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8 January 2013
Medico delves into breastfeeding folklore

Using cabbage leaves and tea bags to ease nipple pain, or eating oatmeal to increase milk production, are among the folk remedies that women pass along to new mothers seeking breastfeeding help.

Now, a researcher at Ohio State University has surveyed more than 100 lactation specialists to determine how often they employed folklore remedies. Around two-thirds of the lactivists said they had recommended at least one folk remedy. The survey was carried out by Dr. Jonathan Schaffir, an obstetrician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and the results appear in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine.

The specialists were asked to provide examples of advice they had heard of, as well as advice they routinely passed on to breastfeeding mothers. Advice was broken into five categories: recommendations to promote lactation, to initiate breastfeeding, to treat pain associated with breastfeeding, to assist with weaning, and about substances to avoid for the baby's sake.

The survey found that certain folk remedies are widespread among experts, particularly herbal remedies to increase milk production and cabbage leaves to ease pain from breastfeeding. The results suggest that recommending folk remedies that are outside of the medical mainstream is a common practice among lactation consultants who advise women about breastfeeding.

More than half of the lactation consultants who responded to the survey said they had heard of and passed on a folklore remedy intended to either increase milk production or ease/prevent pain associated with breastfeeding.

Schaffir expressed some concern that despite the frequency with which such advice was given, there was little empirical evidence to support the use of most the remedies listed. He cited the notion that beer could be consumed to promote milk production, although no studies have demonstrated a positive impact in milk production. Folk traditions that aid with breast pain or engorgement were also mentioned, including using cabbage leaves, even though studies have questioned their effectiveness.

Several lactation consultants recommended tea bags to help women deal with nipple soreness, but Schaffir said a randomized trial of breastfeeding women with pain demonstrated that tea bags offered no additional benefit than a water compress. He noted that a review of studies that examine treatment for nipple pain concluded that there was no significant benefit to the use of tea bags, lanolin or expressed milk on the nipple.

Interestingly, the lactation consultants who made recommendations based on folklore compared with those who only made medical recommendations did not have any significant difference in relation to age, parity, education, experience or socioeconomic status.

Schaffir hopes the findings will spur further scientific examination of folklore remedies. "With the attention given to these remedies, this survey may spur future research to objectively measure whether such recommendations are actually safe and effective, rather than relying solely on anecdotal evidence," he concluded.

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Source: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

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