10 Breastfeeding myths all moms should know

Aunindita Bhatia

Health

After weeding out all the facts and myths about pregnancy, one might think the next stage in this maternal journey is going to be easier. There are as many, if not more, myths and misconceptions about breastfeeding that a doting mother must educate herself on. From things that one should do, to things they should avoid, from hearing “it’s been like that since anyone can remember” to “it wouldn’t hurt if you do it” pieces of advice that has no medical evidence to fall back on or things that are really just a waste of everyone’s time and effort. Here’s a list of myths to help in getting ready for and in actually doing the breastfeeding.

10. Breast size and nipple kind

It’s only logical to think that the bigger the breast the mom has, the more milk it will produce. Do you remember in science class what they said about liquids: A liquid has a definite volume but it takes the shape of the container. Someone a long time ago put these two things together, the milk being the liquid, and the breast the container, and surmised that having Pamela’s breasts in Barb Wire is better than Hilary’s in Boys Don’t Cry. It’s not true. The milk produced by a mother is not dependent on the size of the breasts but on the epithelial tissue in the breast. The amount of epithelial tissue directly affects milk volume because it’s the part of the breast that’s capable of making the milk.

Another myth is that mother with inverted or flat nipples will not be able to breastfeed. There are some who listen to this myth and don’t even try to breastfeed anymore. It could be harder because of that fact, but it’s not impossible. There is a very small percentage of mothers with inverted nipples who could not breastfeed, but that’s only after trying everything with the help of proper professionals. In anybody else’s case, trying it is the best way to know. If your baby latches on, no matter if you have flat or inverted nipples, it means the baby is getting the milk.

9. On implants and surgeries

There are a number of surgeries performed on breasts, the most common being augmentation mammoplasty, breast reduction surgery, and lumpectomy. This myth postulates a belief that women who just had these kinds of operation cannot and will not successfully breastfeed in the immediate, near or even far off future. It is not a hard no. women can still successfully breastfeed even after having any of these surgeries.

In augmentation mammoplasty or breast implants, the best course of action in terms of good breastfeeding is to position the implants under the chest muscle and prevent damaging the milk ducts and nerves. Even if the implants are placed somewhere else, there is still a good chance that mom can breastfeed. Surgeons and patients should have a talk before doing breast reduction because they can easily avoid the glandular tissue and nerves that help produce milk, blood supply, and nerve pathways all good while removing tissue. Lumpectomy should not be a problem, as long as the incision was not made near or at the areola. Even if radiation was necessary, there’s still a good chance mom could breastfeed successfully in the future.
It’s not the end of breastfeeding if one has had any of these surgeries, have a try, that’s the best one can do.

8. It’s okay, it’s supposed to be painful

How many first-time mothers have heard their own moms, their own grandmas, their sweet aunts, their caring sisters or even their cousins tell them that it’s alright, it’s supposed to hurt? A lot, that’s why this is included in this list. This is a myth. Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world. It’s not called self-sacrifice, or torture, or that painful stage in a mother’s life, it’s just called breastfeeding. If it hurts, that means something is not done right. There is something blocking the natural order of things. Don’t tell your mom it hurts, she’d just say suck it up. Don’t tell grandma or aunt, they’d just say the pain means it’s working. Don’t tell sis or cuz, they’d just look at you in awe and support you every other way they can.

Your nipples will be tender at first, there will be some pain as the baby learns to latch on for the first time. It’s a pain that a mother can tolerate, and it will disappear. If the pain hasn’t disappeared after some time, or if the mother has a high threshold for it, check the nipples. If they are bleeding or are cracked, that means the baby is having difficulty latching on properly. It could mean a couple of things, inverted nipples, the baby’s tonuge is not reaching out normally, but it definitely doesn’t mean try harder. It means you should seek professional help, a doctor or a lactation consultant. If an aunt happens to be both, then hurray!

7. It’s your first baby, you have little milk in you

This is kind of true in the sense that if it’s the second baby then the mom would have an easier time producing milk. It’s just human nature, she’s done it before and she knows she can do it again. But it’s definitely a myth that first-time moms do not produce that much milk. In the first two, three or five days after giving birth, mom secretes a thick, concentrated, yellowish liquid called colostrum. Think breast milk as evaporated milk, colostrum is condensed milk.

Another is that colostrum is dirty and should not be given to the baby. It’s not only perfectly clean, it has everything a newborn baby needs. Antibodies that would protect the baby from infection and important proteins to help in growth and development. It also helps the baby pass its first stool. Nursing babies, newborns, are so tiny that they only need a little milk. This is why colostrum is best for them. There is no need to stress yourself out if someone told you that first-time moms usually have little milk for their babies. It’s only normal, you don’t produce milk for the first few days. That stuff coming out, it’s perfectly clean, baby can drink that.

6. What you pump is what you have

If you build it, they will come. Breastfeeding is a little bit like that famous saying. Actually, it’s more like: If they need it, you will continue to lactate. Ever heard of people saying that they switched to formula because they stopped lactating? it could be the other way around, they stopped lactating because they switched to formula. Breastfeeding could be a challenge, but believing that what you pump is what you have is a myth.

Breastfeeding and pumping, whether it’s with the use of a manual or electric pump, are two very different processes. Having said that, it’s not true that a baby can only get from mom the same amount the mom gets from pumping. First, pumping is mechanical, breastfeeding is physical and emotional. The artificial act of pumping cannot compare to the sensation a mom and baby goes through in breastfeeding. A baby’s mouth and a suction are two very different things as well. If a mom’s worry is that the bay is not getting enough milk from breastfeeding, and the pumping confirms that worry, that’s not how we should measure it. What’s effective is to weigh the baby, keep a journal and list the weight gains to get your proof or decide if you’d need further help.

5. Newborns should not be breastfed a lot

This particular myth comes in a different context too: Your baby will continue to be hungry because you do not have enough milk. Take a look at your newborn baby, how hungry can a tiny little person get? A newborn’s stomach in the first week can take 30-59 ml, that’s just one to two ounces. By the 3rd week, it grows to 90 ml, that means baby needs about 25 ounces, give or take, of milk per day. When they say that you should not be breastfeeding all the time, for the reason that babies should only be fed when they are hungry, it’s just not true.

Breastfeeding is not just a means to feed the baby, it’s also a security blanket and a moment of bonding and connection between mom and baby. Baby feels comforted when it is feeding from mom, and the sensation felt by mom is signal for the body to produce more prolactin receptors. The more prolactin receptors made, the more milk is produced. Again, the act of breastfeeding is not just for feeding, but for many things that would benefit mom and baby. Telling mom not to breastfeed so much does not help at all.

4. Keep at it, breastmilk gives more nutrition and improves baby’s IQ

Moms who opted for formula take comfort in the belief that breastmilk is not so different from formula. A study in 2014 proved that there is no advantage a breastfed child has over a child fed with formula. On the other hand, breastfeeding moms are comforted by the belief that breastmilk is still best. They get all the benefits discussed in the previous items in this list and the baby gains more weight and grows to have better IQ. Both statements are true, but at the same time, both are a myth.

Breastmilk has one very distinct difference from the formula, one thing that any kind of formula will never have. Breastmilk, unfortunately, does not have it over formula in terms of weight gain and IQ development. Although it’s a myth that breastmilk improves a baby’s IQ, there is no study that can measure IQ difference in a breastfed baby to one that’s not. Weight gain is a lot simpler, feed the baby more formula and they will gain more weight. Breastmilk does not give the baby more nutrition that would accelerate their growth. The only difference that moms should keep in mind is the fact that breastmilk has antibodies from mom that will protect the baby from infection for the rest of the baby’s life.

3. Never drink alcohol while breastfeeding

While everybody knows that smoking and drinking alcohol are absolute no-nos during pregnancy, people are kind of conflicted with alcohol in terms of breastfeeding. Smoking, on the other hand, is never good. Pregnant or not, breastfeeding or formula feeding, man or woman, it matters not, just avoid it. Some people want to continue with the avoidance of alcohol even after pregnancy, so they say that after giving birth if you are breastfeeding, you should still avoid drinking alcohol. Alcohol traces are present in blood and would be in breastmilk too. The other contrasting belief is that alcohol helps a lot in mom producing more milk, they say it has galactagogue that promotes milk production.

These are two myths surrounding alcohol and breastmilk. Alcohol does stay in the body but after 3 hours it is completely metabolized, that’s assuming the alcohol intake is only about a mug, or a glass of wine. You can drink socially while breastfeeding if you still feel icky, wait 3 hours before you breastfeed. Alcohol does not help in producing milk, it’s more the effect of alcohol on mom’s body that helps. It relaxes mom and helps her breastfeed more comfortably.

2. Drink this, eat that

Alcohol is actually the perfect example of item #2. But since we’ve just talked about it, let’s look at others. If you do a search online about foods, drinks, herbs, and scents that help in boosting milk production, you will find an endless list available. At the top are herbal teas, supplements, a certain kind of milk, and cookies. One good example is fenugreek, a herb where the seed is used to boost milk production. It’s said it’s been used since the bib biblical times and contains phytoestrogens, the plant equivalent of estrogen. Some milk tea has elements of fenugreek and are drank by lots of breastfeeding moms.

Ever heard of lactation cookies? They are full of vitamin B, iron and proteins that are crucial to producing milk. Protein powders are also a popular choice for breastfeeding moms because of all the nutrients it carries that help boost milk production. Whatever tea a mom drinks, a cookie she eats, milk she drinks, it’s not all about that. It has a very big psychological effect, and this helps mom a lot. It’s less the nutrients and more the comfort that mom gets from eating and drinking these kinds of food she knows would help boost her milk. Put it this way, eat and drink all you want, if you do not believe them and are not comfortable taking them, it would not boost anything.

1. Saggy breasts are an effect of breastfeeding

It’s not only the sag factor moms are afraid of if they start and continue breastfeeding that’s going to be a sad and inevitable effect, it’s also the belief that their breasts will change in shape especially around the areola and nipple area. Let’s look at it differently, there are women out there who have saggy breasts even though they’ve never had a baby in their life. One might argue that these are women of an age bracket and does not apply to their case. Expand the search further, there is a percentage of women from ages 21 to 30 who have saggy breasts, whether it’s the size and weight, botched implants, or simply genetics, it’s not because of breastfeeding.

Experts have said that women who breastfeed do not have saggier breasts than women who don’t breastfeed. There are three inescapable factors that affect sagging of breasts and these are factors that are undeniable and inevitable. The first is genetics, if your mom and her mom have saggy breasts, chances are you have them too. Second, it’s time. Ageing would make breasts sag. The third, and most powerful force in this list is gravity. We can’t argue with Isaac, he got that one right.