breastfeeding. The Nutrition Information Centre, University of Stellenbosch, (NICUS) lists common beliefs or malpractices and give the facts:

Giving water bottles soon after birth


  • Family pressure
  • To ensure sufficient fluid intake
  • To prevent constipation
  • To dilute acidity of breastmilk


  • Giving water bottles is unnecessary because breastmilk provides sufficient water (foremilk contains more water and hind milk contains more fat thus the child quenches thirst in the first few minutes of sucking and then satisfies hunger with the hind milk).
  • Inclusion of water bottles can also lead to nipple confusion and a decrease in milk production.
  • Breastmilk is digested and absorbed well; therefore breastfed babies have, in general, fewer stools than bottle-fed babies do. The practice of water bottles for the prevention of constipation is therefore unnecessary.
  • Hormonal changes cause a pimple-like rash on the baby, which mothers ascribe to “sour” breastmilk.

Giving of medicine bottles containing:

  • gripe water
  • “behoedmiddels”
  • "wonderkroon”
  • entress drops
  • aloe syrup
  • red lavender
  • chest drops
  • cramp drops
  • castor oil
  • milk of magnesia
  • “versterkdruppels”


  • Family tradition
  • Common baby problems such as coughing, winds, constipation, cramps/colic, runny nose as a sedative


  • Most of these products contain a high percentage of alcohol and are, therefore, not suitable for babies (Gripe water, for instance contains 4.4% alcohol).
  • Self-medication must be given according to the medical prescription of the doctor and not out of habit or because of family tradition.
  • Medicine bottles are sometimes given for the wrong reasons or are given incorrectly and can be disadvantageous to the baby.

Colostrum must be thrown away


It is not good for the baby


  • The colostrum is rich in antibodies especially IgA, white blood cells and growth factors which is a natural method to prevent disease.
  • It is exactly what the baby needs for the first few feeds to protect the baby against infection and to pass the first stool.
  • The colostrum is yellow coloured and very concentrated (5ml colostrum equals 30ml hind milk).

Foremilk must be thrown away


It is watery and lacks sufficient nutrients


  • Foremilk is essential as it contains protein, lactose, vitamins, minerals and a lot of water.
  • It is essential to quench the baby’s thirst in a nutritious way.

Feeds must be given at set intervals


To get baby into a routine


  • Breastfeeding must be frequently throughout the day and on demand by the baby.
  • This is also beneficial for the mother, as it increases the production of breastmilk.

Temporary stopping of breastfeeding because the mother is angry or in a bad mood


Milk becomes turbulent when the mother is emotional and not good for the baby the mood can be transferred to the baby


  • Stress, agitation and anxiousness can cause a decrease in the “let-down” reflex, which can cause a decrease in availability of milk, but does not affect the quality of the milk.
  • Mothers are therefore advised to get counseling on how to avoid these conditions so that milk availability is not affected.

Temporary stoppage of breastfeeding when baby has gastroenteritis and / or a fever


Breastfeeding makes diarrhoea or fever worse


  • Breastfeeding should be continued during illness, as it is a natural method of oral rehydration, it decreases mortality and morbidity in children, and it boosts the immune system as a result of the immunoglobulins it contains.

Early stoppage of breastfeeding because of:

  • fear of being “tied down”
  • going back to work
  • breastmilk is too little/dried up
  • breastmilk is too sour/is too salty
  • breastmilk is too watery
  • family tradition
  • connected to bottle-feeding
  • child is hungry
  • sore nipples
  • mother-child separation
  • breasts too small


  • Some women want to be free to go out with their friends or to go back to work
  • Because baby cries a lot/breasts too small/breasts too soft and an excuse to start bottle-feeding
  • In comparison to cow’s milk, breast milk looks and tastes different
  • It is a norm within the family to start bottle feeding and introducing solids at a very early stage
  • It is seen as fashionable to bottle-feed
  • Baby drinks more frequently and for longer periods of time on the breast pain and discomfort


  • There is no reason for early stoppage of breastfeeding as children should be exclusively breastfed for 4 - 6 months and thereafter to continue breastfeeding if possible up to two years with adequate complementary foods.
  • Mothers can continue breastfeeding their child when they return to work or when going out by expressing milk and cup feeding the baby. These women need special training and support provided by a health professional to prevent aspiration.
  • The size of the mothers’ breast has no influence on milk production.
  • Regular feeding will increase milk production and provide in the child's needs and hunger.
  • A mother's breastmilk is never too sour, salty or weak for her baby.
  • Water bottles and dummies are unnecessary and decrease stimulation of the breast and milk production.
  • Correct latching will prevent sore and painful nipples.

Early inclusion of solid foods (before 4-6 months)


  • Child was hungry and did not sleep well
  • Breast milk was insufficient
  • Family tradition
  • Mother returned to work
  • Facts:

    • The Innocenti Declaration recommends that exclusive breastfeeding should continue for 4 - 6 months.
    • The baby's body is not developed enough to tolerate solid foods before 4 months of age.
    • Breastmilk provides entirely in the baby's needs until that age.
    • Regular feeding will help with sufficient milk production.

    Mother cannot eat garlic, onions, cabbage, chocolate or yellow vegetables


    The baby won’t like the taste of milk


    • Many mothers restrict their diets unnecessarily while they are breastfeeding.
    • However, most mothers can eat any food they like in moderation without it causing a problem for their babies.
    • Some foods, such as garlic, may flavour the breastmilk. A study found that, although breastmilk may acquire a garlicky smell one to two hours after the mother had eaten garlic, the baby showed more interest in breastfeeding and took more milk. It is therefore very individual.
    • A mother who notices that her baby is “fussy” a little while after she has eaten a specific food, may avoid that food in future (she should, however, try to include the specific food again at a later stage).

    For more information, contact NICUS at (021) 9331408


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