- Many women do not produce enough milk.
Not true! The vast majority of women produce more than enough milk. Indeed, an overabundance of milk is common. Most babies that gain too slowly, or lose weight, do so not because the mother does not have enough milk, but because the baby does not get the milk that the mother has. The usual reason that the baby does not get the milk that is available is that he is poorly latched onto the breast. This is why it is so important that the mother be shown, on the first day, how to latch a baby on properly, by someone who knows what they are doing.
- It is normal for breastfeeding to hurt.
Not true! Though some tenderness during the first few days is relatively common, this should be a temporary situation which lasts only a few days and should never be so bad that the mother dreads nursing. Any pain that is more than mild is abnormal and is almost always due to the baby latching on poorly. Any nipple pain that is not getting better by day 3 or 4 or lasts beyond 5 or 6 days should not be ignored. A new onset of pain when things have been going well for a while may be due to a yeast infection of the nipples. Limiting feeding time does not prevent soreness.
- There is no (not enough) milk during the first 3 or 4 days after birth.
Not true! It often seems like that because the baby is not latched on properly and therefore is unable to get the milk. Once the mother’s milk is abundant, a baby can latch on poorly and still may get plenty of milk. However, during the first few days, the baby who is latched on poorly cannot get milk. This accounts for “but he’s been on the breast for 2 hours and is still hungry when I take him off”. By not latching on well, the baby is unable to get the mother’s first milk, called colostrum. Anyone who suggests you pump your milk to know how much colostrum there is, does not understand breastfeeding, and should be politely ignored.
- A baby should be on the breast 20 (10, 15, 7.6) minutes on each side.
Not true! However, a distinction needs to be made between “being on the breast” and “breastfeeding”. If a baby is actually drinking for most of 15-20 minutes on the first side, he may not want to take the second side at all. If he drinks only a minute on the first side, and then nibbles or sleeps, and does the same on the other, no amount of time will be enough. The baby will breastfeed better and longer if he is latched on properly. He can also be helped to breastfeed longer if the mother compresses the breast to keep the flow of milk going, once he no longer swallows on his own. Thus it is obvious that the rule of thumb that “the baby gets 90% of the milk in the breast in the first 10 minutes” is equally hopelessly wrong.
- A breastfeeding baby needs extra water in hot weather.
Not true! Breastmilk contains all the water a baby needs.
- Breastfeeding babies need extra vitamin D.
Not true! Except in extraordinary circumstances (for example, if the mother herself was vitamin D deficient during the pregnancy). The baby stores vitamin D during the pregnancy, and a little outside exposure, on a regular basis, gives the baby all the vitamin D he needs.
- A mother should wash her nipples each time before feeding the baby.
Not true! Formula feeding requires careful attention to cleanliness because formula not only does not protect the baby against infection, but also is actually a good breeding ground for bacteria and can also be easily contaminated. On the other hand, breastmilk protects the baby against infection. Washing nipples before each feeding makes breastfeeding unnecessarily complicated and washes away protective oils from the nipple.
- Pumping is a good way of knowing how much milk the mother has.
Not true! How much milk can be pumped depends on many factors, including the mother’s stress level. The baby who nurses well can get much more milk than his mother can pump. Pumping only tells you have much you can pump.
- Breastmilk does not contain enough iron for the baby’s needs.
Not true! Breastmilk contains just enough iron for the baby’s needs. If the baby is full term he will get enough iron from breastmilk to last him at least the first 6 months. Formulas contain too much iron, but this quantity may be necessary to ensure the baby absorbs enough to prevent iron deficiency. The iron in formula is poorly absorbed, and most of it, the baby poops out. Generally, there is no need to add other foods to breastmilk before about 6 months of age.
- It is easier to bottle feed than to breastfeed.
Not true! Or, this should not be true. However, breastfeeding is made difficult because women often do not receive the help they should to get started properly. A poor start can indeed make breastfeeding difficult. But a poor start can also be overcome. Breastfeeding is often more difficult at first, due to a poor start, but usually becomes easier later.
- Breastfeeding ties the mother down.
Not true! But it depends how you look at it. A baby can be nursed anywhere, anytime, and thus breastfeeding is liberating for the mother. No need to drag around bottles or formula. No need to worry about where to warm up the milk. No need to worry about sterility. No need to worry about how your baby is, because he is with you.
- There is no way to know how much breastmilk the baby is getting.
Not true! There is no easy way to measure how much the baby is getting, but this does not mean that you cannot know if the baby is getting enough. The best way to know is that the baby actually drinks at the breast for several minutes at each feeding (open—pause—close type of suck). Other ways also help show that the baby is getting plenty (Handout #4 Is my Baby getting enough milk?).
- Modern formulas are almost the same as breastmilk.
Not true! The same claim was made in 1900 and before. Modern formulas are only superficially similar to breastmilk. Every correction of a deficiency in formulas is advertised as an advance. Fundamentally they are inexact copies based on outdated and incomplete knowledge of what breastmilk is. Formulas contain no antibodies, no living cells, no enzymes, no hormones. They contain much more aluminum, manganese, cadmium and iron than breastmilk. They contain significantly more protein than breastmilk. The proteins and fats are fundamentally different from those in breastmilk. Formulas do not vary from the beginning of the feed to the end of the feed, or from day 1 to day 7 to day 30, or from woman to woman, or from baby to baby… Your breastmilk is made as required to suit your baby. Formulas are made to suit every baby, and thus no baby. Formulas succeed only at making babies grow well, usually, but there is more to breastfeeding than getting the baby to grow quickly.
- If the mother has an infection she should stop breastfeeding.
Not true! With very, very few exceptions, the baby will be protected by the mother’s continuing to breastfeed. By the time the mother has fever (or cough, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, etc) she has already given the baby the infection, since she has been infectious for several days before she even knew she was sick. The baby’s best protection against getting the infection is for the mother to continue breastfeeding. If the baby does get sick, he will be less sick if the mother continues breastfeeding. Besides, maybe it was the baby who gave the infection to the mother, but the baby did not show signs of illness because he was breastfeeding. Also, breast infections, including breast abscess, though painful, are not reasons to stop breastfeeding. Indeed, the infection is likely to settle more quickly if the mother continues breastfeeding on the affected side.
- If the baby has diarrhea or vomiting, the mother should stop breastfeeding.
Not true! The best medicine for a baby’s gut infection is breastfeeding. Stop other foods for a short time, but continue breastfeeding. Breastmilk is the only fluid your baby requires when he has diarrhea and/or vomiting, except under exceptional circumstances. The push to use “oral rehydrating solutions” is mainly a push by the formula (and oral rehydrating solutions)manufacturers to make even more money. The baby is comforted by the breastfeeding, and the mother is comforted by the baby’s breastfeeding.
- If the mother is taking medicine she should not breastfeed.
Not true! There are very very few medicines that a mother cannot take safely while breastfeeding. A very small amount of most medicines appears in the milk, but usually in such small quantities that there is no concern. If a medicine is truly of concern, there are usually equally effective, alternative medicines which are safe. The loss of benefit of breastfeeding for both the mother and the baby must be taken into account when weighing if breastfeeding should be continued.
- Nursing mothers cannot breastfeed if they have had X-rays. Not true! Regular X-rays such as a chest X-ray or dental X-rays do not affect the milk or the baby and the mother may nurse without concern. Mammograms are harder to read when the mother is lactating, but can be done and the mother should not stop breastfeeding just to get this done. There are other ways of investigating a breast lump. Newer imaging methods such as CT scan and MRI scans are of no concern, even if contrast is used. And special X-rays using contrast media? As long as no radioactive isotope is used there is no concern and the mother should not stop even for one feed. Herein are included studies such as intravenous pyelogram, lymphangiogram, venogram, arteriogram, myelogram etc. What about studies using radioactive nucleotides (bone scans, lung scans, etc.)? The baby will get a little radioactive nucleotide. However, as we often do these very same tests on children, even small babies, and the potential loss of benefits if the mother stops breastfeeding are considerable, the mother should continue breastfeeding. The exception is the thyroid scan. This test must be avoided in breastfeeding mothers. There are many ways of evaluating the thyroid, and only very occasionally does a thyroid scan truly have to be done. Check first before taking the radioactive iodine—the test can wait until you know for sure. In many cases where the scan must be done, it can be put off for several months.
- A breastfeeding mother has to be obsessive about what she eats.Not true! A breastfeeding mother should try to eat a balanced diet, but neither needs to eat any special foods nor avoid certain foods. A breastfeeding mother does not need to drink milk in order to make milk. A breastfeeding mother does not need to avoid spicy foods, garlic, cabbage or alcohol. A breastfeeding mother should eat a normal healthful diet. Although there are situations when something the mother eats may affect the baby, this is unusual. Most commonly, “colic”, “gassiness” and crying can be improved by changing breastfeeding techniques, rather than changing the mother’s diet.
- A breastfeeding mother has to eat more in order to make enough milk. Not true! Women on even very low calorie diets usually make enough milk, at least until the mother’s calorie intake becomes critically low for a prolonged period of time. Generally, the baby will get what he needs. Some women worry that if they eat poorly for a few days this also will affect their milk. There is no need for concern. Such variations will not affect milk supply or quality. It is commonly said that women need to eat 500 extra calories a day in order to breastfeed. This is not true. Some women do eat more when they breastfeed, but others do not, and some even eat less, without any harm done to the mother or baby or the milk supply. The mother should eat a balanced diet dictated by her appetite. Rules about eating just make breastfeeding unnecessarily complicated.
- A breastfeeding mother has to drink lots of fluids. Not true! The mother should drink according to her thirst. Some mothers feel they are thirsty all the time, but many others do not drink more than usual. The mother’s body knows if she needs more fluids, and tells her by making her feel thirsty. Do not believe that you have to drink at least a certain number of glasses a day. Rules about drinking just make breastfeeding unnecessarily complicated.
- A mother who smokes is better not to breastfeed. Not true! A mother who cannot stop smoking should breastfeed. Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease the negative effects of cigarette smoke on the baby’s lungs, for example. Breastfeeding confers great health benefits on both mother and baby. It would be better if the mother not smoke, but if she cannot stop or cut down, then it is better she smoke and breastfeed than smoke and formula feed.
- A mother should not drink alcohol while breastfeeding. Not true! Reasonable alcohol intake should not be discouraged at all. As is the case with most drugs, very little alcohol comes out in the milk. The mother can take some alcohol and continue breastfeeding as she normally does. Prohibiting alcohol is another way we make life unnecessarily restrictive for nursing mothers.
- mother who bleeds from her nipples should not breastfeed. Not true! Though blood makes the baby spit up more, and the blood may even show up in his bowel movements, this is not a reason to stop breastfeeding the baby. Nipples that are painful and bleeding are not worse than nipples that are painful and not bleeding. It is the pain the mother is having that is the problem. This nipple pain can often be helped considerably. Get help. (Handout #3 Sore Nipples). Sometimes mothers have bleeding from the nipples that is obviously coming from inside the breast and is not usually associated with pain. This often occurs in the first few days after birth and settles within a few days. The mother should breastfeed! If bleeding does not stop soon, the source of the problem needs to be investigated, but the mother should keep breastfeeding.
- woman who has had breast augmentation surgery cannot breastfeed. Not true! Most do very well. There is no evidence that breastfeeding with silicone implants is harmful to the baby. Occasionally this operation is done through the areola. These women do have problems with milk supply, as does any woman who has an incision around the areolar line.
- A woman who has had breast reduction surgery cannot breastfeed. Not true! Breast reduction surgery does decrease the mother’s capacity to produce milk, but since many mothers produce more than enough milk, mothers who have had breast reduction surgery sometimes manage very well to breastfeed exclusively. In such a situation, the establishment of breastfeeding should be done with special care to the principles mentioned in the handout #1 Breastfeeding—Starting Out Right. However, if the mother seems not to produce enough, she can still breastfeed, supplementing with a lactation aid (so that artificial nipples do not interfere with breastfeeding).
- Premature babies need to learn to take bottles before they can start breastfeeding. Not true! Premature babies are less stressed by breastfeeding than by bottle feeding. A baby as small as 1200 grams and even smaller can start at the breast as soon as he is stable, though he may not latch on for several weeks. Still, he is learning and he is being held which is important for his wellbeing and his mother’s. Actually, weight or gestational age do not matter as much as the baby’s readiness to suck, as determined by his making sucking movements. There is no more reason to give bottles to premature babies than to full term babies. When supplementation is truly required there are ways to supplement without using artificial nipples.
- Babies with cleft lip and/or palate cannot breastfeed. Not true! Some do very well. Babies with a cleft lip only usually manage fine. But many babies do indeed find it impossible to latch on. There is no doubt, however, that if breastfeeding is not tried, it will not work. The baby’s ability to breastfeed does not always seem to depend on the severity of the cleft. Breastfeeding should be started, as much as possible, using the principles of proper establishment of breastfeeding. (Handout #1 Breastfeeding—Starting Out Right). If bottles are given, they will undermine the baby’s ability to breastfeed. If the baby needs to be fed, but is not latching on, a cup can and should be used in preference to a bottle. Finger feeding occasionally is successful in babies with cleft lip/palate, but not usually.
- Women with small breasts produce less milk than those with large breasts. Nonsense!
- Breastfeeding does not provide any protection against becoming pregnant. Not true! It is not a foolproof method, but no method is. In fact breastfeeding is not a bad method of child spacing, and gives reliable protection especially during the first 6 months after birth. But it is reliable only when breastfeeding is exclusive, when feedings are fairly frequent (at least 6-8 times in 24 hours), there are no long periods during which the baby does not feed, and the mother has not yet had a normal menstrual period after giving birth. After the first six months, the protection is less, but still present, and on average women breastfeeding into the second year of life will have a baby every 2 to 3 years even without any artificial method of contraception.
- Breastfeeding women cannot take the birth control pill. Not true! The question is not exposure to female hormones, to which the baby is exposed anyway through breastfeeding. The baby gets only a tiny bit more from the pill. However, some women who take the pill, even the mini-pill, find that their milk supply decreases. Œstrogen in the pill decrease the milk supply. Because so many women produce more than enough, this often does not matter, but sometimes it does and the baby becomes fussy and is not satisfied by nursing. Babies respond to rate of flow of milk, not what’s “in the breast”, so that even a very good milk supply may seem to cause the baby who is used to faster flow to be fussy. Stopping the pill often brings things back to normal. If possible, women who are breastfeeding should avoid the pill until the baby is taking other foods (usually 4-6 months of age). Even if the baby is older, the milk supply may decrease significantly. If the pill must be used, it is preferable to use the progestin only pill (without œstrogen).
- Breastfeeding babies need other types of milk after 6 months. Not true! Breastmilk gives the baby everything there is in other milks and more. Babies older than 6 months should be started on solids mainly so that they learn how to eat and so that they begin to get another source of iron, which by 7-9 months, is not supplied in sufficient quantities from breastmilk alone. Thus cow’s milk or formula will not be necessary as long as the baby is breastfeeding. However, if the mother wishes to give milk after 6 months, there is no reason that the baby cannot get cow’s milk, as long as the baby is still breastfeeding a few times a day, and is also getting a wide variety of solid foods in more than minimal amounts. Most babies older than 6 months who have never had formula will not accept it, because of the taste.
- Breastfeeding mothers’ milk can “dry up” just like that. Not true! Or if this can occur, it must be a rare occurrence. Aside from day to day and morning to evening variations, milk production does not change suddenly. There are changes which occur which may make it seem as if milk production is suddenly much less:An increase in the needs of the baby, the so called growth spurt. If this is the reason for the seemingly insufficient milk, a few days of more frequent nursing will bring things back to normal. Try compressing the breast with your hand to help the baby get milk. A change in the baby’s behaviour. At about 5-6 weeks of age, more or less, babies who would fall asleep at the breast when the flow of milk slowed down, tend to start pulling at the breast or crying when the milk flow slows. The milk has not dried up, but the baby has changed. Try compressing the breast with your hand to help the baby get more milk. The mother’s breasts do not seem full or are soft. It is normal after a few weeks for the mother no longer to have engorgement, or even fullness of the breasts. As long as the baby is drinking at the breast, do not be concerned. The baby breastfeeds less well. This is often due to the baby being given bottles or pacifiers and thus learning an inappropriate way of breastfeeding. The birth control pill may decrease your milk supply. Think about stopping the pill or changing to a progesterone only pill. Or use other methods. If the baby truly seems not to be getting enough, get help, but do not introduce a bottle which will only make things worse. If absolutely necessary, the baby can be supplemented, using a lactation aid which will not interfere with breastfeeding. However, lots can be done before giving supplements. Get help. Try compressing the breast with your hand to help the baby get milk.
- Physicians know a lot about breastfeeding. Not true! Obviously, there are exceptions. However, very few physicians trained in North America or Western Europe learned anything at all about breastfeeding in medical school. Even fewer learned about the practical aspects of helping mothers start breastfeeding and helping them maintain breastfeeding. After medical school, most of the information physicians get regarding infant feeding comes from formula company representatives or advertisements.
- Pediatricians, at least, know a lot about breastfeeding. Not true! Obviously, there are exceptions. However, in their post medical school training (residency), most pediatricians learned nothing formally about breastfeeding, and what they picked up in passing was often wrong. To many trainees in pediatrics, breastfeeding is seen as an “obstacle to the good medical care” of hospitalized babies.
- Formula company literature and free formula samples do not influence whether or how long a mother breastfeeds. Really? So why do the formula companies work so hard to make sure that new mothers are given these samples, their company’s samples? Are these samples and the literature given out to encourage breastfeeding? Is the cost of the samples and booklets taken on by formula companies so that mothers will be encouraged to breastfeed longer? The companies often argue that, if the mother does give formula, they want the mother to use their brand. In competing with each other, the formula companies also compete with breastfeeding. Did you believe that argument when the cigarette companies used it?
- Breastmilk given with formula may cause problems for the baby. Not true! Most breastfeeding mothers do not need to use formula and when problems arise that seem to require artificial milk, often the problems can be resolved without resorting to formula. However, when the baby may require formula, there is no reason that breastmilk and formula cannot be given together.
- Babies who are breastfed on demand are likely to be “colicky”. Not true! “Colicky” breastfed babies often gain weight very quickly and sometimes are feeding frequently. However, many are colicky not because they are feeding frequently, but because they do not take the high fat milk as well as they should. Typically, the baby drinks very well for the first few minutes, then nibbles or sleeps. When the baby is offered the other side, he will drink well again for a short while and then nibble or sleep. The baby will fill up with relatively low fat milk and thus feed frequently. The taking in of mostly low fat milk may also result in gas, crying and explosive watery bowel movements. The mother can urge the baby to breastfeed longer on the first side, and thus get more higher fat milk, by compressing the breast once the baby no longer actually swallows at the breast.
- Mothers who receive immunizations (tetanus, rubella, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, etc.) should stop breastfeeding for 24 hours (3 days, 2 weeks).Not true! Why shouldn’t they? There is no risk for the baby, and he may even benefit. The rare exception is the baby who has an immune deficiency. In that case the mother should not receive an immunization with a weakened live virus (e.g. oral, but not injectable polio, or measles, mumps, rubella) even if the baby is being fed artificially.
- here is no such thing as nipple confusion. Not true! A baby who is only bottle fed for the first two weeks of life, for example, will usually refuse to take the breast, even if the mother has an abundant supply. A baby who has had only the breast for 3 or 4 months is unlikely to take the bottle. Some babies prefer the right or left breast to the other. Bottle fed babies often prefer one artificial nipple to another. So there is such a thing as preferring one nipple to another. The only question is how quickly it can occur. Given the right set of circumstances, the preference can occur after one or two bottles. The baby having difficulties latching on may never have had an artificial nipple, but the introduction of an artificial nipple rarely improves the situation, and often makes it much worse. Note that many who say there is no such thing as nipple confusion also advise the mother to start a bottle early so that the baby will not refuse it.
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