Some of the breastfeeding "advice" you'll get, may not be accurate. Here are common myths about breastfeeding—busted!
MYTH 1: There is no (or not enough milk) during the first 3 or 4 days after birth so you should give some formula until your milk “comes in”
Your body has been producing colostrum since you were about 17 weeks pregnant. And even a few drops of this nutrient rich perfect first milk is enough to satisfy a newborn’s tiny, cherry-sized tummy. Supplements, like formula or water, are not only unnecessary, but they interfere with establishing a mother’s milk supply.
Milk production depends on how often and how effectively the baby nurses. If the baby is supplemented, they will go longer between feeds and take less milk at the breast, developing a less effective sucking pattern and delaying the increase in their mother’s milk supply. The key to building a good milk supply is to latch correctly and nurse frequently (which can be as often as every 2-3 hours in the first few weeks). Holding your baby skin-to-skin and babywearing also helps to increase milk volume by increasing your levels of the milk-making hormone oxytocin.
MYTH 2: After making your baby “work” at the breast, a top up of expressed breastmilk or formula through a bottle will ensure they get enough and stay satisfied longer between feeds.
Initially, it may require less effort for babies to extract milk from a bottle than from the breast because breastfeeding is a skill (just like any other) that newborns need to learn. However, a top up of milk from a bottle may not necessarily be a good thing as there is a high chance of overfeeding your baby, which can lead to other health problems such as indigestion, gas, poor sleep, etc. With breastfeeding, you will never know the exact amount your baby is taking, but it is almost impossible to overfeed your baby, as they will only take as much as they need.
When you offer a top up after a feed, the mother’s body also receives an incorrect message about the amount of milk required for her baby. And this often leads to other breastfeeding problems such as low supply, incorrect sucking technique and breast refusal, resulting in a shorter duration of breastfeeding.
MYTH 3: Breast milk is very light, adding or switching to formula helps your baby sleep longer at night
Breast milk is a complete source of nutrition for your baby’s first 6 months of life and continues to have several nutritional benefits for toddlers, too. Formula is harder to digest that human milk; this is why formula-fed babies tend to go longer between feeds. Their little digestive systems are working overtime to break down something that is not specific to the human body. While this may seem like a benefit, this is not something we want for our babies’ bodies, unless there is no alternative.
As your baby grows, their stomach naturally expands and is able to digest larger portions at every feed. This, in turn, allows your baby to stay longer between feeds. Feeding your baby formula in an attempt to make them sleep longer is not a good idea for several reasons. Some babies may sleep worse due to reactions to the formula (tummy ache, etc. are not uncommon).
MYTH 4: Eat bland foods while breastfeeding to avoid your baby from get gassy
By the time the food you eat has been digested and used to make breast milk, the potentially upsetting elements have been broken down in your own body and shouldn’t affect your baby at all. There are very few foods that travel from your body to your breast milk. Among them are dairy products, soy, peanuts, fish, shellfish, caffeine and alcohol.
If you eat cabbage, broccoli, garlic or spicy foods, it’s unlikely that your baby will get gassy. Your breastfed baby (or bottle-fed infant, for that matter) will have gas regardless of what they are fed. Gas is simply a part of how the digestive process works, and everyone—baby, child, or adult, has it.
It's generally recommended that a nursing mother eat whatever she likes, whenever she likes, in the amounts that she likes and continue to do unless her baby has an obvious reaction to certain foods.
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MYTH 5: Having pro-lactation foods and supplements helps increase your milk supply
Does a cow drink milk to produce milk? No. Do we need to eat or drink anything specific to produce milk? No! It’s important to fuel your body with nourishing foods to help it work at it’s optimum and can carry out it’s primary functions like breathing, digesting, etc—and the additional new role of producing milk.
What you eat or drink does not directly affect your milk supply, but it will affect your energy levels and your body’s ability to perform at its highest capacity. So focus on hydrating, nourishing foods to fuel your body and your milk supply will follow.
MYTH 6: When you’re engorged, drain out your breasts as much as possible
Engorgement means your breasts are painfully overfull with more milk than your baby is taking. The ideal solution is to nurse your baby as often as you can so that your body adjusts to their needs faster. But when your breasts become hard and swollen, it also becomes harder for your baby to latch.
To break this vicious cycle, hand-express a little to allow your baby to latch and if you’re still feeling heaviness or pain, hand-express just enough to feel comfortable. Pumping tends to remove more milk than necessary, and the more you drain out your breasts, the more milk will be produced that your baby does not need – possibly leading to further engorgement.
MYTH 7: You can’t breastfeed when you’re sick
Continuing to breastfeed when you have a cold or the flu actually helps protect your baby from illness. The anti-bodies produced in your body to help fight the infections are transferred to your baby every time they nurse. As a result, they probably won’t get sick at all, or if they do, it would be a milder version of whatever is ailing you.
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MYTH 8: You shouldn’t nurse if you have a blocked duct or breast infection
The best way to treat a blocked duct is to nurse as often as you can. And the best way to prevent an infection is to clear a blocked duct. If you develop a breast infection like mastitis or a breast abscess (signs include redness and soreness in the breast, a fever or flulike symptoms), you can still continue to nurse. Your infection will not be passed onto your baby through your milk, even if you notice discolouration or pus coming out! Breastfeeding should continue without interruption, as there is no risk to the baby.
MYTH 9: Exercise makes your milk sour
It’s widely believed that exercising produces high levels of lactic acid in breastmilk, giving it an unpalatable taste. But recent studies show that babies don’t notice any difference, even if the mother has done a strenuous workout. Saltiness left on your skin from sweat is one thing that could make them turn up their little noses – so take a shower after your workout and before nursing if your baby does't approve!
MYTH 10: Breastfeeding makes your boobs sag
It's pregnancy, rather than breastfeeding, that may cause your breasts to change in fullness and shape after having a baby. As your breasts double in size/weight during pregnancy, the ligaments that support them stretch, leading to a slight sagging of the breasts. This change will happen regardless of whether or not you breastfeed your baby. Nursing has the least impact on your breasts compared to what ageing, weight gain during pregnancy and BMI can have on them.
MYTH 11: Giving expressed breastmilk through a bottle is the same as nursing at the breast
Breastfeeding is so much more than nutrition; it changes the architecture of the brain. A million new neurochemical pathways are created and chemically imprinted in both the mother and baby during breastfeeding. The huge increases in prolactin and oxytocin while breastfeeding results in lowering blood pressure, activating anti-stress systems, feeling more loved, deeply bonded, and physically and emotionally satisfied.
The nursing mother’s brain also make more receptors that allow her to become more perceptive and aware of her baby so she can respond and interpret their needs more effectively. The longer and more often her baby suckles, the more it triggers the prolactin-oxytocin response in the mother’s brain, forging more connections.
Breastfeeding is therefore a two-way process, as the baby signals to the mother's body it's requirements, and the body in turn produces what the baby needs. Pumping breastmilk and giving it through a bottle does not work in the same way. The neurochemical changes that occur in both the mother and baby’s brain, can only happen while nursing at the breast.
Ofcourse it is important to do what's most comfortable for your family and this is why pumps are a modern-day convenient option. But given all the information, it is not ideal to regularly substitute the bottle for nursing at the breast. As with most things in life, moderation is key!
MYTH 12: Breastfeeding should not be painful and comes naturally to a new mother
Although it may seem like the most natural thing in the world, breastfeeding can be very challenging for a surprising number of mothers. Whether it’s a painful postpartum recovery experience or incorrect latch, severe engorgement after your milk comes in or discovering that your baby has a tongue-tie, there are several obstacles that lead to difficulties in breastfeeding. These setbacks often result in the mother giving up on breastfeeding in the early days. So it’s best to approach a lactation specialist if you’re having trouble and are keen to breastfeed.
MYTH 13: Breastfeeding your baby beyond 1 year is just comfort feeding and has no benefits
The World Heath Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding (i.e. no other fluids or solids) for the first six months, and to continue breastfeeding combined with solid foods for atleast 2 years or longer, whenever the child is ready to self-wean. There are several benefits of extended breastfeeding, as breastmilk is one of the best sources of nutrition and provides antibodies that help protect your baby.
Whether you decide to breastfeed for a day, for several years, or not at all—the decision is entirely upto you. Be kind to yourself, and do what's best for you and your baby :)