Breastfeeding Week 2022: A lactation expert debunks 10 breastfeeding myths
By NCVC Staff | Published on Sep 24, 2023
Breastfeeding is the optimal source of nutrition for babies. Breast milk, also commonly referred to as ‘Liquid Gold’ is the lifesaving and life sustaining elixir for all babies. But there are always clashes between the old school of thought about breastfeeding and the modern notions that are present with technological advancement. Let us bust some of the predominant breastfeeding myths to create awareness among mothers and grandmothers alike.
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Myth 1: Breastfeeding is always painful.
Breastfeeding should never be painful. The mother should experience gentle tugging sensation at the breast tissue. Any sort of pain during breastfeeding usually is related to incorrect latching technique wherein the baby’s gums are clamping on the mother’s nipples. For breastfeeding to be completely comfortable, the mother needs to ensure that the baby’s gums are on the areola (darker region around the nipple) and not just the nipple. The baby should be able to take in as much of the areola in the mouth to attain a good latch. A lactation consultant can help a mother identify a good position of breastfeeding and guide on how to latch the baby correctly so painful nipples can be avoided.
Myth 2: Breasts need rest for 2-3 hours between two feeds in order to be sufficiently full
Breast milk production does not work on schedule. For the first few days after delivery, the breast milk production relies on hormones (endocrine control) and then shifts to a supply and demand cycle (autocrine control). This essentially means that most mothers who breastfeed their babies as soon as possible after birth, irrespective of the mode of delivery (normal or C-section), will produce colostrum from birth up til 72 hours post delivery and then move to producing transitional milk after completion of 72 hours. This is indicated by the onset of copious milk production, heavy and full breasts, leaking of milk etc. This is then followed by the production of mature, white milk roughly by 5-7 days. Mature milk is also the milk which mothers will produce till they eventually stop breastfeeding.
Mothers need to know that as long as the baby feeds with an optimal latch, the breasts are never empty. The sucking reflex of the baby helps in milk production. So if the baby has fed just 20 minutes ago and demands to be fed again there’s no reason for the mother to panic that there will be no milk for the baby.
Myth 3: Left breast contains water and right breast contains food. So every mom should breastfeed more on the right breast and just a bit on the left at each feed.
Breast milk production is definitely a miraculous feat and is a mother’s superpower. However, the above statement is untrue. This stems from the old days where mothers were given such suggestions. Through the advancements in science, we know that the milk produced in both the breasts is the same. What new moms in fact, need to know, is that when the onset of copious milk production begins, the milk which comes at the beginning of each feed is slightly watery (fore milk) and is assumed to take care of the baby’s thirst.
The milk which comes when the breast is slightly empty is more fatty (Hind milk) and takes care of the baby’s hunger and helps with weight gain. This means that mothers should not be frequently switching between breasts in a single feed. The rule now is that mothers should let the babies drain one breast effectively before offering the other breast. Some babies may be full by drinking from just one breast. Some babies may drink from both breasts in a single feeding session. So it would be convenient to say here that the baby can decide how much milk to take in at a single session.
Myth 4: Babies should be fed only for a period of 20 minutes and not more, to avoid overfeeding.
When healthy, full-term babies breastfeed, they are in complete control. They will drink as much as they need to. Many babies in the early days can breastfeed for a longer duration in a particular session whereas at the ages of 2-3 months drink for a brief period of 2-9 minutes per session.
There is no fixed rule regarding the duration of a breastfeed. Some babies may not breastfeed actively and may actually sleep off at the breast which may be assumed as many mothers as prolonged duration of breastfeeding. It’s a good idea in the early days of establishing breastfeeding to look at audible signs of swallowing which tells the mother that the baby is drinking actively at the breast. The duration of a feed can vary at each feed depending on how hungry the baby actually is. Apart from the nutrition component of breastfeeding, parents and caretakers need to understand that babies get everything at the breast: warmth, food and comfort!! So, some part of breastfeeding is also known as comfort feeding or pacifying feeding and is absolutely normal!
Myth 5: Most mothers will not be able to produce sufficient milk for their babies, especially in case of twins or higher multiples.
Breast milk production is a supply and demand cycle. Factors such as frequent feeding with a correct latch on, efficient emptying of the breast help in establishing and maintaining a good milk supply. The mothers of twins or triplets, however, need immense support from the other family members apart from good nutrition. Support from family members, health providers and mother support groups can provide determination and motivation for the mothers to breastfeed easily and exclusively for the first 6 months and to continue with breastfeeding for a year and more.
Myth 6: Its not possible to breastfeed after a C-section as the mothers remain lying on their back and are unable to comfortably move.
Being on the back can pose problems for the mother to breastfeed independently. However, if she’s supported by skilled nursing staff and lactation consultants, it is easy to breastfeed. Babies can be placed next to the mother on a pillow so they are at the level of the breasts. Babies can also be breastfed by being placed over or across the mother’s shoulder. If the mother is unable to move comfortably due to some other complications, then the lactation consultant can creatively position the baby with support of pillows for breastfeeding. When the mother sits up after delivery and is too weak to hold the baby in her arms to breastfeed, she can be guided to breastfeed in the football position wherein the baby is supported using pillows.
Myth 7: Mother’s diet plays a very important role in breastfeeding or the baby may have an upset tummy.
This is one of the most predominant misconception that there is and is also one of the reasons due to which a breastfeeding mother is made to consume a very restricted diet. Most new mothers are told by the elders of the family that if there is consumption of gassy foods by the mother, it could lead to gas and colic conditions in the babies. A mother is also routinely advised to not breastfeed immediately after a bath as the temperature of the milk would have changed. New generation parents need to be rest assured that these are absolute myths and that the new mother should have a varied, balanced diet with everything in moderation, unless she has a other complications like high blood pressure or pregnancy related diabetes which warrant a diet restriction. New studies, in fact, show that if the breastfeeding mother has a varied diet then the acceptance of the same foods by the baby after 6 months of is easier and better.
Myth 8: Breastfeeding and giving your expressed breast milk in a bottle is the same thing
Breastfeeding and bottle feeding is not the same and can never be. Yes, when the mother is unavailable to breastfeed or when the baby is unable to directly latch and breastfeed for whatever reasons, giving expressed mother’s milk is the next best option. However, when the baby breastfeeds naturally the baby’s saliva coming in contact with the nipple is what signals the brain to produce the composition of milk that the baby’s body needs. So, if a baby who is suffering from diarrhoea, breastfeeds, the milk that his/her mother produces will be rich in electrolytes to make up for the losses through diarrhoea. Expressing breast milk using a breast pump may be of some help to some mothers but not a blanket rule for all mothers to increase their milk supply.
Many mothers are suggested to stop breastfeeding and give expressed milk in a bottle so as to let the father or the partner be involved in the feeding process. The father or the partner can be involved in ways of giving skin-to-skin contact and to help and support the mother when she’s breastfeeding by positioning the baby and can also help with burping or swaddling or baby’s massage. The act of bottle feeding expressed milk or formula can interfere with the process of breastfeeding as the baby can get used to the longer and larger nipples of the feeding bottles and the fast flow of milk without the effort of sucking. Sucking on a bottle and sucking on the mother’s breasts is profoundly different and can potentially can cause nipple confusion leading to earlier cessation of breastfeeding.
Myth 9: Any breastfeeding mother can easily assess her milk production by using a breast pump.
This is an upcoming trend among the technologically literate to gauge the milk production. New parents and even some health care providers need to understand that babies and breast pumps are not the same. In fact, normal, healthy, full-term babies are the best breast pumps! When a baby is breastfeeding, the mother’s body relaxes, she produces oxytocin which helps her to have an unequivocal bond with her little bundle of joy. A breast pump can never match that. Mothers who are exclusively or predominantly breastfeeding can never assess their supply in a single pumping session as they may be unable to extract a significant quantity. Breast pumps can only be used to assess the mother’s milk supply when the mother is an exclusively pumping mother and is following a schedule of pumping sessions and starts to worry about the supply when she sees lesser and lesser quantities of milk with each consequent pumping session.
Myth 10: Breasts and nipples need to be cleaned before and after each feed
The darker region around the nipples, also known as the areola, produces a fluid which smells similar to the amniotic fluid. This fluid contains ‘good bacteria’ and also helps to moisturize the areola and the nipples. Mother are not required to clean the breasts or the nipples before and after feeding as continuous cleaning will actually dry out the nipple and areolar tissue.