Top Breastfeeding Myths Debunked
As an IBCLC, I am so tired of hearing and reading all of the lies about breastfeeding.
I’ve written about this before:
Corporations love to make us doubt ourselves and our bodies so that we buy their products
Breastfeeding is hard. If it were easy, companies wouldn’t be able to sell formula, pumps, creams, tools, etc that promise to be the answer for your infant feeding woes. Sometimes tools can help the process, but there are no magic solutions for feeding issues. It all takes work, patience, support, and time. I’ve discussed 5 popular myths in this post, but honestly, I could write 50 pages of lies I’ve encountered over the years.
Myth 1: Women cannot produce enough milk for their infants in the first few days
Truth: Almost all mothers produce enough milk for their babies. Sometimes the problem is that the baby is not effectively transferring the milk that you do have. This can be due to tethered oral tissues/tongue tie, ineffective latch, tension, impaired reflexes, etc. Less transfer of milk means less breast emptying, which starts a cascade that will then result in less milk being produced.
Yes, in the first few days after birth, it will look like there is barely enough to feed a baby mouse, never mind your baby. Colostrum (your first milk) starts in very limited quantities, like drops, seriously. Don’t let that make you think that your baby isn’t getting enough- that stuff is jam-packed with immune-boosters and healthy fats!
Breast milk production depends on the frequency of latching and how well the baby is removing milk with each feed. When in doubt, repeat the lactation consultant chant, “early and often, early and often!”
Of course, there is no way to accurately measure just how much milk your baby is taking in at each feed, so what is a parent to do? Pay attention to those poops and pees! One poop and one pee is common by the first and second days of life, followed by 4 poops and 6-8 wet diapers by day 4 and 5. However, there is a wide spectrum of normal, so if your baby is latching well, waking for feeds, and appearing healthy in all other ways, don’t obsess over those exact numbers!
Myth 2: Say goodbye to your nipples
Yes, breastfeeding often feels uncomfortable, especially for the first few weeks. I mean, you’re not used to having a small human suctioned to your body 12 times a day. You may also feel a brief twinge of discomfort with your initial let-down reflex. It is also totally ok if you feel that you have to use a healing balm or coconut oil on your nipples. Your own breast milk is actually a great nipple-healer. It has so many anti-infective properties and growth factors: it helps stimulate the growth of new tissue! (This information isn’t widely disseminated because no one stands to make money from it!)
Persistently cracked, bleeding, and painful nipples are not normal! If you are crying in pain throughout each feeding session- something is wrong! Reach out to a local IBCLC to assess latch or other potential issues that could be causing it, and for a plan to manage the pain and to heal.
You should not have to suffer or be a martyr for breastfeeding!
Myth 3: You should stop breastfeeding if you get sick or are taking medications
What?! No no no no no! There are very few instances that require breastfeeding to stop.
This may be a scary fact, but, by the time you feel symptoms of illness, you will have already passed the virus to your baby. However, along with the virus, you will have also passed along highly beneficial immune-supportive compounds that will help your baby experience fewer symptoms, overcome the illness, or maybe even bypass it entirely. During illness, it is actually so beneficial for breastfeeding to continue!
The same is true if your baby is sick. There are exceptions in extreme cases, but, for the most part, breast milk is the only fluid your baby will need during times of illness. Many companies try to sell “re-hydrating solutions” to make you part with your money. These are most often unnecessary especially if you are producing sufficient amounts of milk (tip: you can pump or express breast milk and syringe, cup, or bottle feed if your baby is not latching well, but they normally find great comfort in breastfeeding when ill). Naturally, you should always consult with your family doctor or pediatrician when your baby has symptoms of illness.
Medications: If I had a dime for every time a mom told me she couldn’t breastfeed because she was taking a certain antibiotic or antidepressant….I would have like $1. Seriously, though, why is this still such a common belief?!
There are VERY few medications that are unsafe for nursing mothers
If the medication was doctor-approved during your pregnancy, it is definitely safe to continue taking while you are breastfeeding. The medication must first pass through your system, into the breastmilk, and then through your baby’s digestive system- getting broken down every step of the way- before it can have any effect in your baby’s bloodstream. This is a highly simplified explanation, as all medications have different modes of delivery and action, but essentially: only a small amount of medication is able to enter your breastmilk to begin with.
Now, there are many herbal medications, essential oil products, lotions, teas, etc that will have a notice on the label stating to either check with your doctor or not to use if pregnant or nursing. The fact of this is yes, ALWAYS check with your doctor before taking any medication. Just because it is “natural” does not mean it is safe. I will add, however, that
there are little to no scientific studies on the effects of most substances on pregnant and nursing women
It is difficult to ethically study such things (here, YOU take this potentially dangerous chemical and we will see how your child is affected by it- who would agree to participate in that study?).
very few companies stand to make money from successfully breastfeeding mothers. Who would buy the formula and products that promise to boost milk supply? Also, women’s health has never really been a priority of governments and corporate interest in the same way that men’s health has.
I actually did a search on PubMed for scientific studies: my search for “breastmilk” yielded 2602 results, while “semen” yielded 41024 results….But now I’m just going on a tangent that I should save for another post.
Breastfeeding is actually recommended in most cases of illness.
Always honestly discuss any medical concerns with your doctor.
If you are on a medication that is deemed unsafe during breastfeeding (again, very rare), there are usually other options that can be explored.
Myth 4: Breastfeeding is a natural process, is purely instinctual, and will be a completely fulfilling experience all of the time
Bahahahahahahaha! Anyone who says this is lying! Sure, breastfeeding IS a natural process. Instinctual? To a degree, yes. Newborn infant reflexes (rooting, sucking, etc.) are discussed quite often in breastfeeding education, but moms also have natural instincts, even though you may feel like you don’t. The issue is that many professionals believe that moms have to be taught how to breastfeed: naming all the feeding positions, breaking them down step by step. This idea can make us overthink things. Then you may be feeling awkward and pressured to do it “perfectly”.
The bottom line here is: do what feels most comfortable for you! Experiment with different feeding positions and find what works best. There is no perfect way of doing this: both you and your baby are learning! If your baby latches comfortably, is gaining weight, pooping frequently, and if you are comfortable, then it doesn’t matter if your ideal breastfeeding position means breastfeeding involves standing on your head. IF IT WORKS FOR YOU AND YOUR BABY, then do it!
It definitely sucks when things feel like they aren’t working out
Your hormones are going crazy, you’ve had no sleep for days, and you are FRUSTRATED. This is where support comes in. Support is so key for parenting in general, and breastfeeding moms absolutely require it. Someone to provide encouragement, to tell you that you are doing great, that you are normal, and to bring you food and drinks, and take care of household duties will help so much in those early days. This will give you time to bond with your baby, to learn and to figure things out together. Most of the time, mom and baby duos figure it all out with some guidance, time, patience, and persistence.
Stress is a major factor in breastfeeding: it can impact milk supply, latching issues, and sleep. Having someone around who can help you stay grounded and calm is imperative.
Myth 5 (Biggest myth of all): If you don’t nurse, you’re a bad mom
Yep, there are some definite benefits to breastfeeding and I want you to be able to make an informed choice (I’m not here to give business to formula companies, I definitely want you to trust your body, and I always want breastfeeding to work for you). I would always recommend reaching out for help early: either to your doctor, public health nurse, midwife, or local IBCLC. Often, there are manageable solutions to breastfeeding problems.
But guess what? Being unable to breastfeed, or choosing not to, IS COMPLETELY FINE. Your formula-fed baby will still grow and thrive, especially if he has a healthy mother. The best thing you can do for your baby is to take care of yourself. Remember the airplane safety rule: put your oxygen mask on first before helping someone else with theirs. Make sure you are healthy in mind and body first!
Our society loves to judge moms. I became an IBCLC because of the mom-shaming I witness in my friend groups and with the moms I care for in Labour and Delivery. There is such a need for positive, education-based postpartum support and care.
The bottom line to all of this: Never feel guilty about doing what is best for you and your family!