If you are pregnant or have a small baby, you will know that you are surrounded by gurus – your doctor and clinic sister you actually choose and pay for information, but others offer it from the goodness of their hearts, and then you get the complete stranger in the supermarket queue who simply feel the need to comment on something that is actually none of their business.
Add Google and social media to the list, and it is no wonder many parents feel confused and unsure of which roads to travel.
This is especially true when it comes to breastfeeding. Healthcare professionals are often not up to date on the topic, and because they honestly do not really know how to answer a new mommy’s questions they either give wrong advice or steer her in the direction of formula feeding.
Today’s grandmothers raised children in an era where there was very little support for breastfeeding mothers, and many had negative breastfeeding experiences – of course, this impacts on their emotions and opinions surrounding the topic. Friends with babies who formula fed may not understand normal breastfeeding patterns, and can unintentionally make a breastfeeding mom feel that she is doing something wrong.
As a lactation consultant, I assist mothers with a wide variety of breastfeeding issues, many stemming from poor advice and support. I have identified below five ‘red flags’ in breastfeeding advice (there are many more, but these are favourites that all mothers are bound to hear along the way). If you receive this advice from an individual, chances are that this (possibly well-meaning) person is not the best equipped to support you on your breastfeeding journey.
READ MORE: Top 5 Things You Need for Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding myths busted – what you really need to know
- You should prepare your nipples for breastfeeding in pregnancy already by scrubbing them with a toothbrush or applying spirits
No, no, no! Your nipples need no preparation to toughen them up for breastfeeding. During pregnancy, the Montgomery glands on your areola will excrete an oil to naturally lubricate and moisturise your nipples. Scrubbing them may cause pain and infection which can be harmful for breastfeeding in the end.
- You should feed your baby for a certain time period on each breast (eg 15 minutes per side)
You should never interrupt your baby while still feeding from a breast if you can help it. Allow your baby to empty one breast properly during a feed, as this gives baby the highest amount of calories. If the baby still seems hungry you can then offer the other side as well. Alternate your breasts between feeds. Some babies are happy to feed on only one breast per feed, while others may want both. Limiting a baby’s time on a breast will lead to an array of problems including a baby not getting full, poor weight gain, lumps in the breast, mastitis, and reduced milk supply.
- Your baby should be on a schedule – so feed every 3-4 hours, only feed a certain amount of times per night, etc.
Your baby is a unique individual and will follow his own feeding and sleep patterns, with few babies truly fitting into set schedules decided upon by so-called experts. Breastmilk is 100% perfect for your baby and digests so well that baby may very well be hungry earlier than a formula fed baby. Breast babies feed on average 1,5-2 hourly, and most will need to feed at night for at least the first year of life. Routines will also change as your baby grows older. Observe your baby and you will soon understand and adapt to his patterns.
- Don’t spoil your baby or create bad habits by letting baby use your breast as a dummy
Babies have both an emotional and a physical need for sucking. A breastfeeding mom and baby are so closely connected that baby will automatically turn to mom to help him process any changes and stressors in his environment. Some babies have a bigger need for sucking than others. While this can indeed be challenging in the early weeks, it not only creates safety and security for your baby, but it also helps to stimulate and establish your milk supply. So grab a book or catch a nap, and let your baby suck as much as he needs.
- You should now cut xxx (insert: 80% of all the foods you love) from your diet as it will give your baby cramps
Research has shown that breastfeeding mothers can eat all foods in moderation. Another approach is to eat like you ate in your pregnancy, as this is the environment in which your baby grew. If you suspect that a certain food is responsible for your baby’s discomfort, by all means avoid it for a few days. If you see no difference in your baby’s behaviour the food is probably not the culprit.
ALSO READ: Five basic tips for breastfeeding
Where to go for breastfeeding advice?
- Firstly and most importantly, trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, chances are it isn’t right for you and your baby. Remember that you love your baby more than anyone else, and that you are the best person to make decisions for your baby.
- New mothers should line up at least one female support person for the early days and weeks after birth, preferably someone who breastfed her own children. As crucial as a new father’s role is, women really benefit from the support of other women in this fragile period.
- Choose a few people that you trust and whose opinion you value, and ask them for input on baby matters. For the rest, just say thank you and move along. Luckily we don’t need to listen to all we hear.
- If you suspect that you are not getting it right or if you have questions that you struggle to find answers to, contact a lactation consultant. There are actually professionals specialised in the field of breastfeeding who can assist you.
- Ask your lactation consultant for referrals to breastfeeding-friendly doctors, paediatricians and well-baby clinics in your area. Use these professionals to assist with all your general health queries.
- Visit babycalm.co.za for information on a wide array of parenting topics, and referral to a network of mom- and baby friendly professionals where needed.