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10 Breastfeeding Myths Debunked

When it comes to breastfeeding, misconceptions abound. We turned to Shari Criso, international board-certified lactation consultant, certified nurse midwife and parenting educator, to address ten of the most common myths about nursing.

If Your Mom or Sister Couldn't Breastfeed, You Won’t Be Able to Either

Although the ability to breastfeed can have a genetic factor, it is usually not the case. Many times the reason that a relative wasn’t able to breastfeed isn’t a medical issue, but rather misinformation or assumptions about their body’s ability to make enough milk. We come from a line of women that were able to feed their babies because, since the beginning of time, that was the only way.

You Must Have a Perfect Diet and Lifestyle to Make Quality Milk

Women throughout history have lived through difficult and extreme situations and were still able to breastfeed. Although your own good health does make breastfeeding easier, it is not as critical as many people think. Regardless of what you eat, your body will use its own reserves to make milk for your baby. It will break down fat, protein, calcium and any other nutrients that it needs in the perfect amounts, even if it leaves you depleted—similar to pregnancy. If eating the perfect diet, getting enough rest or minimizing stress were major factors in your body’s ability to produce breast milk, the human species would have become extinct long ago.

All Women Are Capable of Producing Enough Milk

While most healthy women are capable of producing enough milk, there are times when a mom is actually unable to make enough to meet her baby’s needs. The majority of these situations can be remedied with the help of a lactation consultant; however, there are still some moms that will not be able to produce enough. Even if a mom cannot produce enough milk—or if her milk isn’t supporting her baby’s growth as expected—whatever she can provide is still amazing, valuable and needed by her child. Moms should be encouraged to continue to breastfeed even if supplementation is needed.

Nursing Will Be Physically Painful

Nursing should not be painful if done properly, but this isn’t always the case for most moms. Improper latch and position, marathon feedings in the first few days after birth and other conditions like thrush, engorgement and plugged ducts can cause discomfort and pain for a nursing mother. The most important thing she can do is to become educated before her baby comes, ask for support and seek the help and advice of a lactation expert as soon as possible. Breastfeeding should be a pleasurable and enjoyable experience for both of you—ongoing pain will definitely interfere with that.

If You’re Not Feeling Well, Skip Breastfeeding Until You are Healthy Again

When a mother becomes ill, her body immediately starts to produce antibodies for the illness she has and passes these on to her baby through her milk. This helps the baby remain protected even if mom is sick. If she stops breastfeeding at this point, all the protective antibodies aren’t passed and the baby is more vulnerable.

Breastfeeding Should Always Be Done Symmetrically

Breastfeeding does not need to be done symmetrically. Many moms find it preferable to nurse on one side at each feeding, switching sides each time. This can be especially helpful in the early days and weeks during engorgement and when the baby is not eating as much. Not switching sides, however, can cause your breasts to feel and look uneven. This can be uncomfortable and even cause problems later if the breast is going too long between feedings. But this is also very individual and not a rule one way or the other.

Babies Can't Tell the Difference Between Bottle Feeding and Breastfeeding

Babies can absolutely tell the difference. The bottle and the breast are completely different and the way the baby eats from each is, too. It is important to remember that in the early weeks, when your baby is adjusting and learning how to breastfeed, the introduction of too many bottles can cause confusion or “preference” for the bottle over the breast, since the bottle will basically pour into the baby’s mouth and they may decide they don’t want to work so hard. That being said, babies can easily get used to eating from both and switch back and forth between the two.

Breastfeeding Should Stop After 12 Months

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends continuing breastfeeding for a minimum of 12 months, not stopping after 12 months. This is important to understand because the recommendation is also to continue to breastfeed for as long as both mother and baby are happy doing it. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of two years of breastfeeding. The longer you do it the more your baby will benefit from your milk.

Breasts Are Never the Same After Nursing

A woman’s breasts may never be the same, but this is more from the pregnancy itself than from breastfeeding. Most of the breast growth and stretching that occurs happens within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, when your body is getting ready to breastfeed your new baby whether you are choosing to do so or not. After pregnancy, if you do not breastfeed, your breasts will normally decrease in size. However, some moms find that their breast size increases and stays that way even after they deliver. If you are breastfeeding, your breasts will likely stay larger until you have weaned or sometimes to the point when solid food is introduced, at around six months.

More important than the negative breast changes that moms associate with breastfeeding are the positive effects breastfeeding has been shown to have on decreasing the risk of breast cancer. Breastfeeding causes a drop in estrogen levels, and higher estrogen has been shown to be a factor in the development of the disease. So hormonal factors, and the changes that occur in the breast as a result of a longer duration of breastfeeding and the number of children that one feeds, play a role.

Medications Should Be Avoided While Breastfeeding

It is very important to understand the relationship between medications and breastfeeding, especially because many times even your doctor may not be as knowledgeable as he or she needs to be. This could cause a mom to stop breastfeeding unnecessarily while taking a medication, such as an antibiotic, when she definitely does not need to. Conditions like an underactive thyroid can cause a decrease in milk supply, so continuing or starting a medication if needed is vital to maintaining your milk. Some medications, while safe to use while breastfeeding—such as combination birth control pills or decongestants—can decrease your supply and cause an interruption or cessation in breastfeeding. It is always important to speak to your practitioner, ask questions, do some research and look for alternatives that are safe.

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