Breastfeeding myths - busted - 1000 word article, published in Modern Mum
The hospital, your doctor, everyone will tell you when you're pregnant: breast is best. However, because breastfeeding has been a dying art for so long in our culture, many of the common myths which surround it can act as stumbling blocks to new mums starting out feeding. These myths might come from well-meaning friends or family, or even uninformed medical professionals who only have professional experience of bottle-fed babies.
As a mum of three breastfed babies I want to shed some light on the most common breastfeeding myths. I encourage you to read further, find additional support, from family, friends and experienced breastfeeding mothers as well as sympathetic medical professionals so you can make informed decisions.
Always gauge someone's feelings about breastfeeding before taking their advice about it. If their advice is to stop feeding to solve a problem, look elsewhere. Seek out alternatives, they are almost always there. Breastfeeding is nature's way of providing vital nutrition, hydration and comfort to a baby and is a once in a lifetime opportunity, which our culture is often all too eager to sever in a panic as a one-size-fits all solution.
- My baby's not getting enough from me, so I need to supplement with formula.
Be very, very careful before you decide to supplement your baby with anything other than your breast-milk. Breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis. You baby's sucking, even if it feels as if they're getting nothing, will stimulate increased milk supply for future days, supplementing your baby with formula will fool your body into thinking your baby is getting enough.
- Supplementing with formula will make my baby sleep through the night
In addition to issues to do with supplementing with formula above, all babies sleep differently, and their sleeping habits change according to their age. There is a real pressure on new mums to have their babies sleeping through the night from day one. The reality is that a larger number of breastfed babies do tend to wake more frequently in the night than their bottle-fed counterparts. This may be partly due to the fact that they get slightly less in each feeding and so need more frequent feedings, but it is also to do with breast-milk being quicker and easier for their immature systems to digest. Furthermore, breastfed babies often want and need to snuggle up with mum for comfort in the night as well as during the day. If night wakings are bothering you, consider having your baby in the bed with you. Do read up on how to do this safely. Co-sleeping is practised by breastfeeding mothers around the world and means maximum sleep for all parties.
- Small boobs mean I won't have enough milk for my baby
The amount of milk you produce has little to do with the size of your breast, which actually consists of mainly fatty tissue. Try and see before jumping to conclusions based on your cup size.
- If I'm ill I should stop feeding my baby so they don't get sick
By the time you have come down with the symptoms of a bug, your baby has already been exposed to it. Your body will create antibodies and pass them onto your baby through your milk, thereby giving him added immunity. If you need to take medication, tell your doctor you are breastfeeding so that they can find something which will be safe for your baby. There are always a number of alternative medications for any condition, so be sure to insist that they investigate these alternatives.
- Feeding a baby with teeth will hurt!
Some do, some don't. Usually it is only a little nip of experimentation with their newly discovered sensation of teeth in gums. As they get older they may do it for a response - making mum squeal can be mighty entertaining for a toddler. But feeding a child with teeth does not hurt - once they are not biting!
- Milk turns bad when you're pregnant, so you have to stop.
This myth seems to exist in most cultures around the world. What is true is that your milk supply may well begin to dwindle from very early on in the pregnancy and may change in composition and flavour due to your different balance of hormones. You may also find breastfeeding uncomfortable as your nipples become more sensitive. But your child will not have any ill effects from these changes.
- I can't get pregnant if I'm breastfeeding
Wrong! If you are breastfeeding regularly throughout the day, and at least once a night, and your baby is receiving no other nutrition from anywhere, and is under six months and your periods have not returned, then breastfeeding is a pretty reliable contraceptive. But if any one or more of these is not true for you, you may easily get pregnant. Do not rely on breastfeeding alone as a contraceptive.
- Breastfeeding hurts – right?
Some women find the first few days, or even weeks tender or even painful as their nipples adjust, but many do not have a moment's discomfort. Be sure to get someone experienced to help you in the first few days and to check the baby is latched on properly if it is hurting. When your milk first comes in your boobs may rival Pamela Anderson's. Cool cabbage leaves tucked in your bra (yes, I know it sounds mad!) is wonderfully cooling. This engorgement only lasts about a day.
Any sharp stabbing or stinging pains or aches in the breast tissue may point to a blocked duct which can, if not promptly treated lead to mastitis, a breast infection. Keep feeding on the affected side, or if it is too tender, then hand express in a warm shower, but do not let the breast get over-full. Rest and keep hydrated. Seek medical advice if it continues for more than a day.
- My mum/ sister didn't have enough milk to breastfeed, so I won't be able to either.
Many women abandon feeding in the first couple of days when the baby is only getting tiny amounts of colostrum, before the milk comes in properly on the third day, because they think the baby is not getting enough. Many women have received inadequate information, support and advice when starting out feeing and so felt that they couldn't. Breastfeeding is an art which both mother and baby need to learn. For some it may come easily and naturally, but for others it is a process of mutual learning and adjustment. If at first you don't succeed...