Breastfeeding is a different experience for every mom, especially first-time moms. It can be wonderful, scary, bonding, and exhausting all at the same time. As such, there are a lot of different myths about breastfeeding that circulate. The most important thing to remember: you need to do what is best for you and your baby. The best way to know what is true, what works and what doesn’t, is from your own experience. You know yourself and your baby better than anyone. However, it is helpful to know what you are up against.
Here are eight of the most common breastfeeding myths.
1- Your breast size affects your ability to breastfeed
There are many factors that play into your ability to breastfeed and your milk production—but your breast size is not one of them. Many women worry that they are too small to breastfeed. Your breasts are made up of two types of tissue: fatty tissue and glandular tissue. Fatty tissue determines your breast size and glandular tissue determines your milk supply. Women with larger breasts do not necessarily have more glandular tissue, just as women with small breasts do not necessarily have less.
If you have a low milk supply, do not look to your breast size. Instead, consider the following factors:
- Did you wait a long time to begin breastfeeding?
- Do you not breastfeed often enough?
- Are you supplementing with formula?
- Are you using any medications that could affect your supply?
Other factors that can affect your supply are
- Maternal obesity
- Premature birth
- High blood pressure
2- Nutrition is not as important after childbirth
You ate healthy during your pregnancy—providing everything your growing baby would need to develop. You took prenatal supplements to fill in the gaps that your diet missed. But, now you’ve given birth. Does your nutrition matter as much? YES. Especially if you are breastfeeding.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, the higher the nutritional quality of your diet, the higher the quality of your milk. Your new baby relies on your continued nutrition which means that eating healthy and taking a supplement is still a must. Your OBGYN may recommend you continue to take a prenatal supplement. However, if you can, search for a postnatal product or supplement targeted to your needs following childbirth.
Nutrients you need while breastfeeding
Just like when you are pregnant, you need many different nutrients to support you and your baby. Here are some of the most essential.
Calcium. While you are breastfeeding, you transfer 250-350 mg of calcium to your baby. As such, you should get 1000 mg/day of calcium in order to support both your needs. Calcium helps support your bone strength and the bone and teeth growth of your baby. During lactation, you need to rebuild the calcium stores you lost while pregnant.
Choline. You may have heard how important choline is during pregnancy—it is just as important during lactation. While you are pregnant, choline can improve your baby’s brain function and mental health. The same can be said while breastfeeding. After birth, choline supports brain and memory development and its effects extend into adulthood—even old age. For women 19 and older, the recommended daily intake is 425 mg/day. For breastfeeding mothers, the recommendation is 550 mg/day. Since the demand increases, make sure to add foods like eggs and milk into your diet and research a quality postnatal supplement. Luckily for your baby, he/she will absorb a lot of choline from your milk.
Zinc. This nutrient is essential for almost every body function. For example, it has powerful effects on your immune system. However, pregnancy affects your body’s ability to absorb zinc. As such, many new mothers suffer from a zinc deficiency following childbirth. Thankfully, taking a postnatal supplement that contains zinc can help prevent deficiencies and even boost your energy levels.
3- You can never use a bottle
The truth is most babies can switch from breast to bottle with ease. It is recommended that you weight at least six weeks before you introduce a bottle. This allows you are your baby to get the hang of breastfeeding.
However, the most important thing is that your baby is being fed. You need to do what you need to do to get nutrition from you into your baby. But if you can, try and adapt to breastfeeding before you use a bottle.
Tips for using a bottle while breastfeeding
The best way to use a bottle while breastfeeding is to replicate your breastfeeding routine and behavior1.
- Milk typically flows easier through a bottle so choose a bottle that requires effort from your baby—that way they do not become frustrated when breastfeeding.
- Do not encourage or force your baby to finish the bottle—let them decide when they are done, as they would when breastfeeding.
- While your baby is learning to eat from a bottle, do not prop the bottle. Hold your baby so they receive the same comfort they do while breastfeeding.
- If you need a break from breastfeeding and want to give a bottle, have your partner feed the bottle. Your baby may not want the bottle if he/she knows you are available.
- Different bottles work for different babies. Just make sure it does not leak at the corner’s of his/her mouth and that they are able to eat slowly.
4- Pain is always normal
Pain is part of breastfeeding. But it is not always normal. When you first start breastfeeding, it can hurt. Your nipples often become sore and cracked. And you often deal with engorgement. But if your baby latches on correctly, the pain should last no more than a minute or so.
However, pain that is excruciating or long-lasting is not normal. An incorrect latch often causes pain. If you find yourself in terrible pain, try breaking the latch and starting again.
Pain in your breasts can also be a sign of a more serious problem or infection. It can be an indicator of an infection called mastitis—an infection in your milk ducts. If you have sore breasts along with symptoms such as
- Red streaks on your breast, or
- A hard or red area on your breast
visit your doctor1. It is important to remember though that you will most likely get clogged milk ducts in the first few weeks but that does not mean they are infected. Pain is one of the reasons some moms stop breastfeeding earlier than they want.
Another cause of pain is thrush—a condition caused by a yeast infection. Potential symptoms of thrush include2
- Shooting pain or burning during or after breastfeeding
- Cracks, redness, irritation, rash or blisters
- Pain deep in your breast
If you think you may have thrush, visit your doctor as you can pass thrush to your baby.
5- You shouldn’t breastfeed while you are sick
The opposite is actually true. Avoiding breastfeeding while sick will not prevent your baby from getting sick. Once your symptoms are showing, your baby is already exposed to the sickness. The best thing you can do for your baby is breastfeeding. While you breastfeed, you pass antibodies to your baby that protect and support their immune system.
Breastfeeding while sick does not sound glamorous. And it probably won’t be. To top it off, your milk supply often decreases while you are sick—don’t get discouraged. It will restore when the sickness passes. Here are some tips for breastfeeding while you are sick:
- Wash your hands. And repeat.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Pound the water and orange juice. This will help keep you hydrated and keep your supply up.
- Rest up. This might sound like a cruel joke but rest as often as you can.
- Check with your doctor before taking any medication.
6- Breastfeeding is natural, which makes it easy
Breastfeeding is natural—that does not mean it comes naturally. Breastfeeding can be hard. And painful. And frustrating. Yes, it can create a wonderful bond with your baby. Yes, the nutrition it provides your baby is optimal. But that does not make it easy.
Your milk supply may ebb and flow, latching is almost a science, and waking up in the middle of the night is exhausting. It can be physically and emotionally tasking. So, don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t come easily to you. You will figure it out.
Tips for making breastfeeding easier
Consider chatting with a lactation consultant.
A lactation consultant is trained to walk you through any questions you have or problems you are having. You can meet with a consultant after and even before delivery. If you find you are struggling with breastfeeding, get in contact with a lactation consultant. Your OBGYN or even the hospital where you delivered.
Feeding your baby in the first few hours, even minutes, after giving birth is key. Your baby is wired to know what to do. That doesn’t mean that it will come easily but it will help you and your baby get the hang of it.
Don’t start a pacifier until 3-4 weeks.
This is not a strict guideline. However, if you can, wait a few weeks before you offer a pacifier. Doing so will help you settle into an effective breastfeeding routine. Once your baby has adapted to breastfeeding, offering a pacifier typically poses no issues. But remember, each baby is different. Using a pacifier to soothe your infant before three weeks is not the end of the world.
Use skin-to-skin care.
Skin-to-skin care, also known as kangaroo care, is a great way to encourage breastfeeding when you have a newborn. You simply place your baby on your bare chest wearing only a diaper and draped with a blanket. This provides a feeling of comfort and bonding that can promote breastfeeding. In fact, studies have shown that skin-to-skin care can help regulate your baby’s
- heart rate,
- temperature, and
Try different breastfeeding positions.
If your baby doesn’t seem comfortable, try a different position. The most common breastfeeding positions are
- cradle hold,
- crossover hold,
- football hold,
- laid-back position, and
- side-lying position.
Trying a new position can also help relieve clogged milk ducts. The cradle hold and crossover hold are often the most used. However, the laid-back or side-lying position can feel more comfortable or natural for you. Choose the position that works best for you and your baby.
7- Moms who breastfeed get less sleep
In those first few months, even over the first year, more sleep is always on your mind. And there is a common misconception that breastfed babies sleep worse—meaning breastfeeding mothers sleep less. It is true that formula-fed babies may sleep longer during the first few weeks but not necessarily better. Formula does take longer to digest which means a formula-fed baby can go longer in between feedings. However, when you breastfeed during the night, you experience a release of oxytocin that can help you fall back asleep. Your breastfed baby can start sleeping longer as early as 4 weeks old.
It may be better said that formula-fed babies have the potential to sleep longer stretches but that doesn’t mean they will. Many factors affect sleep habits. And feeding formula is not a guarantee for better sleep. Babies experience situations such as
- sleep regressions,
- teething, or
- poor sleep associations,
that can cause them to awake during the night. The fact is, some babies just sleep better than others and hunger has nothing to do with it. It’s not a competition.
8- Weight loss is not safe while breastfeeding
Losing weight after pregnancy is a common concern for most moms. However, many women believe they cannot nor should not lose weight during lactation. But, you can. As long as you avoid extreme diets and programs, you can work toward your weight loss goals. In fact, many women find they lose weight easier while breastfeeding. During lactation, your body burns an additional 300-500 calories every day. Since you are nutritionally supporting your baby, you need to make sure you are getting enough calories. But again, as long as it is not too extreme, you can lose weight and enjoy the extra weight you shed.