I feel I need to start this post by stating that I am in no way against Mums who use formula milk to feed their babies. I was one of those Mums with my first baby. I believe that every woman should be free to make her own choice. But whatever you choose, you should have all the information possible to enable you to make an educated, informed decision. The problem is that there are so many myths surrounding breastfeeding its hard to know what to believe. Formula manufacturers spend billions of pounds on advertising every year, perpetuating these myths in such an insidious fashion that many people now assume they are facts. Even women who have chosen to breastfeed can fall foul to these untruths, made to doubt themselves and their ability to feed the child they have grown inside them by well meaning family members and friends or ill informed health care providers. Even I have been caught out and fallen for some of these.
So I wanted to try and dispel some of these myths, and reassure any Mother who is doubting herself; Keep going Mama, you got this!
I’m not a medical professional, I’m just a Mummy of 5, who has breastfed 4 of them. Obviously there are exceptions to every rule. So if in any doubt then please seek the help of a qualified professional; a lactation consultant, La leche league advisor or local peer supporter.
Onto the myths!
Lets start with the biggest one of them all.
Formula milk is just as good as breastmilk
No. No its not. Formula milk is made to provide the vitamins and minerals that a baby needs to grow and survive. It is a vital tool in helping babies who have no other means of nutrition and has ensured the survival of countless infants.
However, it isn’t alive! It doesn’t contain antibodies that change according to what your baby has been exposed to and needs protection from. It doesn’t contain hormones, growth factors or enzymes. It doesn’t change consistency and composition constantly, adapting to such things as the weather and the time of day; producing more thinner, thirst quenching milk when the weather is hot, and more antibody rich milk when baby is poorly for example. It doesn’t contain a substance (HAMLET) that kills cancer cells, or help prevent against cancer in the mother and child, or help reduce the chances of allergies, diabetes and obesity. Breast is best is not correct, a slogan thought up by the formula companies to suggest an unobtainable ideal. Breast is biologically normal.
Photo courtesy of Kat Wreford Via Breastfeeding Yummy Mummies Facebook group. The milk on the left was expressed on a normal day, the milk on the right on a day when both Mother and baby were ill. The “poorly” milk closely resembles colostrum, from all the extra antibodies present.
Formula has its place, its okay. But it just doesn’t measure up in comparison.
You can’t breastfeed if you have small breasts
Not true! The size of your breasts is down to how much fatty tissue you have. The actual mechanics of milk making, the alveoli, ductules and milk ducts, are roughly the same size in all women. So having small breasts does not mean you can’t breastfeed!
If anything it is more of a challenge the larger your breasts are, as tiny newborns might struggle to latch on to a bigger nipple and take enough areola into their mouth. This doesn’t mean that you will struggle to breastfeed if you have larger breasts though! You just may need a little help to get that latch right.
Breastfeeding is supposed to hurt, until your nipples `toughen up’
Not true! Yes it may hurt when baby latches on initially, but if the pain continues then that usually indicates a problem. It could be that baby has a tongue tie, or that your latch needs adjusting slightly. Usually just the smallest change in position, or simply latching baby off (by breaking the suction with your little finger in the corner of their mouth) and trying again can do the trick.
If the pain carries on then its best to get some expert help. Many children’s centres or clinics run a weekly breastfeeding group, where you can go to have a coffee and a chat with other Mums in the same boat, and they will have a trained peer supporter who can watch you feed and give you any help you need. Some of these clinics even have a trained lactation consultant attending, who can check for tongue ties or other issues that may be causing problems with breastfeeding.
If you have a big baby you won’t have enough milk
Again, not true! Our bodies are wonderful things. They grow these beautiful little people, keep them safe and secure for 9 months (sometimes more or less). Yet when they arrive we tend to doubt our ability to carry on providing all the nourishment they need.
Breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis. The more you feed your baby, the more milk you will produce to satisfy their needs. Sometimes it can seem like you are feeding your bigger baby too frequently, and well meaning people may tell you they are too big and they need more milk than you can provide. But don’t listen! This frequent feeding is completely normal. They are just putting their order in for how much they need you to produce, and you will provide it so long as you let them nurse as often as they want to so they can “demand” your “supply”.
If a newborn feeds too often you’re doing it wrong, or you don’t have enough milk
You guessed it, not true! As i mentioned above, breastfeeding is supply and demand. In those first few days your newborn’s stomach is so tiny, they only need around half a teaspoon full of colostrum at every feed. But having a stomach this tiny, and breastmilk being so easily digestible, means that they are soon hungry again. It is completely normal for a newborn to feed 8-12 times a day, and those feeds can seem to blend into each other. As baby grows, so does their stomach. But they still only need tiny amounts of milk at each feed to fill them up. So the feeds stay frequent, although they may start to space out slightly as baby grows. Just go with it. Scheduling feeds can have a detrimental effect on supply, and no-one wants a screaming, hungry baby because they are not “due” a feed for another twenty minutes. Your baby knows best when it is time for a feed, and will be happier being fed on demand. And a happy baby means a much more harmonious existence! Its hard, it really is. But its completely normal!
The first six weeks in a newborn’s life are pretty much one big growth spurt. They may seem to settle into a bit of a feeding pattern for a few days, but then suddenly go back to wanting to nurse all the time. They may seem fussy at the breast, sucking for a minute and then bobbing off, crying. But then wanting to latch back on straight away. Don’t panic! This is absolutely normal. Infact, its pretty amazing really! Baby knows that they are growing fast, either physically or developmentally. So they are telling your body that it needs to make more milk. This can last for a few days or a few weeks, but your body will get the message from baby and start to produce more milk. It can be soul destroying, and you may start to doubt yourself. You may have that well meaning partner, friend or family member telling you to just give baby one bottle, to give you a break. Or saying you’re obviously not enough so they need more. But this will just prolong the agony. Giving a bottle means your baby isn’t suckling, and if baby isn’t suckling then your body isn’t getting the message to make more milk. So the fussing and frequent nursing continues, and you feel worse. You give more bottles, which just exasperates the problem further. Before you know it you have fallen into the top up trap, and your breastfeeding journey is all but over. This is usually what happened to people who will tell you they didn’t have enough milk 😦 I fell into this trap with my first son. I was told to top up with formula because my son was sleeping through the night and she (the health visitor) said he wasn’t getting enough calories. Being new to breastfeeding I took her word for it. So I started waking him up when I went to bed and giving one bottle of formula. Then, when he went through a growth spurt, I worried that I wasn’t enough for him, so he started to have one more bottle in the morning. But of course his fussing continued, so gradually we started to give him a bottle after a breastfeed, to “top him up” as he still seemed hungry. I didn’t know about the top up trap, or that I had fallen into it with a big bang. I limped along still breastfeeding him until 6 months, but by then my supply was pretty much gone and we switched to formula completely. I wish I had known then what I know now! I never would have given him that first bottle. At 10 months old my son had an accident which made me never want to give a bottle again. When i fell pregnant with my next baby I researched breastfeeding as much as I could, and thats when i found out about growth spurts. So when it came to the growth spurts with my next three children I was prepared. It didn’t make it any easier, I still had nights where I sat and sobbed from exhaustion and doubted myself. But I carried on, and I got through it.
The other big growth spurt is at around 4 months. This one is a monster, and is often accompanied by a period of sleep regression too. Just because we don’t have enough to deal with with the fussy, grumpy baby during the day! These two things combined often lead to parents mistakenly believing that their baby needs real food. But in most cases this isn’t true. Its just another killer spurt, and it will pass after a few weeks.
The Wonder weeks is a great book and accompanying app, it explains when to expect a growth spurt or developmental leap and what to expect from their behaviour.
Breastfed babies never need winding
Tell that to my children 😉 They have all been very windy babies, from both ends. My two younger girls and my youngest son all had reflux. I had a catch 22 situation, because they fed so often to ease their pain but then ended up needing winding. But when I winded them, particularly my son, if I wasn’t careful the whole feed would come back up!
The idea behind this myth is a sound one, in fact it is often true that breastfed babies don’t get alot of wind. A baby who feeds from the breast with a secure latch should not swallow much, if any, air alongside their milk. Unlike a baby who feeds from a bottle. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to wind your breastfed baby. You should still burp them after every feed, even if they don’t bring any wind up. Because if they do have wind and you leave them, you will have a very unhappy baby! Sometimes a very small baby will fall asleep at the breast before they have finished their feed, particularly if they are suffering from jaundice. Winding them is a good way to wake them up a bit, to encourage them to finish the feed.
If your diet is rubbish then your milk will be too
Despite what the formula companies would have you believe (anyone seen the adverts showing a baby nursing on a burger in place of a breast?!) this is not true! Mother’s diet has little impact on the success of breastfeeding or the quality of her milk. Mothers in famine hit countries still manage to produce milk and nurse their infants, often providing them with the only decent nourishment they receive in their early years. This wouldn’t be possible if what she ate impacted her milk supply. Obviously eating a balanced, healthy diet is recommended. But if you have the occasional takeaway or live on rice and beans then don’t fret too much, you can still breastfeed just as well as the next person. the truth is your poor diet is more likely to impact on you than baby! Look at a baby like a small (adorable) parasite. They take all that they need, and if mother is lacking then they leave her without. If you think your diet might not be the best, there are vitamin supplements made especially for breastfeeding women. So you can replace anything you may be lacking.
You can’t drink alcohol and breastfeed, you have to “pump and dump”
Dr Jack Newman, one of the world’s leading experts on breastfeeding, shared a very interesting post on his Facebook page. In the post he quotes a unnamed mother who blogged about her experiment with having her milk tested by a professional lab after drinking varying amounts of alcohol. The conclusion was that not enough alcohol is present in breastmilk to prohibit feeding your baby. The amount quoted was likened to mixing one shot of vodka with over 70 litres of mixer. A drop in the ocean, and not anywhere near enough to cause harm to baby. If you want to read the full post the link is here.
The general rule of thumb is that as long as you are sober enough to hold your child safely, you are sober enough to feed them. Now go enjoy that well earned glass of wine!
Theres no need to breastfeed after 6 months
Nope, not true. At around six months of age your baby’s needs will change. They will start to need more than just milk to satisfy their nutritional requirements. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t need your milk anymore. Breastmilk continues to offer the same benefits to a baby who has started solid foods as it does to a newborn. It still contains antibodies, anti viruses, hormones, enzymes and all the other good stuff. It still changes to meet the needs of your child on a feed to feed basis, and even during a feed. Its still free 😉 There is no need to stop breastfeeding when you hit six months, or when you start solids.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months, and then continuing breastfeeding alongside solid foods to age two and beyond. I’m guessing they know what they’re talking about more than your Mum’s cousin’s Husband’s Sister 🙂
Breastfed babies need extra water when its hot
Not true, and actually quite dangerous! Babies under two months who are given extra water to drink are at risk of jaundice, from higher bilirubin levels. They are also at risk of a serious condition called Oral water intoxication. Breastmilk is made up of 88% water, so there is really no need to provide extra water to a baby who is fed on demand, even when its really hot. Offering extra water can fill baby’s little tummy, meaning they don’t want to nurse and are at risk of malnutrition as they are not taking their milk feeds.
Breastmilk is fantastic stuff. Your breasts will produce more thinner milk to quench thirst in hot weather. Baby will probably want to nurse more frequently; to have a “drink” rather than a full feed. But as long as you let them nurse they will be fine. From six months its okay to start offering a cup of water with meals.
So there you have it. I hope I’ve managed to allay a few fears, and right a few misconceptions. If you need more information, or a more scientific viewpoint, there are some great resources on the web. I have to give a big shout out to the lovely members of an awesome Facebook group, Breastfeeding Yummy Mummys, who helped me decide which myths to tackle by sharing some that they had come up against. They have helped me, and many other women, through some tough patches.
La Leche League are a great organisation, who have been running in the UK offering breastfeeding help and support for 45 years. They have a helpline that is manned by volunteers who are trained to offer help and guidance. I’ve only had to call them once, but I’ll never forget that lovely lady who listened patiently to me sobbing down the phone the day my milk came in with my first breastfed baby that he wouldn’t latch on. We were both so stressed out, but she calmed me down and just listened to me, and then offered helpful advise on positioning and exaggerated latches which really really helped. The number is 0845 120918. Please don’t hesitate to call if you need help, its what they’re there for.
Kellymom.com is a great source of information on all things breastfeeding (no, its not me!). Its my go-to website if I’m unsure of anything.
To read more about the WHO recommendations on breastfeeding visit here.
For more from Dr Jack Newman visit his Breastfeedinginc website here or his facebook page here.
Thanks for reading!