As anyone with a baby will have found, there is a myriad of opinions and conflicting information out there on just about everything to do with parenting. Breastfeeding is no exception! Myths are aplenty and play a big role in serving up huge doses of confusion, frustration and sadly a lot of unnecessary upset.
Here is Vanessa Christie’s lowdown on some of the biggest myths that should be thrown out once and for all:
Small breasts don’t make as much milk as larger breasts
FALSE. The size of breasts is irrelevant. It is the ductal tissue (where milk is made) inside the breast that counts. One Mum with small breasts, may have a whole heap more ductal tissue than another lady with larger breasts. Mums who have less ductal tissue may find that their baby feeds more often, not because she can’t make enough milk overall but because there is less space to store it at any one time.
Breastfeeding is always agony until you get used to it
FALSE. Some mild discomfort and tenderness in the first week is to be expected. However, whilst significant pain and trauma (such as cracking) on the nipple is not uncommon, this doesn’t make it normal. This indicates that there is something wrong that needs to be fixed. Most commonly pain is related to how your baby is positioned at the breast. If all the best advice on positioning still leaves you tensing and gritting your teeth, there are many additional reasons for pain which should be recognised and addressed with informed support. Never hesitate to keep asking for help if things hurt!
Breastfeeding will ruin your breasts forever
FALSE. Even if you never breastfed a day in your life, unfortunately the very act of being pregnant in the first place has more of an effect on the sag-factor, due to all the hormones and the changes that happen in your breasts during pregnancy. Age, genes and lifestyle (such as smoking and exercise) also have a much more significant effect on our breasts than simply breastfeeding alone.
Breastfeeding is a reliable form of contraception
TRUE AND FALSE! Under certain conditions breastfeeding can be up to 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. These criteria are: the baby is less than 6 months, the mother’s periods have not yet returned, the baby is breastfed exclusively (they are not receiving any other form of food or drink other than breastmilk) and that the baby is being fed on cue day and night (ie they have not been sleep trained or put into any strict schedule). Outside of these conditions then yes, anything could happen!
It’s impossible to breastfeed once you go back to work
FALSE. Breasts and babies will adjust (with some gentle guidance) to whatever is going on around them. If you wanted to only breastfeed at night or before leaving in the morning, your milk supply will adapt accordingly. Many workplaces are also moving with the times and providing appropriate spaces for expressing and storing milk at work. In the UK, you are absolutely within your rights, according to the law, to ask your employer to accommodate for this.
Breastfeeding only has benefits in the first 6 months
FALSE. Ironically, despite the health system encouraging mothers to start breastfeeding their newborns, the pressure to then stop is pretty huge in Western culture. Consider that the UK has the lowest rate of ongoing breastfeeding in the world! Any breastfeeding at all, whether it is for a few days or a few years, is absolutely worth its weight in gold. The way it works is such that the positive effects of breastfeeding, for both the mother and baby, are cumulative. That is, the more breastmilk a baby receives, the longer-lasting the impact. Around 6 months it is important to start to introduce foods as a complement to milk feeds. However, any breastfeeding will continue to play a fascinating role in ongoing nutrition, health and development, for whatever length of time it carries on. Breastmilk is a constantly changing living substance, that adapts according to the time of day, the weather, how old the baby is, what bugs are in the environment and so forth. So, if you are enjoying breastfeeding and hope to keep going for as long as it feels right for you and your baby, then don’t let anyone get in your way!
Vanessa Christie (MN, MSc, IBCLC, RHV, RNC, CIMI) is one of the UK’s most well-regarded Lactation and Early Parenting experts.
As a Lactation Consultant, Birth & Peri-Natal Trauma Recovery Practitioner, Health Visitor and Children’s Nurse, she has worked with an estimated 10,000 new families over the past 20 years. She has contributed to pregnancy, birth and early parenting books, writes widely for parenting websites and magazines, is an Expert Speaker at events (currently The Baby Show) and has trained many health professionals in the UK and abroad.
She runs The Parent & Baby Clinic (near Tunbridge Wells, Kent) and is also available for home visits (according to distance & availability), video and phone consultations. Please see www.vanessachristie.com for more information.