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New mums often get diverse advice on breastfeeding. Most people genuinely try to be helpful, but unfortunately few topics attract more heated debates and misinformation than breastfeeding.
Many new mums, who start breastfeeding, find themselves confronted with “old wives tales” and myths about breastfeeding that have no scientific basis or even logical justification. Far too often, they have to sift through breastfeeding misinformation to get the truth. Below are common myths about breastfeeding.
Myth 1: If you have small breasts, you won’t produce enough milk to feed your baby.
Truth: Size doesn’t matter! The size of your breasts has no impact on your body’s ability to produce milk, a leading medical device company, Medela.com, stated.
The breast size is caused by the amount of fatty and fibrous tissue in addition to the amount of milk-producing glandular tissue. Second, breast milk production is hormonally stimulated and increases with the baby’s demand. It’s very clever – the baby is in control of the amount of milk produced, and the breast size makes no difference at all.
Very simply, increasing the frequency and effectiveness of breastfeeding sessions with a baby increases the milk supply. There are many things that can affect the production of milk like stress, tiredness or depression, but the size of your breast size is not a contributing factor. Milk storage capacity in the breast may differ, so some mums may have a larger or smaller capacity to store milk, which may lead to your baby nursing less or more frequently. But as long as the breasts are being drained effectively, your body will keep producing more breast milk.
Myth 2: Babies who have been breastfed are clingy.
Truth: All babies are different. Some are clingy and some are not, no matter how they are fed. Breastfeeding provides not only the best nutrition for infants, but is also important for their developing brain. Breastfed babies are held a lot and because of this, breastfeeding has been shown to enhance bonding with their mother, United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, explained.
Myth 3: A mother must drink milk to make milk.
Truth: This just isn’t true. Milk production is tied to how well the breast is being drained of breast milk. You have to remember this is a supply and demand situation. Your breast will begin increasing or decreasing production to meet the consumption needs of your baby. While you don’t need cow’s milk to make human milk, you do need water, so remember to make sure you are drinking enough water while you are breastfeeding, Madela.com advised.
Myth 4: Frequent nursing causes a child to be obese later in life.
Truth: Obesity results from a variety of complex factors, some genetic, some environmental, social, or psychological. In most situations, it is a result of the body receiving more calories than it needs, for extended periods of time. Because glucose (the fuel our body uses) is actually damaging to our cells if it’s in our blood at too high a concentration, our body stores it as glycogen in fat/adipose tissue.
Common breastfeeding problems
When you eat too much and don’t use that energy, the glycogen accumulates in the adipose tissue, the cells get bigger, and we get fatter. This can, though not always, lead to diabetes. Frequent breastfeeding by babies is normal, with research showing babies will breastfeed 4-13 times per day. The trick is to remember that babies are pre-programmed to eat when they are hungry or need energy, not always when we want them to feed. This is called “cue-based feeding” and is recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and has been shown to help reduce the risk of developing diabetes later in life.
Myth 5: Babies naturally know how to breastfeed.
Truth: 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 practised by both baby and mother. According to Children Hospital Los Angeles website, shortly after birth, the medications taken during labour 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 mother did not receive labour medications. 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 6: You can’t breastfeed if the size and shape of your nipples is not perfect.
Truth: 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 like the size of their mouth, lips and tongue, etc. The anatomic compatibility between mother and baby is what makes for a better breastfeeding experience, chla.org explains.
Myth 7: Don’t wake a sleeping baby to breastfeed.
Truth: 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, chla.org also stated.
Myth 8: You should wash your nipples before breastfeeding.
Truth: Washing your nipples before breastfeeding isn’t necessary. According to chla.org, when babies are born, they are already very familiar with their own mother’s smells and sounds. The nipples produce a substance that the baby smells and has ‘good bacteria’ that helps to build babies’ own healthy immune system for life.
Myth 9: Breastfeeding will cause your breasts to sag.
Truth: Parents.com explained that droopy breasts are a result of pregnancy, because hormonal changes cause the ligaments underneath them to loosen and stretch. As you gain weight and your breasts become larger and heavier, they may begin to sag, explains Matthew R. Schulman, M.D., assistant professor of plastic surgery at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York. When you first begin to nurse, your breasts may become swollen with milk (a temporary process called engorgement) and grow larger; however, they’ll diminish in size once you’ve established a solid breastfeeding routine. After you wean your baby, your breasts will become softer and you can expect them to return to their pre-pregnancy size, unless you’ve gained or lost a significant amount of weight.
Myth 10: It’s usual for breastfeeding to hurt – sore nipples are inevitable.
Truth: Many mothers experience discomfort in the first few days after birth when they are learning to breastfeed. But with the right support with positioning their baby for breastfeeding and making sure their baby is correctly attached to the breast, sore nipples can be avoided. If a mother faces breastfeeding challenges like sore nipples, support from a lactation consultant or other skilled professional can help them overcome the issue, unicef.org explained.