By Jennifer Buchanan CNM WHNP-BC, IBCLC ~breastfeeding

The process of breastfeeding and how it works can be a mystery for many. There is so much information shared on social media, the Internet along with constantly new research coming out of what is best or harmful around the childbearing year. Some of it can be factual, some of it not and the rest altogether confusing. In my work as a nurse-midwife both in hospital and at Del Mar Birth Center, I work with a lot of new mothers, troubleshooting problems and answering common questions. Here, I hope to dispel some of the myths around breastfeeding and help make the road to a successful breastfeeding relationship easier.

Myth One: Babies naturally know how to breastfeed.

Fact: Your baby is born with infant reflexes that can help with breastfeeding like a suck reflex and a rooting reflex. The suck reflex is a baby’s instinct to suck anything that touches the roof of his or her mouth. The rooting reflex is when a baby turns his or her head towards any stroking sensation on the cheek or the mouth. Although your baby is born with these natural instincts, they do not guarantee breastfeeding success. Breastfeeding has to be learned and practiced by both Baby and Mom.

Something to note – if you have transferred from an out-of-hospital setting for pain relief, medications administered during labor can have an effect on your baby’s reflexes and can cause a slight depression in their brain function compared to a baby’s brain function whose mama did not receive labor medications (Don’t be discouraged though – use pain medications if you need them!) These effects on your baby are minor and last only a short period of time. It is something to keep in mind if you and your baby are having difficulties with feeding in the early hours after childbirth.

Myth Two: You can’t breastfeed if the size and shape of your nipples is not perfect.

Fact: Every woman has different sized and shaped breasts and nipples. There is no “perfect” breast for breastfeeding. The other factor to consider is that every baby’s anatomy is different i.e. the size of his or her mouth, lips and tongue, etc. The anatomic compatibility between a mother and baby is what makes for a better breastfeeding experience.

Myth Three: You have to drink milk to make milk.

Fact: Drinking milk has little to do with a woman’s production of breast milk. Whether a mother drinks milk or not, has nothing to do with her breast milk supply. It is, however, important for the mother to remain hydrated with a safe form of liquid and consume a well-rounded, healthy diet. The body will draw the necessary nutrients from her body to add to her breast milk. If a mother is undernourished, she will become further undernourished while her body continues to supply the baby with nutrients.

Myth Four: Breastfeeding always hurts.

Fact: Breastfeeding should rarely hurt – once you achieve a deep latch. Your nipples may become sensitive when you start breastfeeding because of an increased hormone level after delivery and increased contact with your baby during feeding. Although nipple sensitivity is normal, nipple pain for the duration of the entire feed or trauma to your nipples is not normal and should be evaluated by a lactation consultant to determine the cause. The most common cause for painful nipples is an incorrect latch or position and can be lessened with the help of a lactation professional.

Myth Five: Many women do not make enough breast milk.

Fact: Most women make enough milk for their babies. However, there are many women who think they don’t make enough breast milk for their babies’ needs. I encourage mothers to not focus on the size of their breasts, or the fullness they feel, but to pay attention to these signs that breastfeeding is going well and as a more accurate way to assess if they have enough milk.

  • By the time a baby is four days old, he or she should have at least six wet diapers each 24-hour period.
  •  By the time a baby is four days old, he or she should have at least three or more poopy diapers, with yellowish colored poop.
  • Baby’s urine is pale and diluted.
  • Baby is breastfeeding at least eight times in a 24-hour period.
  • Baby regains his or her birth weight by 10 to 14 days old.
  • Baby is gaining about four to eight ounces per week.
  • During a feeding, one should be able to see and hear the baby swallow.
  • During a feeding, the baby should have a rhythmic suckling pattern.

Myth Six: I will not make enough milk in the days before my breast milk “comes in.”

Fact: Under normal circumstances a new mother makes exactly enough breast milk for a newborn’s needs. A newborn’s stomach is about the size of a marble. In the first couple of days after birth, if the baby is breastfeeding a minimum of eight times in a 24 hour period, the mother’s body will make about five milliliters (ml), a seemingly small amount but perfect for a newborn’s stomach. As the baby continues to breastfeed, regularly, the mother’s body will get the signal to increase the volume of milk as the baby’s needs demand it. In a “nut shell,” the small amount of milk that your body is making is totally normal and will increase as the baby demands it!

Myth Seven: There is no way to determine how much breast milk the baby is getting.

Fact: It is true that it’s difficult to determine the exact amount that a breastfed baby is getting at any given feeding session. As stated under ‘Myth Five’, there are signs that a baby is getting enough milk, which can be measured by the weight gain and diaper output (urine and poop). The exact amount of breast milk is not the important factor as with any given feeding, the amount of breast milk and composition changes. The important part is whether the weight gain is appropriate and the diaper output is adequate. There is no need to worry about how much breast milk the baby is getting.

Myth Eight: Formula is the same as breast milk.

Fact: This statement is completely false. Formula is not like breast milk AT ALL. Formula is more like “medicine” than a food. If your baby needs to have formula for certain reasons, that is okay. Breast milk is the ideal food for your baby because breast milk prepares your baby’s tummy for food by coating and closing the normal openings in the lining of the baby’s intestines. Breast milk is also designed for easy digestion for your baby. Often babies who drink breast milk experience less spitting up and gas. Breast milk also provides your baby with their “first immunizations” to help prevent them from getting sick.

Breast milk fed babies have been studied to have reduced risks of:

  • Adolescent and adult obesity
  • Asthma
  • Celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Childhood leukemia and lymphomas
  • Ear infections
  • Gastrointestinal infections
  • Respiratory infections, including bronchiolitis and pneumonia
  • Serious colds
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Throat infections
  • Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes

Myth Nine: You should not breastfeed if you are taking medications.

Fact: This statement is not true. Here is a breakdown of the process of absorption of any medication taken by mouth:

  • The medication goes from your mouth into your stomach.
  • Your stomach digests and breaks down the drug where it can be absorbed from your intestinal tract into your blood stream.
  • Your blood circulates in your body and passes by the milk ducts in your breasts.
  • The milk ducts absorb the drug from your bloodstream into your breast milk.
  • Your baby drinks your breast milk.
  • The milk enters their stomach and medication in the milk is absorbed by their intestines and finally into their blood stream.

Thus, the amount of medication that gets into your baby’s blood stream after this whole process is very minimal. That said, there are medications that are absolutely prohibited during breastfeeding, but those typically are drugs that are also forbidden for women who are pregnant. A general rule is that if it is safe during pregnancy it is also safe during breastfeeding.
Always consult your doctor, pediatrician and lactation consultant prior to taking any new medication while breastfeeding.

Myth Ten: Don’t wake a sleeping baby to breastfeed.

Fact: Unless your baby is older than three months and a well-established breast feeder, this statement is not true. In the first couple of days after birth, your baby will sleep a lot. In order to create a regular breastfeeding routine and provide your baby with the necessary energy, you need to wake up your sleeping baby. Allowing a baby to continue to sleep and have longer periods of time between feedings could actually make them sleepier, and this can become a problem. In the days following birth, mothers need to wake their babies, provide them with nutrition and establish a feeding routine.

I hope the above facts help you with your breastfeeding experience and answer any questions you had.