This week is the world breastfeeding week. It is celebrated every year around the world from 1st to 7th August to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies. It promotes exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. This piece is put up to demystify the myths about the effects of palmwine on breastfeeding. I had gone to congratulate a woman and to see that the new born baby was doing fine. I met the new mum she was happy, on a lighter mood, baby was also happy as evidenced by the numerous spontaneous smiles from the baby. I asked for the husband, she was said to have gone out. I later met him at the reception and noticed he was worried.
The following ensues between the two of us:
Doctor: Congrats Sir, where have you been?
Man: Doctor, I’ve been out all day in search of palm wine for the new mum.
Doctor: Palm wine! Palm what!
Man: The nurse requested I get the palm wine for the mum so that she can lactate.
Doctor: No Sir, you need to hold on, you don’t need to get it, and the mum doesn’t need palm wine either.
Man: But the nurse asked us to go and get it, anyway thank God, thank you
I later approached the nurse, who requested for the palm wine to be brought and given to the new mum. I asked her if she knew that palm wine contains alcohol on the average up to six per cent. I also asked her whether she knew that alcohol passes through breast milk and can affect the baby. She replied that it is a cultural practice, but agreed that it was not a medical proven treatment and that it was not ordered by the doctor.
Naturally, palm wine is a low alcoholic drink. Its alcoholic content is as little three per cent, but fermented palm wine has the potential to breed as high 12 per cent alcoholic content. When palm wine is taken by breastfeeding mum, it passes into the breast milk. It is on record that there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption while breastfeeding. Mums should avoid palm wine/alcohol intake in the first month after a baby is born until breastfeeding is well established because it impedes the milk flow as opposed to the cultural belief. It takes about two hours for the average woman to clear one standard glass of alcohol drink from her system, therefore four hours for two glasses, six hours for three glasses and so on.
Effect of palm wine/alcohol on breastfeeding mum
Using alcohol may make the mum fall into a deep sleep which can be dangerous to the baby. Mums who are going to drink alcohol are strongly advised not to have their baby sleep with them on the bed. They are to always put babies in their cots. They may not wake for the baby’s next feed, or if the baby becomes distressed. They are to make ‘safety plans’ – have an adult take care of the baby. Palm wine is used by some mums as post natal beverage. This is dangerous to health; the levels of alcohol in breast milk remain close to those in the mother’s bloodstream. Levels will be at their highest between 30 and 60 minutes after drinking, or 90 minutes if drinking with a meal. It takes two hours for a unit of alcohol (a small glass of wine, or half a pint of beer) to leave a mother’s blood.
Effect of palm wine/ alcohol on breastfed babies
While large amounts of alcohol in breast milk can have a sedative effect on the babies, it is more likely to make the babies agitated and disrupt their sleep patterns. When a nursing mother takes it, it gets into the breast milk and the baby sleeps and unable to suck. Alcohol inhibits a mother’s let-down (the release of milk to the nipple). Studies have shown that babies take around 20 per cent less milk if there is alcohol present, so they’ll need to feed more often. Some infants have been known to go on ‘nursing strike’, probably because of the altered taste of alcohol in the milk.
In conclusion, drinking palm wine by breastfeeding mums is counterproductive because it is proven scientifically that palm wine does not make the breast flow. It reduces the flow contrary to perceived increase by traditions. The act of palm wine drinking by new mum is a myth, with no scientific basis or benefit. Most importantly, it is a harmful practice. Breast flow is, however, increased by staying hydrated, eating a well-balanced diet, putting baby to breast on demand, resting and having enough sleep.
Rotimi Adesanya; Child and Public Health Physician, [email protected], 08037202050
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