The DUH Files: Questionable Folk Remedies for Breastfeeding Still Common

Got sore nipples? Try tea bags, oatmeal or expressed breast milk. Low milk production? Beer and oatmeal.

How often have we heard this breastfeeding advice passed down from nurses, nannies and every other person trying to help new mothers struggling to feed their babies. Just how common? Apparently 65% of the lactation specialists admitted to passing along this type of largely unsubstantiated advice.  Dr. Jonathan Schaffir, an obstetrician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center surveyed 124 licensed lactation consultants for a study published in Breastfeeding Medicine (via Science Daily now on probation, see last post). Remarkably, almost a third of these boob experts had never heard of such homespun remedies. How is that possible?

Perhaps the top cures are the most unnerving finding for me as someone who collects allergies to plants and foods on an annual basis. I'd be reluctant to try the most popular folk remedies for fear of breaking out into a full body blush:
Specifically, the most common folk traditions recommended were fenugreek (57 responses) and blessed thistle (28 responses) for lactation and cabbage leaves (36 responses) for pain relief. Survey of Lactation Instructors on Folk Traditions in Breastfeeding, Breastfeeding Medicine 

FENUGREEK.  BLESSED THISTLE. Not available down at Acme.

Yes, you read that journal name right. Breastfeeding Medicine. I suppose the journal is both a repository of knowledge about the "science" of breastfeeding in the sense of studying health outcomes and related issues in a scientific manner and also I suspect the "science" of breast milk as medicine, a cure-all for impoverished genes, immune systems, neurodevelopmental delays, obesity and I'm sure I'm forgetting a hundred other outcomes. Maybe the title should be Breastfeeding As Medicine.

So here, for your reading pleasure is the Mission of Breastfeeding Medicine:

Breastfeeding Medicine is an authoritative, peer-reviewed journal created by physicians and dedicated to the advancement of breastfeeding worldwide. The Journal answers the growing demand for evidence-based research and explores the immediate and long-term outcomes of breastfeeding, including its epidemiologic, physiologic, and psychological benefits.
Authoritative.  Ouch. Scares me more than the Blessed Thistle. Breastfeeding worldwide. Global desires. Consider yourself warned.

By now you may be curious about the kind of research this not-so-objective journal publishes.  Oh plenty such as:
•Health consequences of artificial feeding

•Physiology of lactation and biochemistry of breast milk

•Optimal nutrition for the breastfeeding mother

•Breastfeeding indications and contraindications

•Managing breastfeeding discomfort, pain, and other complications

•Breastfeeding the premature or sick infant

•Breastfeeding in the chronically ill mother

•Management of the breastfeeding mother on medication

•Infectious disease transmission through breast milk and breastfeeding
Artificial feeding? I wonder if feeding breast milk via a bottle is artificial?  I wonder if the journal has published many articles showing the contraindications of breastfeeding. Me thinks not very many, not when you're committed to global domination.

Did I mention the folk remedies do not have much empirical evidence behind them and in some cases (beer) might actually impair breastfeeding?


The Fearless Formula Feeder said...

I read the mission statement of that journal a few years ago since so many of the articles that are thrown in my face from those who challenge my cause are from Breastfeeding Medicine or the Journal of Lactation. When a medical (??) journal claims that their goal is the "dedicated to the advancement of breastfeeding worldwide", you can bet that they aren't publishing any evidence that might get in the way of that goal. At least they admit their bias up front, though.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

I'd feel much better if they'd just go ahead and change the name to We Heart Breastfeeding! so when the study gets picked up in the media we can all promptly diss them.

From a research perspective, one that values objectivity and the value of the scientific method, it's rather awkward to only publish (or run?) studies that prove your point. Or for that matter even advocate a cause that you're supposedly studying in an objective manner.