KAREN HERZOG, [email protected] Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Publication Date: August 21, 2011 Page: 11 Section: A News Edition: Final
To combat infant mortality, doctors and other health care providers must debunk myths surrounding pregnancy – including ones that discourage healthy behaviors or encourage bad habits. Here is a look at a few of those myths.
Myth: Smoking during pregnancy makes childbirth easier because the baby will be smaller.
Reality: Smoking during pregnancy negatively affects both baby and mother and is a preventable cause of illness and death of infants after delivery, said Veronica Gunn, medical director of community services at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
A pregnant woman who smokes five cigarettes a day during a full-term pregnancy exposes her baby to about 67 packs of cigarettes before birth. The chemicals inhaled in cigarette smoke increase the risk for miscarriage or stillbirth, and they can increase the baby’s chances of being born prematurely or having less oxygen delivered to his or her developing brain and body, resulting in low birth weight, Gunn said.
Premature and low birth-weight babies also are at greater risk of having physical, learning and emotional problems than normal-weight babies born at term.
“Smaller babies are not necessarily healthy babies,” said Jackie Tillett, nurse midwife and director of the Midwifery & Wellness Center at Aurora Sinai Medical Center. “Smaller babies also don’t necessarily have easier births.” Myth: You can’t get pregnant soon after giving birth, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
Reality: Too short of a time between pregnancies poses a risk of premature birth. The greatest risk is less than six months between pregnancies.
Breast-feeding provides roughly 90% protection against pregnancy, but only if all three of these conditions are met: 1) The mother is within six months of having given birth. 2) She is breast-feeding exclusively (no other fluids or food provided to the baby). 3) She has not had a period since giving birth.
“If all three conditions are not met, then there is a relatively high chance that pregnancy could occur during breast-feeding,” said Myra Wick, obstetrician-gynecologist at the Mayo Clinic and medical editor for the new book, “Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy.” “Keep in mind that ovulation may occur before your first menstrual period, so you can’t always use your first period as an indicator of when you would be fertile. Also, when breast-feeding, periods may be irregular, so it may be difficult to predict ovulation even after the first period.” Myth: Breast-feeding hurts, and using formula is easy. So breast-feeding isn’t worth it.
Reality: Breast milk provides babies with ideal nutrition for growth, digestion and brain development. It also provides antibodies that help the baby’s immune system. Research suggests it may even help protect against sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. Studies also indicate babies who are breast-fed are less likely to become obese as adults.
“Women know it’s better for their babies, but they’ve been told it hurts and it causes bleeding,” said Tina Mason, obstetrician-gynecologist and program director of Aurora Sinai Medical Center’s obstetrics and gynecology department.
“There’s pain, and there’s uncomfortable,” she said. “I talk to women early on, when they’re only three months pregnant, about how to start toughening their nipples.
You can reduce the discomfort that will be there a short time – for about two weeks – by using breast shields and nipple cream. After two weeks, you have rubber nipples.” Myth: Breast-feeding is uncivilized and unattractive.
Reality: Breast milk is the perfect food for a human infant. Humans are the only mammals who feed their babies the milk of another mammal – the cow, Tillett said.
“Attractive is in the eye of the beholder,” she said. “The sight of a woman breast-feeding her infant is so beautiful to me – the commitment, the act of holding an infant close to one’s heart.” We’ll be looking at more myths on the Empty Cradles blog (www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/emptycradles.html). If you have questions you would like answered or areas you think we should explore, send them to emptycradles@journal sentinel.com.