10 Breastfeeding Myths Busted!
There is much about breastfeeding that is thought to be ‘truth’ that actually isn’t. Urban myth, old wives tale, hearsay, outdated information and guidance perhaps. Sometimes well meaning folk (friends, family, even some health care professionals) tell you contradictory stuff, and t can be SO confusing (especially if you’ve had not the most sleep ever….) And when you are doing your damn best to feed a small person, you really need to know fact from fiction - so you can make informed choices that are right for YOU. That’s what’s important. So here’s a post that I am really passionate about - giving you some up to date information about breastfeeding, and busting some of those breastfeeding myths.
Getting support with breastfeeding - Please do get in touch with a breastfeeding support group, a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding helpline to discuss and help you with any questions you have, find out more about what I mention here, and to help to support you in feeding your baby. Lots of details at the end of the post. Receiving support plays a hugely important role for the vast majority of womens feeding of their babies (even if you are usually a ‘not ask for help person’ this is a time to take all the support you can get. And there are lots of people delighted to help you, without any judgement and with gentle kindness)
Breastfeeding Myth 1 - Many mums can’t make enough milk
Not true! The vast majority of women produce more than enough milk. Indeed, an overabundance of milk is common. Most babies that gain too slowly, or lose weight, do so not because the mother does not have enough milk, but because the baby does not get the milk that the mother has. The usual reason that the baby does not get the milk that is available is that he is poorly latched onto the breast. This is why it is so important that the mother be shown (ideally in pregnancy, and then again in the first day with your baby) how to latch a baby on properly, by someone who knows what they are doing.
One of the most common reasons mums give for stopping breastfeeding is that they (or those around them) think that they are not producing enough milk for baby. This can be for a number of reasons including (but not limited to); a perceived problem (expectations differ from reality - like baby having a fussy spell or feeding more often than mums expects). Baby is having a growth or developmental spurt (it’s not always physical growth you can see). Baby is unsettled and wants frequent feeding, mum can feel she’s not providing enough.
Most problems can be address and resolved with the right SUPPORT (yes, the ‘S’ word again!). Most mums can easily produce the amount of milk a baby needs, however some may feel they have to work hard to increase or maintain a full supply. Similarly some mums don’t produce enough breastmilk naturally, but support and treatment can help them produce more or enough milk for their baby. There is a very small percentage of women for whom support won’t work, and some who simply can’t lactate (again a very small percentage).
Breastfeeding Myth 2 - It’s normal for breastfeeding to hurt.
Absolutely not true! Though some tenderness during the first few days is relatively common, this should be a temporary situation that lasts only a few days and should never be so bad that the mother dreads breastfeeding. Your nipples do not need to ‘toughen up’!! Women do not need leather nipples to lactate successfully. Any pain that is more than mild is abnormal and it’s often due to the baby latching on poorly. Any nipple pain that is not getting better by day three or four or lasts beyond five or six days should not be ignored. A new onset of pain when things have been going well for a while may be due to a yeast infection of the nipples. Limiting feeding time does not prevent soreness. Taking the baby off the breast for the nipples to heal should be a last resort only.
Yes breasts may be sensitive or tender for a few seconds at the start of a feed (particularly in the very early days as baby develops co-ordination and because it’s a new sensation.) But it should not be toe curling agony or cause any sort of damage to the nipple.
If the primary function of breasts is to lactate, it makes little biological sense for the majority of women to endure unbearable pain to perform this function. If you are in pain then please get some breastfeeding support (see the end of post for places you can access support, and get help).
Breastfeeding Myth 3 - My mother tried breastfeeding but couldn’t. Does this mean I won’t be able to?
No. Many women in previous generations got poor advice about how to breastfeed, and struggled while other managed quite well. But even if your mother was one of the very few women who didn’t produce enough milk (‘insufficient milk supply’), there’s no evidence it’s hereditary.
Breastfeeding Myth 4 - You should stop breastfeeding if you have mastitis.
No actually continuing to breastfeed and drain the breast is crucial when healing mastitis. Rest, warmth, gentle massage and heat while breastfeeding FREQUENTLY will put you in a good position to avoid having to take antibiotics. By doing these things every couple of hours as soon as you get symptoms, you will put yourself in a good position to help avoid needing medication. It is important to seek medical support, as you may need antibiotics to prevent an abscess forming (but also you may not).
Breastfeeding Myth 5 - you can’t breastfeed twin or triplets.
Total myth. You can definitely feed twins or triplets with good help and support, and you may well be able to breastfeed them exclusively without any formula top up (which you are sometimes told you will need - again incorrectly, it’s not a blanket requirement). A study in Australia found that a mothers feeding twins could produce 2100ml ( thats a whopping 74oz) of breastmilk per 24 hours! Wow!
You can also need to know some alternative ways to hold two babies to feed them at the same time (called tandem feeding) - although twins don’t always feed at the same time.
You can find some amazing inspiring stories here online - https://themilkmeg.com/category/breastfeeding-triplets/
More information about breastfeeding twins and multiples is available from TAMBA - https://www.tamba.org.uk/parenting/under-1s/breastfeeding and also the ABM - https://abm.me.uk/breastfeeding-information/breastfeeding-twins/
Women often ask, wow can I breastfeed two babies? It does take confidence and the belief that it can be done- these are two of the most important factors in making breastfeeding a success for any baby. Perhaps your health visitor, midwife or breast-feeding counsellor or local breastfeeding support group to put you in touch with someone who has breastfed twins. Peer support can be really helpful for reassurance for sure.
Breastfeeding Myth 6 - you can’t eat certain foods when breastfeeding. And you need a perfect diet.
You don’t need to avoid any foods when you are breastfeeding. Sometimes people think (or are told) that you shouldn’t eat ‘gassy’ foods like broccolli or cabbage, or garlic and onions, or spicy foods, or citrus, or chocolate or have a cup or coffee or a glass of wine. If we believed every food myth there would be nothing left for breastfeeding mums to eat!!
And you don’t need a ‘perfect’ diet either - whatever that is?? Contrary to popular belief breastmilk is not made from the constituents of mums stomach, but from her blood. Vitamin and mineral levels in breastmilk are remarkably consistent between women, regardless of their diets. A mothers body will take what it needs to produce breastmilk from her stores. We know that even in countries where food is scare and diets are limited, mums still produce good quality breastmilk.
If you find certain certain foods seem to bother baby then try avoiding them and see what happens. But don’t anticipate that baby will react to these foods. They don’t most of the time. Unless a medical professional advises it, you can eat whatever you like and you don’t need to eat anything special to produce enough breast milk.
Breastfeeding Myth 7 - No coffee or alcohol when you are breastfeeding
Nope! Often women think, or are told by well meaning folk, that they cannot have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine (or favourite tipple) when breastfeeding. Not true, lets look at the info.
The amount of alcohol that passes into breastmilk is a microscopic fraction of that consumed by the mother. The level of alcohol peaks in blood and breastmilk approximately 30 mins to 1 hour after drinking, and it does not accumulate over time. Alcohol leaves breastmilk as it leaves the blood.
Dr Jack Newman a paediatrician and breastfeeding expert writes:
“Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all. As is the case with most drugs, very little alcohol comes out in the milk. The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does. Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers”
He goes on to say that heavy regular drinking and breastfeeding isn’t advisable, but heavy drinking and parenting isn’t advisable. A breastfeeding mother having a few drinks is unlikely to be a problem, but if you’re planning on getting rip-roaring drunk it’s probably not safe to be holding or caring for a baby, however you’re feeding baby.
Caffeine - Most breastfeeding mums can drink moderate amounts of caffeine. Some babies do appear to be more sesitive to caffeine in mums diet when breastfeeding, perhaps if mum drinks more that average and baby is a slow metaboliser (research has shown that babies metabolise caffeine at different rates). If a baby is jittery, irritable, wide eyed or fussy it might be worth eliminating caffeine for a week to see if baby is reacting. Most mums who drink normal amounts of coffee will see no effect in their babies.
Breastfeeding Myth 8 - If the mother is taking medicine she should not breastfeed Medication
Not true! There are very very few medicines that a mother cannot take safely while breastfeeding. A very small amount of most medicines appears in the milk, but usually in such small quantities that there is no concern. If a medicine is truly of concern, there are usually equally effective, alternative medicines that are safe. The risks of artificial feeding for both the mother and the baby must be taken into account when weighing if breastfeeding should be continued.
The Drugs In Breastmilk Helpline is available for both parents and practitioners to check the safety of a drug for use by a breastfeeding mother - 0844 412 4665.
Breastfeeding Myth 9 - Breastmilk is a dairy product
Breastmilk is not a dairy product, because mum is not a cow. Having a dairy allergy or intolerance in the family does not means that you can’t breastfeed. We know that when mums consume dairy, the proteins can sometimes be found in breastmilk - therefore, if necessary mums avoiding dairy makes breastmilk free from dairy protein too.
Breastfeeding Myth 10 - Breastfeeding can cause saggy breasts
We often hear that breastfeeding causes breasts to sag - but numerous studies have confirmed this is NOT the case. In fact a 2012 study examining the breats of twins found that moisturising, hormone replacement theory and breastfeeding actually improved skin quality. Whether you breastfeed or not, the same physical and hormonal changes take place during pregnancy as the breasts prepare to produce milk.
Breasts that have just stopped lactating are often soft, floppy or droopy - but it can take form 6 months to 3 years for the transition back to your post pregnancy breasts (called ‘involution’). And many women report no difference whatsoever, and no droop at all.
Breastfeeding support for you:
As I said at the start of this article, SUPPORT with breastfeeding is so important to help you on your journey.
Attend a breastfeeding support group or workshop while you’re pregnant to increase your confidence and find out where to get support locally. Then if you have any questions after your babies are born, you’ll know who to ask. Here are some brilliant resources:
Treasure Chest York - http://www.treasurechest.org.uk/ An amazing local resource - FREE antenatal workshops, drop-in groups and Facebook page providing support in York.
Your midwife, GP, health visitor
The National Breastfeeding Helpline - 0300 100 0212
La Leche League - 0845 120 2918
The ABM (Association of Breastfeeding Mothers) - 0300 330 5453 Their website has a combination of expertise from professionals and real life experiences from mothers to create a bank of information - https://abm.me.uk/
Dr Jack Newman’s Guide to breastfeeding. By Jack Newman
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding By La Leche League
The Positive Breastfeeding Book: Everything you need to feed your baby with confidence. By Amy Brown
Why Breastfeeding Matters. By Charlotte Young
The Food of Love. By Kate Evans
The Milk Meg - https://themilkmeg.com/