Breastfeeding Myth Cost a 5-Month-Old His Life

Jacqueline Burt Cote
128

breastfeeding babyReading about the American doctor who couldn't save a 5-month-old at an outpatient clinic in Haiti made me cry: A victim of the Haitian belief in "bad milk," the baby boy's mother stopped nursing him soon after he was born, feeding him watered-down 7Up from a bottle instead. I'd like to think that, in this day and age, potentially dangerous misconceptions about breastfeeding are limited to third-world countries with limited medical resources. "Bad milk," for example, is thought to be a symptom of another mysterious Haitian folk illness, "bad blood," but these conditions are more likely to be diagnosed by voodoo doctors than physicians. Unfortunately, I know from experience that myths surrounding breastfeeding persist, even here, where we have a bounty of vaccinations and antibiotics.

I had my first baby, my daughter, in a warm and fuzzy birthing center in NYC (which has since shut its doors) equipped with a jacuzzi and surrounded by nurturing midwives (and screaming at the top of my lungs in regret for choosing the no-epidural route, but never mind that). The only thing I didn't love about the experience -- apart from the mind-blowing pain -- was that new moms were only allowed to stay at the center for a maximum of 12 hours after giving birth.

We were back at our apartment for another day when, exhausted and struggling to connect my newborn's tiny mouth with my throbbing cantaloupe breasts, I developed a wicked case of mastitis. On the same day, my daughter became jaundiced.

So, it was off to the "traditional" hospital after all, the place I'd hoped to avoid from the beginning, where my daughter got a three-day dose of bilirubin and I got a 10-day course of antibiotics ... which gave me a wickeder still case of C. difficile colitis, which had to be treated with yet another medication.

Here's where the breastfeeding fact/fiction conflict comes in: The MD at the hospital told me, firmly, that this latest medication was not approved for breastfeeding mothers, and my only choice was to put my daughter on formula and "pump and dump" for the next 10 days.

I was heartsick (and of course, wildly hormonal) at the thought -- here I was, just getting the hang of this whole breastfeeding thing, and now I had to stop? What if we couldn't pick up where we left off? I went to see my midwife, sobbing in that hysterical way only new mothers can.

"Malarkey," said my midwife. (She really used that word, I swear.) There would be no trouble with the medication passing through my milk, she assured me; she'd had loads of clients who breastfed while taking the same medicine to no ill effect.

So, I followed in their footsteps. And guess what? I didn't have "bad milk." My daughter was just fine. I've never forgotten how it felt to be told that I'd be harming my baby by nursing her ... and I know countless other women all over the world suffer the same trauma, whether at the advice of a voodoo doctor or a scrubs-clad pediatrician.

What breastfeeding myths have you faced?

 

Image via Melissa S/Flickr

Read More