A Fact-or-Fiction Q&A with SMH Lactation Specialist Sheera Thomas
Breastfeeding a baby for the first time can be daunting. No matter how much research you do online or how many friends you talk to who’ve “been there,” you’re likely to come across dozens of breastfeeding myths that have been passed off as sacred mom truths.
So, to help all breastfeeding moms and nursing moms-to-be dispel fact from fiction, we asked SMH Certified Lactation Specialist Sheera Thomas, our Pregnancy & Parenting Tips blogger, to break down a few of the most common breastfeeding “rules” that new moms encounter.
FACT OR FICTION
1. If you have small breasts, you won't produce enough milk to feed your baby.
FICTION: Breast size does not determine the amount of milk produced.
2. Breastfeeding is easy and will come naturally to you. If it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with you.
FICTION: While breastfeeding is natural, it is a learned skill for both mother and baby. Taking a breastfeeding class before your baby is born is extremely helpful for new mothers, as is visiting with a lactation specialist after the birth. If a new mom continues to have problems, there are several breastfeeding support groups in the area that can help, including SMH’s free Breastfeeding Support Group and Latch Clinic (open to the public; meets weekly at 2 p.m. Tuesdays in Waldemere Plaza).
3. Pain is normal when you’re breastfeeding.
IT DEPENDS: This is tricky. Pain is subjective, and nipple soreness is common for 95 percent of moms when they start breastfeeding, but with proper latching and positioning, the discomfort should resolve within a week or two. However, breastfeeding should never hurt. If breastfeeding is painful throughout the feed, it’s most likely because the baby needs a better latch. SMH nurses work closely with moms after delivery to help them learn proper latching techniques and sore-nipple care.
4. You should never wake a sleeping baby to breastfeed.
IT DEPENDS: This one is also tricky. Newborn babies need to have eight or more feedings in each 24-hour period. If baby is a healthy, full-term baby, he / she should wake and feed as needed to meet this goal. However, if baby is born earlier than about 37 weeks, he / she should not go more than three hours between feedings.
5. Formula-fed babies are better sleepers; breastfed babies won’t sleep through the night until they start solids.
FICTION: Studies show that the average breastfed baby sleeps more than a formula-fed baby. All infants wake at night to feed—it’s part of being a newborn. Eventually, they will sleep through the night. (And eventually, those once-tired parents will be the ones waking up the kid for school! So, hang in there sleepy mamas! Payback is coming!)
6. If you have a blocked duct or breast infection, stop nursing, or take a break from it.
FICTION: Do not take a breastfeeding break. The treatment for clogged ducts or mastitis (breast infection) is frequent feedings to empty the breast.
7. Women have to avoid spicy foods while nursing.
FICTION: Spicy foods do NOT make spicy breast milk. The foods a nursing mom eats will flavor her breastmilk, making it more palatable for baby, but it will not make it spicy. (Did you know: Amniotic fluid also gets flavored like the foods mommy eats!)
8. If your baby has a gas problem, it’s because of something in your diet.
FICTION: Not all infant gas problems are related to mom’s diet. Some babies are just gassier than others. Gas is a normal byproduct of digestion, and babies aren’t up and moving around, so it can be difficult for them to move or pass the gas. If a nursing mom suspects that she is eating something that’s contributing to baby’s gas or discomfort, she should keep a food log to try to determine the culprit, and then avoid that particular food. If that doesn’t resolve the gas problem, or there are further concerns, she should follow up with baby’s pediatrician.
9. You should not nurse when you’re sick or on medication.
FICTION: Breastfeeding while you’re sick gives the baby antibodies to the illness mom is fighting. Before using any medication, even over-the-counter medicines, a breastfeeding mom should first discuss it with a doctor or pharmacist. Most medications are safe with breastfeeding, but that should be determined before starting the medication.
10. You have to “pump and dump” your breastmilk if you have any alcohol while breastfeeding.
FACT: Alcohol does pass through breastmilk to baby, so habitual use is best avoided while nursing. An occasional alcoholic beverage on date night should be fine, but it’s best to drink just after a feeding, and then wait two hours after drinking alcohol before breastfeeding again, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. If mom’s breasts are uncomfortably full before that two-hour timeframe has passed, then mom should pump and dump.
11. Drinking an occasional dark/wheat beer will boost a breastfeeding mom’s milk production.
FICTION: This is an old wives’ tale.
12. There are foods and drinks that increase milk supply.
FACT: Eating a well-balanced diet and staying hydrated is vital while breastfeeding. But nursing moms should not over hydrate, as this can actually decrease supply. They should drink to satiate thirst, and those living in warm climates like Florida should drink just a bit more.
Many cultures recommend foods to increase milk supply; some help, but others do not. Barley, oats, quinoa, almonds, green leafy vegetables and water are effective lactogens, meaning they boost breastmilk supply. But nursing moms should avoid peppermint, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, which can decrease the milk supply.
13. If you give your baby bottles (pumped milk or supplemental formula), he/she will have “nipple confusion” and will refuse the breast.
IT DEPENDS: For the first month after baby’s birth, avoid bottle nipples, unless medically necessary, because it can create nipple confusion and breastfeeding challenges. However, parents are encouraged to offer baby bottles of expressed breast milk to the once baby is about 4 to 6 weeks old, after good breastfeeding technique and habits are established—especially if mom is returning to work or school.
14. If you’re going back to work or school, you should start pumping and storing milk right away after birth.
FICTION: When mom has to return to work will dictate her pumping plan, but in general, it is best to establish breastfeeding before pumping. Breastfeeding is all supply and demand, and pumping too much or too soon could create an oversupply, which could put mom at risk for clogged ducts, mastitis and discomfort. I usually encourage moms to pump once a day, every day and store that milk in the back of the freezer (labeled and dated), starting about 2 to 4 weeks before returning to work. Once back to work, breastfeeding moms should pump when baby would normally be feeding; this replenishes the freezer stash.
And last, but certainly not least:
15. Breastfeeding prevents you from getting pregnant.
IT DEPENDS: If baby is less than 6 months old, mom is still amenorrheic (menstrual cycle has not returned), and baby is exclusively breastfeeding, mom’s risk of getting pregnant is 2 percent. This is known as the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) of birth control. Keep in mind that should any of these three parameters change, other family planning options should be discussed with a provider.
SMH Mother-Baby Discharge Facilitator and Lactation Consultant Sheera Thomas, RN, has been an OB nurse for more than 20 years. She is an internationally board-certified lactation consultant, a certified childbirth educator, and—perhaps her most demanding role—a mother of four. She also leads the free Breastfeeding Latch Clinic, where she offers hands-on help to mothers who are breastfeeding.