New mums often find themselves on the receiving end of all kinds of advice. Most people are genuinely trying to be helpful, but, unfortunately, few topics attract more heated debate, misinformation, and confusion than breastfeeding.
Many new mums, who start breastfeeding, find themselves hearing some of these “old wives tales” and myths about breastfeeding that have no scientific basis or even logical justification. Far too often, you have to sift through a lot of breastfeeding misinformation in order to get the truth.
We’re here to help! Here are a few common breastfeeding myths – and the real facts you need to know.
Myth: If you have small breasts, you won’t produce enough milk to feed your baby.
Truth: Size doesn’t matter! The size of your breasts has no impact on your body’s ability to produce milk.
First, let’s look at a few facts about the anatomy of the breast. Breast size is caused by the amount of fatty and fibrous tissue in addition to the amount of milk-producing glandular tissue. Second, breast milk production is hormonally stimulated and increases with the baby’s demand. It’s very clever – the baby is in control of the amount of milk produced, and the breast size makes no difference at all.
Very simply, increasing frequency and effectiveness of breastfeeding sessions with a baby increases the milk supply. There are many things that can affect the production of milk like stress, tiredness or depression, but the size of your breast size is not a contributing factor.
Milk storage capacity in the breast may differ, so some mums may have a larger or smaller capacity to store milk, which may lead to your baby nursing less or more frequently. But as long as the breasts are being drained effectively, your body will keep producing more breast milk.
Myth: It is normal for breastfeeding to hurt.
Truth: While many women have some initial discomfort related to getting the baby to latch on to the nipple properly, breastfeeding is not supposed to be painful. If you do feel some pain, there are lots of resources for you to reach out:
- Australian Breastfeeding Association – ABA helpline
- The Maternal & Child Health Line
- Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand – private lactation consults
- Maternal and Child Health Nurse local centers – Contact your local council
- Local hospital breastfeeding clinics – Phone your local hospital for an appointment
Some mums do comment that the first few times they breastfeed, it feels “different,” but that shouldn’t be a surprise since you’ve likely never experienced a liquid coming through the milk ducts and out your nipples before.
Challenges are often related to the infant, not the mother. Babies may not be able to latch properly for example, so mothers shouldn’t automatically assume that it is their breast or breast milk production that is the problem.
Myth: A mother must drink milk to make milk.
Truth: Sorry milk lovers. This just isn’t true. Milk production is tied to how well the breast is being drained of breast milk. You have to remember this is a supply and demand situation. Your breast will begin increasing or decreasing production to meet the consumption needs of your baby.
While you don’t need cow’s milk to make human milk, you do need water, so remember to make sure you are drinking enough water while you are breastfeeding.
Here are some tips from Medela on how to increase your milk supply if you are concerned about that.
Myth: Breastfeeding mothers should always use both breasts at each feeding.
Truth: Your breasts “know” how much milk they need to make, depending on the baby’s demands. If you go too long without nursing from one breast, it might start to feel full – but you don’t have to worry about whether the baby is drinking from both breasts at every single feeding.
In fact published research on the range of “normal” when it comes to breast preference shows that 30% of babies always take just one breast, 13% always take both breasts, and 57% mix it up!
Myth: Frequent nursing causes a child to be obese later in life.
Truth: Obesity results from a variety of complex factors, some genetic, some environmental, social, or psychological. In most situations, it is a result of the body receiving more calories than it needs, for extended periods of time. Because glucose (the fuel our body uses) is actually damaging to our cells if it’s in our blood at too high a concentration, our body stores it as glycogen in fat/adipose tissue.
When we eat too much and don’t use that energy, the glycogen accumulates in the adipose tissue, the cells get bigger, and we get fatter. This can, though not always, lead to diabetes. Frequent breastfeeding by babies is normal, with research showing babies will breastfeed 4-13 times per day.
The trick is to remember that babies are preprogramed to eat when they are hungry or need energy, not always when we want them to feed. This is called “cue based feeding” and is recommended by National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and has been shown to help reduce the risk of developing diabetes later in life.
Myth: Breastfeeding a baby after 12 months is of little value because the quality of breast milk begins to decline after six months.
Truth: Breast milk doesn’t decline in quality over time. It’s true that breast milk composition changes throughout the breastfeeding duration, but this is just another sign of how perfectly breast milk has developed to continue meeting your baby’s developing needs.
It’s important to remember that many of your baby’s systems will develop over years, not simply 6 or 12 months, which is why breast milk helps to continue to meet those developing requirements.
The reason we add complementary foods to breast milk at 6 months isn’t because breast milk is no longer important, it’s simply because your baby’s nutritional/caloric needs are no longer met by breast milk alone.
Your breast milk will continue to provide your baby immune protection, as well as nutrition, the entire time you continue providing your baby with breast milk. This is important because it takes years before a child’s immune system matures fully. Some parts won’t be fully developed until they are over 10 years old!
Myth: Don’t breastfeed if you’re sick.
Truth: Breastfeeding is safe and healthy for babies, even if the mother is feeling under the weather. In fact, part of the benefit of breastfeeding is that because your baby is likely exposed to the same cold or flu that you picked up, it’s easier for your mature immune system to develop the antibodies and leukocytes to fight the cold/flu than hers. These antibodies and leukocytes are transferred through your breast milk when you breastfeed. Ingenious, isn’t it?
The only exception is if you’re taking a medication that is not safe for breastfeeding mothers (always check with your doctor and pharmacist and make sure they know that you’re breastfeeding).
Check out this link for some advice from the Australian Breastfeeding Association on medications/alcohol and breastfeeding.
Flu viruses can be especially challenging on new-born’s, since their immune system is not yet mature. For this reason, it is best to make sure you have been vaccinated with the annual flu vaccine. Remember, when you get vaccinated, your body will build the antibodies and leukocytes that will get transferred through your breast milk to your baby to help protect him from that virus.
Don’t let breastfeeding myths hold you back. Do your research and be a better-informed mum. Arm yourself with all well-documented and credible breastfeeding facts so you know which advice to ignore.
Have you ever been told any of the breastfeeding myths mentioned in this article? What other ones have you heard? Please let us know in the comments section or join the conversation on our Medela Australia Facebook page.