Ten Myths and Facts about Breastfeeding
The process and experience of breastfeeding is a mystery to many. With mixed messages on the Internet and in the media, there is a lot of information available and much of the information can be confusing to new mommies. As a nurse in the Institute for Maternal-Fetal Health, I partner with new moms on a daily basis on how to breastfeed and help answer their troubling breastfeeding questions. In this post, I debunk then myths about breastfeeding and set the record straight on some of the false information out there.
Myth One: Babies naturally know how to breastfeed.
Fact: Your baby is born with infant reflexes that can help with breastfeeding like a suck reflex and a rooting reflex. The suck reflex is the baby’s instinct to suck anything that touches the roof of their mouth. The rooting reflex is when the baby turns their head towards any stroking on the cheek or the mouth. Although your baby is born with these natural instincts, they do not guarantee breastfeeding success. Breastfeeding has to be learned and practiced by both baby and mommy. Shortly after birth, the medications taken during labor can have an effect on the baby’s reflexes and can cause a slight depression in their brain function compared to baby’s brain function whose mommy did not receive labor medications (Don’t be discouraged though!). Use pain medications if you need them! The effects on your baby are minor and last only a short period of time; it is just something to keep in mind if you and your baby are having difficulties with feeding in the early hours after childbirth.
Myth Two: You can’t breastfeed if the size and shape of your nipples is not perfect.
Fact: Every woman has different sized and shaped breasts and nipples. There is no “perfect” breast for breastfeeding. The other factor to consider is that every baby is different. For example, the size of their mouth, lips and tongue, etc. The anatomic compatibility between mommy and baby is what makes for a better breastfeeding experience.
Myth Three: You have to drink milk to make milk.
Fact: Drinking milk has little to do with a woman’s production of breast milk. Whether a mother drinks milk, has nothing to do with her breast milk supply. It is, however, important for the mother to remain hydrated with any form of liquid and consume a well-rounded, healthy diet. The body will draw the necessary nutrients from her body to add to her breast milk. If a mother is undernourished, she will become further undernourished while her body continues to supply the baby with nutrients.
Myth Four: Breastfeeding always hurts.
Fact: Breastfeeding should rarely hurt. Your nipples may become sensitive when you start breastfeeding because of an increased hormone level after delivery and increased contact with your baby during feeding. Although nipple sensitivity is normal, nipple pain is not normal and should be evaluated by a lactation consultant to determine the cause. The most common cause for painful nipples is an incorrect latch or position and can be lessened with the help of a lactation professional.
Myth Five: Many women do not make enough breast milk.
Fact: Most women make enough milk for their baby. There are many women who think they don’t make enough breast milk for their baby’s needs. Instead of focusing on the size of your breasts, or the fullness you feel, pay attention to these signs that breastfeeding is going well for you and your baby:
- By the time your baby is four days old, they should have at least six wet diapers each 24 hour period.
- By the time your baby is four days old, they should have at least three or more poopy diapers, with yellowish colored poop.
- Your baby’s urine is pale and diluted.
- Your baby is breastfeeding at least eight times in a 24-hour period.
- Your baby regains their birth weight by 10 to 14 days old.
- Your baby is gaining about four to eight ounces per week.
- During a feeding, you should be able to see and hear the baby swallow.
- During a feeding, your baby should have a rhythmic suckling pattern.
Myth Six: I will not make enough milk in the days before my breast milk “comes in.”
Fact: Under normal circumstances a new mom makes exactly enough breast milk for a newborn’s needs. A newborn’s stomach is about the size of a marble. In the first couple of days after birth, if the baby is breastfeeding a minimum of eight times in a 24 hour period, the mother’s body will make about five milliliters (ml), a seemingly small amount but perfect for a newborn’s stomach.
As the baby continues to breastfeed, regularly, the mother’s body will get the signal to increase the volume of milk as the baby’s needs demand it. In a “nut shell,” the small amount of milk that your body is making is totally normal and will increase as the baby demands it!
Myth Seven: There is no way to determine how much breast milk the baby is getting.
Fact: It is true that it’s difficult to determine the exact amount that a breastfed baby is getting, at any given feeding session. As stated under myth five, there are signs that the baby is getting enough milk, which can be measured by the weight gain and diaper output (urine and poop). The exact amount of breast milk is not the important factor as, with any given feeding, the amount of breast milk and composition change. The important part is whether the weight gain is appropriate and the diaper output is adequate. There is no need to worry about how much breast milk the baby is getting.
Myth Eight: Formula is the same as breast milk.
Fact: This statement is completely false. Formula is not like breast milk AT ALL. Formula is more like “medicine” than a food. If your baby needs to have formula for certain reasons, that is okay. Breast milk is the ideal food for your baby because breast milk prepares your baby’s tummy for food by coating and closing the normal openings in the lining of the baby’s intestines. Breast milk is also designed for easy digestion for your baby. Often babies who drink breast milk experience less spitting up and gas. Breast milk also provides your baby with their “first immunizations” to help prevent them from getting sick.
Breast milk fed babies have been studied to have reduced risks of:
- Adolescent and adult obesity
- Celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease
- Childhood leukemia and lymphomas
- Ear infections
- Gastrointestinal infections
- Respiratory infections, including bronchiolitis and pneumonia
- Serious colds
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Throat infections
- Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes
Myth Nine: You should not breastfeed if you are taking medications.
Fact: This statement is not true. I talk more about this question in my RN Remedies post, Medication and Breastfeeding: What You Need to Know. Taking a new or any medication while breastfeeding, should always involve the advice of your pediatrician and lactation consultant.
Myth Ten: Don’t wake a sleeping baby to breastfeed.
Fact: Unless your baby is older than three months and a well-established breast feeder, this statement is not true. In the first couple of days after birth, your baby will sleep a lot. In order to create a regular breastfeeding routine and provide your baby with the necessary energy, you need to wake up your sleeping baby. Allowing a baby to continue to sleep and have longer periods of time between feedings could actually make them sleepier, and this can become a problem. In the days following birth, mothers need to wake their baby, provide them with nutrition and establish a feeding routine.
The experience of breastfeeding is different for every mother. In my role at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, I enjoy being able to help women accomplish their breastfeeding goals and overcome challenges. I hope the above facts help you with your breastfeeding experience and answer any questions you have.