Breastfeeding is natural. However, for many mothers it doesn’t come easily. It can take some time to get the hang of breastfeeding.
Unfortunately for many mothers, the path to getting breastfeeding working well can be hampered by well-meaning friends, family or health professionals giving inaccurate breastfeeding information.
As a result, mothers end up hearing many myths and misconceptions about breastfeeding – and it can be very confusing if you happen to lose your way.
Here are 10 of the most common breastfeeding myths:
Breastfeeding Myths #1: Breastfeeding Mothers Need To Maintain A Perfect Diet
Even mothers who have a less than perfect diet will make quality breastmilk.
The concentrations of the main components of breastmilk (e.g. lactose, protein and fat) are not influenced by a mother’s diet. Some minerals (e.g. iodine) and vitamins are influenced by a mother’s diet.
However, the average Australian diet, for example, provides most mothers will ample nutrients to ensure her breastmilk is not lacking in anything. Find out more information about diet and breastmilk quality.
Breastfeeding Myths #2: Your Milk Can Dry Up ‘Just Like That’
Once established, breastmilk production is a robust process. As long as milk continues to be removed often enough, a mother could make breastmilk indefinitely.
There are few things that could make a mother’s breastmilk dry up ‘just like that’. Some things that may make a mother’s milk supply suddenly drop significantly include:
- Taking a certain medication that can have a significant effect of lowering supply (e.g. pseudoephedrine – sold as products like Sudafed in Australia)
- A sudden and severe illness (e.g. sepsis)
Breastfeeding Myths #3: Breastfeeding Is Painful
In the early weeks, many mothers feel nipple pain that ceases after initial attachment. Pain that lasts beyond this point or nipple damage is usually indicative of suboptimal positioning and attachment. Getting help from a lactation consultant can help improve this.
Many mothers, despite early nipple pain and damage, go on to breastfeed for many months or even years.
Breastfeeding Myths #4: Babies With Lactose Intolerance Need A Lactose Free Formula
Most cases of lactose intolerance occur secondary to something that has irritated a baby’s gut. A lactose free formula will not help to heal an irritated gut. Breastmilk on the other hand can help to do this.
The aim with secondary lactose intolerance is to seek out and treat the cause of gut irritation and then the lactose intolerance will be gone. For more information about lactose intolerance read here.
Breastfeeding Myths #5: Breastfeeding Has To Be Done Discreetly
Under Australian Federal Law (the Sex Discrimination Act), it is illegal to discriminate against a mother on the grounds of her breastfeeding or expressing milk.
In most situations, breastfeeding cannot be done indiscreetly. However, in a society that has sexualised the breast, it is not surprising that some feel it must be done discreetly. If you don’t like it, then don’t look – a philosophy society must adopt.
The only time breastfeeding ‘has’ to be done discreetly, is if a mother wants to do so.
Breastfeeding Myths #6: Breastfeeding An Older Child Is For The Mother’s Own Gratification
It is impossible to force a child to breastfeed. Some mothers end up breastfeeding for longer than they intended to as they simply respond to their child’s needs. All children will eventually stop breastfeeding on their own.
Many wouldn’t flutter an eyelid at the sight of a toddler (or older) sucking their thumb, drinking from a bottle or sucking a dummy. Why then do so many bat an eye for a child breastfeeding – the biological norm?
For more information about breastfeeding an older child, read here.
Breastfeeding Myths #7: Bigger Babies Need More Milk
Research shows that the volume of milk a baby needs does not increase in relation to his weight. Indeed, some ‘small’ babies need quite ‘a lot’ of milk and some ‘big’ babies need a ‘small’ amount.
Just as adults have varying needs, babies have varying needs. This is another reason why feeding a baby according to their own individual needs is important.
Breastfeeding Myths #8: Babies Need To Feed ‘X’ Times In 24 Hours
The only true was to ensure a baby gets what he needs is to feed him according to his individual needs. This means feeding him when he needs to feed, when he shows feeding cues.
Different mothers have different storage capacities. Storage capacity is how much milk a mother can store in her breasts between breastfeeds. A baby whose mother has a large storage capacity would likely need to feed less often to get the milk he needs. Whereas a baby whose mother has a small storage capacity would likely need to feed more often to get the milk he needs.
Also, even though the average volume of breastmilk consumed by exclusively breastfed babies is between 750-800mL, the range is from less than 500mL to over 1000mL. The only way to know how much your baby needs, is to feed him when he needs to be fed.
Breastfeeding Myths #9: Babies Need To Feed For ‘X’ Length Of Time
Most of the time, a baby will take themselves off the breast when he has finished drinking from that breast.
The length of a breastfeed depends on many variables such as:
- The age of the baby. Older babies tend to be more efficient than younger babies.
- How tired the baby is. A baby who is tired may want to breastfed to soothe himself to sleep (or more for comfort than hunger.) Therefore, he might feed for a shorter time than if he has just woken up and is hungry.
- How hungry the baby is. The hungrier a baby is, the longer he is likely to feed.
- The mother’s flow rate. A baby whose mother has a faster flow of milk will likely spend less time at the breast than a baby whose mother has a slower flow.
- How much drinking the baby does. A baby who does a lot of active sucking (where he is swallowing) will likely take less time at a breast than a baby who does mostly passive sucking (where he is not swallowing).
Breastfeeding Myths #10: Your Baby Can Get Too Much Foremilk And Not Enough Hindmilk
The lactose concentration in breastmilk is about the same at the start and the end of a feed. If a breast is full of milk, the milk a baby gets at the start of the feed is lower in fat and calories. As the breast drains, a baby gets milk that is higher in fat and calories.
If the breast is relatively drained at the start of the feed, a baby will get milk that is relatively high in fat and calories at the start of the feed.
Rather than a baby getting too much foremilk, sometimes, a mother has an oversupply, and baby might be getting too much breastmilk.
For more information about foremilk and hindmilk myths read here.
It can be difficult to know who to turn to for evidence-based and up-to-date breastfeeding information.
When it comes to breastfeeding, International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, the Australian Breastfeeding Association and the La Leche League are the best options for breastfeeding problems.