Busting the Myths of Breastfeeding
One of the things a mother prepares herself for in the last few months of her pregnancy is breastfeeding, and yes it does require a certain amount of physical and psychological preparation.With every person providing different pieces of advice, it becomes very difficult to differentiate between logical advice and traditional myth.
Below are a few myths and misconceptions surrounding breastfeeding and the truths behind them to help mothers fully understand the process and its health benefits- for her as well as her child.
1. It is normal for breastfeeding to hurt: It is not true. There will be some tenderness during the first few days which is very common, and this should be a temporary situation that will last for a few days and it will never be so bad that the mother anticipates for breastfeeding. Pain in the breasts would be abnormal if it isn’t mild and it is almost due to baby breastfeeding poorly. Nipple pain, which isn’t getting better and goes beyond 6 days shouldn’t be ignored. The onset of pain when things have been going well for a while may be due to yeast infection of nipples. Limiting feeding time doesn’t prevent soreness. Taking the baby off the breast for nipples to heal should be the last resort.
2. A mother should wash her nipples each time before feeding the baby:
Not true at all! Breastmilk protects the baby against infection. Washing nipples before each feeding makes breastfeeding unnecessarily complicated and washes away protective oils from nipple.
3. Using a breast pump is a good way to know how much milk the mother has: How much milk can be pumped depends on many factors, including the mother’s stress level. A baby who breastfeeds well can get more milk than its mother can pump.
4. New-borns need schedules: This isn’t true. Doctors suggest that the babies should be breastfed every 2-3 hours during the first weeks of life. But once the baby is back to its birth weight, a mother can star following her cues. A mother should feed her baby when it shows signs of hunger, smacking or licking lips, sucking on hands. Babies usually start to have a specific eating pattern in a few weeks.
5. If the mother has an infection, she should stop breastfeeding: By the time the mother realises she has an illness, she has already given the baby the infection, since she has been infectious for several days. For the baby's protection, the mother should continue breastfeeding.
6. Small breasts won’t make enough milk: The capacity for a woman’s breasts to make milk is determined by the breast tissue and not by the size. Breast size is determined by fat, which has no impact on milk production.
7. If the mother is taking medication, she should not breastfeed:
There are medicines that a mother cannot take while breastfeeding because small amounts of these medicines can be found in breastmilk, but usually in small quantities. Doctors prescribe alternative medicines that are safe for breastfeeding mothers.
8. Breastfeeding should come naturally: Though biologically natural, it is a learned activity. Like any other skill, it takes time, practise and patience to master. It can be frustrating as well. But the practice becomes easier with time and professional help.
9. A breastfeeding mother must eat more to produce more milk: A mother with a low-calorie diet will also be able to produce milk for her baby. Doctors recommend mothers to follow a balanced diet.
10. Premature babies need to learn to take bottle feeds before they can start breastfeeding: Preemies are less stressed by breastfeeding than by bottle feed. A baby as small as 1200 grams and even smaller can start at the breast as soon as it is stable, though the baby may not latch for several weeks. Still, it is learning and is very important for his well-being.
Breast milk has a natural and high balance of carbohydrate, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals that is easier to digest and absorb by the baby. Colostrum, breast milk produced after delivery is also the perfect first food for your baby as it is like receiving first vaccination because colostrum is filled with antibodies and immunoglobulin A (IgA). Colostrum is also rich in protective white cells called leukocytes which defend against microbes. Thus, breast milk boosts immunity. Breast milk also lowers the chances of diabetes in children by as much as 35%, reduces risk of childhood cancers and heart disease later in life.
Breastfeeding also contributes to the health and well-being of mother. It reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer by as much as 25%. Breastfeeding women recovers faster and easier from childbirth as hormone such as oxytocin help the uterus to return to normalcy quicker.
The myths relating to breastfeeding have increased in recent times, especially in urban areas, where working women face several challenges owing to their daily routine. Breastfeeding is also a highly debated topic on social media which has an influence on people. So, I hope this article gives you a little peace of mind. If you’re a mother, then don’t beat yourself up. You’re doing a good job. No one is perfect and I promise you that you’ll get there.
Dr Aruna Savur is a Neonatologist, Paediatrician and Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) with Motherhood Hospitals.