Breastfeeding provides a wealth of benefits for mother and child, but there are plenty of myths about breastfeeding. Today, we'll debunk 14 myths about breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding provides a wealth of nutritional and bonding benefits for mother and child, but there are plenty of myths about breastfeeding that may make you apprehensive. Today, we'll debunk the top 14 myths about breastfeeding, to help you separate fact from fiction.
Learn more from common myths about breastfeeding from Lactation Consultant Nancy Martinez:
Myth 1: Baby will know exactly how to breastfeed when they are born.
Fact: Although they are born with instincts and reflexes that help them breastfeed, you may have to help baby with parts of the process. Babies already have the reflexes that help them find the nipple. The most well-known is the reflex to "root," or turn their face towards whatever is stroking their mouth or cheek, and then start to suck.
But babies still may need assistance to find the breast, find the right position to suck, and latch properly. Skin-to-skin contact will help them with this process. Positioning and helping baby latch are two aspects you'll have to practice as well.
Myth 2: If you have smaller breasts, you won't produce enough milk for baby.
Fact: Breast size doesn't affect your milk supply. As lactation consultant Judith Lauwers, IBCLC reports, "the [functional] tissue you need to nurse a baby grows in response to pregnancy regardless of your breast size." This functional tissue holds the milk ducts, and it is completely different from the fatty tissue that determines your breast size.
Also, the best thing you can do to maintain milk supply is to breastfeed frequently. This is because the amount of milk your baby drinks, and how frequently your baby nurses, are the two most significant factors that affect your milk production. No matter your breast size, taking this step will help you keep your milk flowing consistently.
Myth 3: Breastfeeding is supposed to be painful.
Fact: In the first few days after birth, breastfeeding may be somewhat uncomfortable as you and your baby learn the right positioning and latch.
After a week or so, though, if breastfeeding is painful, something is wrong. It's likely because your baby is unable to latch onto the breast properly, or because they aren't in the proper position. And if baby also drinks from a bottle, they may be latching more sharply after drinking from the bottle. If breastfeeding consistently hurts or is extremely painful, seek the support of a lactation consultant. And if your nipples are bloody or damaged, seek treatment---this is never normal!
Myth 4: If you return to work outside the home, you'll need to stop breastfeeding.
Fact: Working moms breastfeed all the time! You'll be able to breastfeed if you work outside the home, as long as you commit to pumping your breastmilk while at work.
As Lactation Consultant Corky Harvey, RN, IBCLC, MS recommends, pump at the same times that your baby would nurse if you were home with them. Then, continue to nurse in the morning and at night, as normal. This way, your body will respond to the same "demand" and keep producing enough milk for your baby. Be sure to eat plenty of nutritious foods while pumping, and drink plenty of water. Also, find a comfortable, clean and private space to pump any time you need it. And stay consistent with your pump times.
Myth 5: If your milk supply is low, there's nothing you can do to remedy this.
Fact: Your baby's struggles to nurse properly (not your fault!) may lower your milk supply. If baby doesn't latch properly, doesn't empty your breasts enough, or otherwise has trouble drinking enough milk, this may cause your supply to drop. Again, the amount and frequency of feedings directly impact your milk supply.
Fortunately, keeping feedings frequent, making sure baby latches properly, and making sure baby drinks enough breastmilk will help you keep the right amount of milk flowing.
In addition, talking to a lactation consultant may help you increase milk supply.
And if you're working outside the home, advocate for the time and space to pump as often as you need. As stated above, frequent pumping will also be key to maintaining or increasing your supply.
For more on maintaining or increasing milk supply, check out our Q&A with Lactation Consultant Corky Harvey, RN, IBCLC, MS.
Myth 6: Baby could have an allergy to breastmilk.
Fact: Babies are never allergic to breastmilk. They could have an allergic reaction after breastfeeding, though, to food proteins that the breastmilk contains. When moms eat different foods, they pass the specific food proteins to their babies in breastmilk.
If baby is allergic to a food that their mother eats, they may have an allergic reaction to breastmilk that contains the specific proteins in that food.
So, if you're breastfeeding a baby with a confirmed food allergy, you will need to avoid eating the food(s) your baby is allergic to.
Myth 7: All mothers have the potential to produce enough milk for their babies, as long as they work hard enough.
Fact: Many mothers will produce enough milk for baby. But some mothers have underlying factors that hinder their milk production, and they shouldn't feel ashamed if they struggle to produce enough milk. For example, PCOS, hormonal imbalance, or even being over the age of 35 may make maintaining milk supply more difficult.
Lactation supplements, lactation cookies, and/or lactation bars may be helpful for increasing milk supply.
Myth 8: If you're taking medications, you'll need to stop breastfeeding.
Fact: Most medications, including pain medicines and antibiotics, are perfectly fine to take while breastfeeding. Your doctor will alert you if a specific medication you're prescribed isn't breastfeeding-safe. As always, talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
Myth 9: You can't breastfeed when you're sick.
Fact: Even if you're sick, it's still safe and healthy to breastfeed. In fact, when you breastfeed while sick, you may transfer antibodies to your baby, to help their weaker immune system fight against similar illnesses. Your own body starts to produce antibodies against an illness as soon as you start fighting it, so there are plenty of chances for you to pass on these antibodies.
And even if you have COVID-19 while breastfeeding, still continue to breastfeed. One study has already shown that you can't pass COVID-19 on to your baby while breastfeeding, but you could potentially pass valuable antibodies through your breastmilk.
Myth 10: If you have a blocked duct or breast infection, you can't nurse.
Fact: It isn't harmful to baby to nurse them when you have a breast infection. You will need medical attention, though, as you'll need to take antibiotics.
And if you have a blocked duct, frequent nursing is actually key to unblocking it---and keeping it unblocked. Blocked ducts often happen when baby's nursing patterns change and they don't nurse as often.
Myth 11: You'll need to avoid spicy foods when you breastfeed, and stick to plainer foods.
Fact: Spicy foods are perfectly fine to eat while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is actually one way that family food preferences and cultural eating patterns are passed through generations, via specific food proteins.
You can eat or drink almost anything during breastfeeding. You will only need to avoid, or limit yourself to very small amounts of, fish and alcohol.
As lactation consultant Corky Harvey, RN, IBCLC, MS explains, "alcohol can be passed from mom to baby in breast milk and can affect a baby’s development, and fish containing high levels of mercury can also negatively affect a baby’s development."
Myth 12: If you pump breastmilk and bottle feed, or bottle feed formula along with breastfeeding, baby will start to refuse the breast.
Fact: Most babies can switch back and forth between the breast and the bottle without problems. And if baby does start to refuse the breast, the type of bottle is probably at fault. It's best to choose a bottle that closely mimics your breast, with a breast-like nipple and a slow flow to mimic your own milk flow. Also, position your baby and the bottle to mimic the position they use to suck at the breast. Then, baby should be able to switch back and forth with no issues. But what if baby starts to prefer the bottle? This is a sign to give them more time on the breast, so they become equally happy with both.
Myth 13: Mothers must drink cow's milk to produce enough breastmilk.
Fact: This simply isn't true, as frequent, effective nursing is the key to producing enough milk. It's all about supply and demand! Plus, if your baby has a milk allergy, you'll need to avoid cow's milk while breastfeeding. But most mothers who must avoid cow's milk still produce enough breastmilk for baby.
You do need adequate water to produce milk most effectively, though---so drink up!
Myth 14: You should exclusively breastfeed until your baby is at least 6 months of age, and you shouldn't introduce food until after 6 months of age.
Fact: Every baby and every family is different. Some babies are ready for solids as early as 4 months of age, and parents will begin baby's solid food journey that early. Other parents choose to wait until after baby turns 6 months old, and that's perfectly fine as well.
Still, it's correct that breastmilk should remain a breastfed baby's primary food source throughout their first year of life, no matter when they start solids. Even with their own nutritional and developmental value, solid foods just can’t replace the optimum levels of vitamins and proteins that breastmilk provides.
No matter when you want to start feeding solids, though, keep in mind that it's crucial to introduce peanut and egg to your baby early and often.
New guidance from three leading medical organizations, the AAAAI (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology), ACAAI (American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology), and CSACI (Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology), recommends “peanut and egg should be introduced around 6 months of life, but not before 4 months.”
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