When entering motherhood, women quickly learn that everyone has a very strong opinion. Mothers seem to think they know all that there is to know when it comes to childcare. They certainly don't shy away from letting other women now. While most people have helpful intentions, as soon as a precious bundle of joy is brought home, be ready to be met with Meghan Markle levels of scrutiny over every decision that is made.
Among the hottest topics of discussion in regards to parenting techniques is breastfeeding. You can’t join a mom group, talk to your mom friends, or engage in social media without reading or hearing someone’s opinion. Whether they are on the “breast is best” team or have decided to formula feed their baby, you will ultimately hear all of their reasons and views. Sometimes it will feel like it's best to reserve your questions for the pediatrician, not to get any moms riled up.
Even though sharing ideas and beliefs is a huge bonding experience, listen wisely. As with any topic, ideas can become convoluted and fact can become almost impossible to distinguish from fiction.
Today we are going to dive into 10 common breastfeeding myths and 10 surprising facts!
20 Myth: Formula Fed Babies Sleep Better
All moms dream of the day that their new baby will sleep through the night. Can you imagine eight full hours of sleep? It is no mystery that it takes a few months for newborns to self-regulate and sleep without waking, but this process has little to do with what they eat.
It is a common misconception that formula fed babies sleep better.
Studies have shown that they may sleep longer, but the quality of sleep mirrors that of a breastfed baby. This is due to the fact that formula doesn’t digest quite as quickly as breast milk and, as a result, stays in their system longer. This is what allows them to sleep for longer stretches at a time. It simply takes longer for the formula to go through them.
Even though formula allows these babies to sleep for longer periods, it ferments in their stomachs. This can cause gas pain, tummy bloat, and extra sticky bowel movements. But don’t worry; whether you use formula or breast milk, everything will even out in a few months. By four weeks old, almost all babies will graduate to the next step and will be sleeping peacefully for longer amounts of time.
19 Myth: Using A Bottle Causes Nipple Confusion
You may be wondering, what the heck is nipple confusion and does my baby have it? Nipple confusion can occur when a baby is introduced to a bottle or pacifier to soon, and then has a difficult time latching correctly. The mechanics of sucking on bottle nipples and pacifiers differ greatly from nursing and can lead to bad feeding habits, and sore nipples for mom. Yikes!
Some fear that their baby will refuse to latch all together once they have been introduced to a bottle, but this is nothing to worry about. There are steps you can take to eliminate this risk.
The La Leche League suggests that you avoid all artificial nipples for the first three to six weeks if possible. This allows the baby to develop correct sucking patterns. Secondly, when you introduce a bottle make sure that you use low flow nipples. Milk naturally comes out slowly, and if you give them a fast flowing nipple, they can become used to this new speed. As a result, when switching back to breastfeeding, they will become extremely frustrated because it is flowing too slowly.
If you make an effort to keep breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, and pacifier use consistent, your baby will be a pro at switching between all three! A benefit to your baby being able to take both a bottle and breast is that your partner can help with those 2:00 am feedings!
18 Myth: It Will Change The Appearance Of Your Breasts
Through all nine months of pregnancy and beyond, your body goes through some immense physical changes. It will transform in a way that you never thought possible. I mean, you safely grew and delivered a healthy human into this world. Talk about an amazing superpower! Sometimes, we forget the amazing feat that we endured and focus on certain aspects of our bodies. One worry that most moms have is that breastfeeding will forever alter the appearance of their breasts.
The root of this worry largely comes from movies and television.
We grow up with the stigma that if we breastfeed our breasts will sag and become unsightly, but this is far from the truth.
The most changes to your breasts happen during pregnancy. They usually double in weight throughout the duration of pregnancy. At this time, your areolas can also enlarge and grow darker.
Pamela Berens, M.D. a board-certified lactation consultant from the University of Texas states: "Any increase puts extra stress on the ligaments that support the breasts, and more stress equals extra sagging. Your age, BMI and pre-pregnancy bra size all affect how likely your boobs are to droop.”
Many people don’t realize that the majority of the changes happen before you deliver, and it has nothing to do with actual breastfeeding! There is nothing you can do to prevent these changes so embrace them and realize that feeding your baby isn’t going to be doing any further damage!
17 Myth: Breastfeeding Prevents Pregnancy
In our youth, we have all heard the same rumors on preventing pregnancy. Old wives tales such as: “you can’t get pregnant in water” or “the withdrawal method means you won’t get pregnant” have been around since the dawn of time and are actually met with more belief than you may have realized. While these “theories” should have stopped spreading after a high school health class, they have persisted and some new methods have been added to the list.
It is a common misconception that you cannot get pregnant while you are actively breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding delays the start of your period which is why it is commonly viewed as a full proof form of birth control. It is known as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) and is 98% effective if all conditions are met. For it to effectively prevent pregnancy, you must meet three conditions. According to Baby Centre,
“ It will only work for you if:
-You are exclusively breastfeeding your baby whenever he wants, both night and day. This is called responsive feeding.
-Your baby is younger than six months old.
-Your periods haven't started again.”
LAM works because when your baby nurses, the sucking motion prevents you from ovulating. Therefore, if you go long gaps in between feedings, they are eating solid foods, or if they are using bottles, your body could start ovulating sooner than you expected. If this happens, pregnancy can occur.
If you are not meeting all three conditions, it is best to also use a backup method of birth control.
16 Myth: Pain Is Normal
When beginning your breastfeeding journey, many people will offer you advice and tips. Some tips from your mom or sister can be welcoming and offers a great bonding experience. Other tips can come from co-workers, neighbors, or the friendly stranger while you are both in line at the grocery store. These tips are definitely not welcome, but something that all new moms have to endure.
If you are engaging in a conversation about breastfeeding and bring up that fact that it is a little uncomfortable, don’t be surprised to be met with the response of: “Oh I know! When I was breastfeeding it was extremely painful, but it’s normal! Do what you got to do.” This is usually said with a smile and a plucky attitude, and will leave you wondering if your pain is indeed normal.
In the earliest stages of breastfeeding, slight discomfort is considered typical. Practice definitely makes perfect when it comes to teaching your baby how to latch correctly. During this learning process, your nipples can become sore and you can feel slight twinges of pain. This is something you should expect during the first few weeks to months.
However, if the pain lasts longer than a few seconds, persists after feedings, is a ten on the pain scale, and gets worse, it is time to consult a professional. This type of pain is not normal and you definitely don’t need to suffer through it.
Intense pain could point to engorgement, milk stasis, plugged ducts, or yeast growth so it is important to be seen by a doctor as soon as possible. Remember, this is supposed to be a wonderful bonding time, and you don’t want to grit your teeth through the whole experience!
15 Myth: Drinking Beer Can Help With Milk Letdown
Ahh beer, the drink of gods and football fans alike! I can safely bet that at some time during your pregnancy, you craved a nice, ice-cold beer. This, of course, is a huge no-no during those crucial nine months, but what about after?
Some people swear that drinking beer helped with milk letdown, and aided them in producing more milk.
But is there any truth to these statements?
Should you run to the nearest restaurant with your baby in tow and slam an IPA all in the name of health? The answer is a simply, no.
Some women believe this because there is a polysaccharide in the barley used to make beer. This seems to stimulate the bodies’ natural production of prolactin, which helps moms make more milk. But the story doesn’t end here. Even though the barley has a health benefit, the real culprit in beer is the alcohol. Alcohol inhibits milk production.
The American Academy of Pregnancy (AAP) recommends:
“Nursing moms should avoid alcohol with the possible exception of the occasional small drink. The AAP also suggests waiting two hours to breastfeed after having a drink. (The alcohol will clear from your breast milk just as it clears from your bloodstream.)”
If you really want to help with milk letdown put down the beer and focus on eating a balanced diet, and breastfeed regularly.
14 Myth: Formula Is The Same As Breastmilk
The eternal debate of whether formula is better than breast milk, and vice versa, has plagued message boards, and conversations between new mothers. As with any debate, views are flung back and forth, and personal beliefs are intermingled with proven facts. As a new mom, these conversations can be confusing and can leave you feeling lost on what choices to make for your child. Luckily, the choices you make in regards to feeding your baby are quite simple and the outcome is the same, they will be healthy and nourished.
Now we are not going to pick a side, everyone needs to do what works best for his or her family and no judgments shall be passed here! But we do want to clear up this misconception. A lot of people assert that formula is made up of the same components as breast milk. This is not an accurate fact. Formula has a distinctly different nutrient profile than breast milk.
Formula is a nutritious replacement that contains vitamins, sugars, fats, and proteins that are normally found in breast milk. While they are similar in this way, formula lacks the antibodies and complexity of breast milk. The antibodies in breast milk are unique and cannot be manufactured in a lab. They are extremely helpful in preventing sickness and disease. Breast milk has an extremely complex structure that changes, as your baby's needs change.
While it is quite simple to see that formula and breast milk are not the same, you can rest assured that whichever choice you make, you are making the right one!
13 Myth: It Will Affect Your Lifestyle
Long gone are the late nights spent with friends, or going on spontaneous adventures. You now have a little person depending on you for their basic survival. While motherhood vastly changes your priorities, it is important to understand that being a “good” mom doesn’t mean that you need to give up essential parts of your life.
A lot of women feel that if they commit to exclusive breastfeeding, they will be too tied down. You may feel that you need to leave your career in order to stay home and breast-feed on demand. Or that you will need to stop going to exercise classes or brunch with friends, because taking your baby out and breast-feeding in public is simply too much hassle. While these are valid concerns, they are not true!
You can do anything you set your mind to.
If you are worried about returning to work, arrange with your boss ahead of time and explain your concerns.
Most modern companies will allow you time during the day to pump, and reserve space in the fridge for you to keep it throughout the day. This will allow you to build up a supply for times when you have to be away from your baby. Also, don’t worry about feeding your baby in public. First and foremost, people will not care if you are breastfeeding in a restaurant, but, if you feel uncomfortable, you can bring a pumped bottle, or schedule your time out of the house in between feedings.
Resuming your normal life may seem like a daunting task at first, but with a little scheduling you will be well on your way to Soul Cycle.
12 Myth: Doesn't Allow Bonding Between Father And Baby
So much focus is put on mothers bonding with their babies. You make sure that you are engaging in frequent skin-to-skin time and responding immediately to ever coo and gurgle, but what about dads? It is a common fear that if you are breastfeeding, your husband or partner will not form the same intense bond that you now share with the little bundle. Even though you will play different roles during these early days, there are plenty of ways to ensure that intense bonding is taking place for everyone involved, and breast-feeding will not hinder this process.
As mentioned before, it is best to hold off on bottle feeding (if possible) for the first three to six weeks. During this time, you are solely responsible for feeding your baby and it would be near impossible to share this task with another person. If you worry that your spouse will miss out during these few weeks, include them when you are nursing. Even though they cannot nurse, they can sit with you, make eye contact with the baby, and talk throughout the process. This will leave them feeling connected until they can feed the baby on their own.
If this doesn’t work for your family, you can create a routine that just your spouse and newborn do together. It can be as simple as them taking over diaper changes, or bath time. Regardless of the path you take, your baby will feel extremely loved, and they are lucky to have parents that put effort into the bonding process.
11 Myth: If You Get Sick, You Should Stop
It is an instinctual act to protect your baby from illness; you would do anything to ensure your baby's safety. If they get sick, you try every natural remedy and if that doesn’t work you rush them to the pediatrician. But what happens when you get the sniffles?
Many people think that, if they contract a cold or flu virus, they need to immediately stop breastfeeding.
You would think that if you are sick, your breast milk is tainted with the same illness and it could be passed on to your baby. Luckily for everyone, this is not true.
When you start to feel symptoms of a virus, you have actually been contagious for the past few days, and your baby has already been exposed to the germs, due to their close proximity to you. At this point, you shouldn’t worry. Breastfeeding while you are sick actually passes on protective antibodies that will help them fight the infection. This could reduce their symptoms, or more commonly, fend off the infection all together. So keep going with your routine and your baby will come out on top!
Yes, breastfeeding while sick is actually healthy for your baby. It is called liquid gold for a reason!
10 True: Fights Postpartum Depression
The National Institute of Mental Health defines Postpartum Depression (PPD) as:
“A mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth. Mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that may make it difficult for them to complete daily care activities for themselves or for others.”
For a long time, women have been reluctant to talk about their PPD and have viewed it as something that needs to be kept secret. In fact, talking about your experiences with others really builds the supportive network you need, and PPD is actually more common than you may think. 15 percent of new moms are struggling with PPD right now! The NIMH also states that:
“Postpartum depression does not have a single cause, but likely results from a combination of physical and emotional factors. Postpartum depression does not occur because of something a mother does or does not do.”
The quickly dropping levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body can cause postpartum depression. After childbirth, these hormone levels rapidly decrease and create a chemical reaction in your brain that can trigger mood swings. The good news is that, if you spot the signs, you can easily get help from your doctor.
The best news is that breast-feeding greatly reduces your risk of PPD. Breastfeeding relaxes mothers, reduces stress, and provides an important bonding experience. These factors together can help with the symptoms of Postpartum Depression.
9 True: Signature Scent
When you hear the term, “signature scent” images of Chanel No.5 or J’adore Dior may flood your senses. Even though these perfumes smell amazing, there is one scent that your baby prefers over all other things, and that scent is you!
Babies are born with the reflexes to suck and root.
This is essential for self-preservation and allows them to immediately breastfeed. But you may wonder, how do they know where the milk comes from? Why aren’t they trying to root when other family members hold them? The reason for this phenomenon is due to the fact that you and your breasts secrete pheromones that are only detectable by your infant. Thanks to pheromones, mothers are also able to distinguish their infant from others, based on smell alone.
Pheromones play a huge role in the mother-infant bonding relationship, which starts way before birth. While in the womb, the fetus uses pheromones to communicate with the mother. During this time, the olfactory is sending messages to the growing fetus so that, at the time of birth, your infant knows your complete pheromone chemistry.
Pheromones associated with breastfeeding are essential for a newborn's survival and all babies are born equipped with the skill to find their mother's milk.
8 True: Boosts Baby's Immune System
It is no secret that breast milk is composed of amazing properties that help your child grow. One of the biggest benefits of breast milk is the fact that it greatly boosts your baby's immune system.
An immune system is a network of cells and proteins that protect your body from infections. In a developed immune system, when a virus or bacteria enters your body, your white blood cells spring into action and create antibodies, which fight the intruder. Your antibodies also remember this “attack” and store the information so that you can easily fight it off in the future. Babies however are not born with these capabilities, and, therefore, have an undeveloped immune system from birth.
Throughout their life, they will naturally build immunities through the process of exposure. When they are exposed to different germs that cause disease, they will slowly build their own antibodies.
In the meantime, breastfeeding is an amazing way to boost their immunities. We know that breast milk contains sugars, fats, and proteins essential for growth but it also contains antibodies and probiotics. When a mother nurses, she is also transferring her antibodies to her infant. It is proven that breast fed babies have fewer infections, and recover from illness quicker than formula fed babies.
7 True: Reduces Risk Of Disease
We already know that breast milk can boost your baby’s immune system, but did you know that breastfeeding can greatly reduce the risk of disease for both you and your infant?
Exclusive breastfeeding can protect your baby from middle ear infections, respiratory tract infections, gut infections, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, and childhood leukemia.
In addition to protecting babies, breastfeeding lowers your risk of developing heart disease. A new study published by the Journal of the American Heart Association found that breastfeeding helps mothers lower their risk of heart attack and stroke up to a decade after giving birth. According to Time magazine:
“Women who breastfed their babies had a 9% lower risk of having heart disease during the study period compared to women who did not breastfeed. The effect seemed to be cumulative: Women who had more than one child and breastfed each of their babies for two years or more lowered their risk of heart disease by 18% and their risk of stroke by a similar amount, compared to mother who never breastfed.”
If you cannot breastfeed you can look into receiving donated breast milk for your baby, or you can pick up a nutrient dense formula.
If you use formula, make sure that it is bought from a grocery store or an approved source. This guarantees that it contains all the necessary nutrients. For yourself, you can lower your risk of heart disease and other common diseases by eating a balanced diet, exercising, and eliminating smoking.
6 True: Changes Nutritional Profile
By now, you can see just how amazing breast milk is, but it gets even better. Breast milk is the chameleon of food. Over time, your breast milk will actually change composition to meet the growing needs of your child. It would be pretty amazing if something similar existed for adults. I mean, I would love it if my triple shot espresso constantly flexed to meet my every nutritional need!
In the beginning, your breasts produce a substance called colostrum. It is a thick, honey-colored liquid that is jam-packed with immunological components that protect your little one. After this initial supercharge of colostrum, your breast milk begins to change again. During the first few days, it increases in volume, this is called transitional milk. Within two weeks, transitional milk gradually transforms into mature milk. You can think of your mature milk like a much thinner form of colostrum. You produce a much higher volume, and it meets all of their newborn needs. Once your baby reaches toddlerhood, your breast milk changes again.
Attie Sandink, a board-certified lactation consultant says that:
“The volume of milk you produce declines, which concentrates the immunological components. The milk starts to decrease because babies are eating and drinking other foods, so it develops more antibodies and higher fat content, It’s definitely worth nursing a child into the second year and beyond, breast milk, alongside a wide variety of solid foods, can boost a child’s immune system and help meet his nutritional and emotional needs.”
In addition to changing with your baby’s age, your breast milk will also change composition when your child is sick or going through a growth spurt. While breastfeeding, your baby’s saliva actually secretes a cue that signals your breast milk to produce certain virus fighting antibodies. When going through a growth spurt, your child will nurse more frequently which ups the fat content in your milk. This, in turn, accommodates the needs of their growing body!
5 True: More Sleep For Mama
You may fear that your glorious days of sleeping in, and waking to the sweet sound of birds chirping, a la Snow White, are over. I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that you are exactly right. They are over, at least for now. But your interrupted sleep has little to do with breastfeeding.
Naturally, for the first few weeks, your baby will wake up in the middle of the night to feed. Even though you will still be woken from your peaceful slumber, rest assured that you will sleep more if you breastfeed.
Breastfeeding moms get, on average, 40-45 more minutes of sleep compared to mothers who supplement with formula.
When you breastfeed, your body gets a rush of oxytocin, which is a relaxant that allows you to fall asleep faster. A 2002 Australian study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that:
“Nursing mothers get more deep sleep -- the type of sleep that heals muscles and repairs the body. Nursing mothers can thank the growth hormone prolactin, which surges during lactation.”
Another reason that nursing moms log more shut-eye, could be due to the fact that there is a direct correlation between nursing and sharing your room with your baby or co-sleeping. When they wake at 1:00 am, 3:00 am, 4:00 am, you will have an easier time going back to sleep if you don’t need to get out of bed to complete the task.
4 True: Day Milk Vs. Night Milk
Breast milk changes composition to meet the ever-growing needs of your baby, but did you also know that it changes depending on the time of day? Studies have shown that your milk contains different properties in the morning and at night. This fact never ceases to amaze me!
Milk that you produce in the morning contains natural stimulants that help to keep your baby awake, think of it as their version of a morning latte. There is a clear circadian rhythm found in the components of breast milk. In the evening, your body produces the amino acid, tryptophan. Tryptophan helps to produce melatonin, which is a chemical compound that leads to relaxation and sleep. Melatonin is a naturally occurring chemical in your body that helps you sleep at night. You may even take a synthetic form of melatonin to fight insomnia or jet lag. It is pretty magical that it is found in your breast milk!
Now that you know that your breast milk does indeed change throughout a 24-hour period, you need to remember a helpful tip. If you are pumping and using frozen milk, make sure to mark your bags accordingly. For example, if you pump at 8:00 in the morning, mark your bag as “morning” milk. If you pump at 8:00 in the evening, mark your bag as “night” milk. Studies have shown that giving your baby morning milk, at bedtime will hinder their ability to sleep. This makes sense, would you drink a cup of coffee before bed?
3 True: Fights SIDS
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS is the leading cause of death in babies between one month and one year of age. SIDS is the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy baby, usually while they are sleeping. While this is a very frightening thought, it is simply something that you cannot put your focus on. You can, however, minimize your risk of SIDS by creating a safe sleeping environment.
Make sure that their crib or bassinet is free of loose blankets.
A sleep sack is a great alternative that will leave them warm and snug, but it eliminates the risk of them becoming tangled. Another important step is to make sure you are always laying them on their backs to sleep. Never place your baby on their stomach or side. When they become old enough they will flip on their own, but make sure that you are not placing them in a precarious position.
In addition to controlling their sleeping conditions, breastfeeding has actually been proven to minimize the incidence of SIDS. Breastfeeding for at least two months cuts your babies risk of SIDS in half. To gain this benefit, your baby need to be exclusively breastfed.
Even though the exact reason why breastfeeding reduced the risk of SIDS is still unknown, researchers believe it is tied to the immune benefits of breast milk and its positive effects on sleep patterns.
2 True: The First Six Months Are Crucial
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until your baby reaches two years of age. While this is an ideal situation, not everyone is capable of reaching this milestone. If you cannot breastfeed for the full two years, WHO highlights the importance of exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of your child’s life.
The World Health Organization has found that exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months could save 220,000 children per year. This is due to the fact that the first six months are crucial in infant development. During those first months, your baby is building up their immunities and cognitive brain architecture.
Six months is the “golden” rule for exclusive breastfeeding because once your baby reaches six months old, their energy levels exceed what breast milk can solely provide. At this time, you can begin to introduce solid foods. At this point, exclusive breastfeeding is not the most beneficial choice for your child and you must supplement with nutrient dense food. You should continue to breastfeed during this complimentary feeding period to ensure that your child is receiving as many benefits as possible.
It is recommended that you continue this pattern of solids and breast milk until they are two years old. The antibodies and nutrients they receive now will set them up for optimal health in their future!
1 True: Helps Shed Baby Weight
You can’t browse your favorite celebrities Instagram without seeing a fad diet that guarantees you to lose all of your baby weight. For example, you may even read magazine articles that highlight how Khloe Kardashian is back to her “pre-baby bikini body.” While these may be entertaining to read, they can be detrimental to your health and body image. This type of coverage creates unrealistic expectations for your body, and it can put unnecessary pressure on your daily life. Remember, you just grew an amazing, healthy human. You are a rock star!
If your desire is to get back to optimal health and strength you can modify your diet and hit the gym again. But did you realize that breastfeeding could help tremendously with your post-baby body?
While breastfeeding you burn an additional 300-500 calories per day. Due to this caloric use, it is important to eat extra calories throughout the day to keep up your milk production and energy. This may seem counter productive, how can eating more calories translate to weight loss? When you breastfeed you are losing the stored fat cells that were acquired during pregnancy.
Weight loss from breastfeeding should be slow and steady. If you find that you are rapidly losing weight, it is a sign that you aren’t eating enough. If this occurs, add an extra high protein snack to your meal plan. Remember, no one wants a hangry mama!
References: Mayo Clinic, American Pregnancy Association, Fit Pregnancy, National Institute of Mental Health, Baby Centre, American Academy of Pregnancy.