Fact vs fiction. We’re busting breastfeeding myths

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Mothers who choose to breastfeed their babies face various challenges. Amongst the biggest of these are all the different beliefs that people have around breastfeeding. These “breastfeeding myths” are offered as advice, even sometimes by healthcare professionals, and are often the reason moms stop breastfeeding.

Sadly a lot of it is simply not true. Sometimes a myth has got an aspect of truth, and for some mothers/babies under specific circumstances, it may present a problem. But to make this rule applicable to all is definitely not justified.

Let’s look at 10 breastfeeding myths that you should carefully consider before simply believing.

  1. You cannot eat certain foods…

Garlic, onions, spices, green veggies, sugar, dairy, chocolate, caffeine, grains…the list continues. Cutting out certain foods from your diet is difficult for any person; ask someone on a diet who needs to cut calories to lose weight. To place these restrictions on a new mom who is already dealing with a lot may well be the final straw that leads to her stopping breastfeeding. The truth is that no specific food has been shown to cause winds and cramps in babies. You can eat everything in moderation. Keep your diet as it was in pregnancy, as this is the environment in which baby grew. If you do feel that a certain food in your diet gives your baby winds and cramps, try cutting it out for a few days to see if it makes a difference, and then by all means stop eating it if you feel it contributes to your problems. But you will find that more often than not restricting your diet doesn’t really help.

2. My mom and/or sister couldn’t breastfeed, so I will also struggle

The typical breastfeeding problems that women experience doesn’t run in families. If your mom/sister struggled it does not mean at all that you will have any difficulties. What may play a role is that you have been hearing negative comments and stories about breastfeeding for as long as you can remember. This may very well influence your perceptions of the process. This person may well still be carrying her own negative emotions and trauma in her heart, and will be offering advice from her own history and perspective. Though you don’t need to say this out loud, you must know that she may not be the best person to turn to for advice when you do need breastfeeding assistance.

3. You need to get your baby into a routine

It would be wonderful for moms if all babies could be in a routine. The truth is that most of them are not (and if most babies don’t do something it must be the norm, right?). Plus who gets to say what a good routine should be anyway? Babies have their own built-in patterns, and in the early months of life their behaviour is not habit-forming yet, nor are they able to manipulate your or to learn bad habits. You should not try to force your baby into a certain feeding routine or into sleep and awake patterns. It is important that your baby breastfeed on-demand as your body needs this stimulation to maintain your milk supply, and your baby needs the nutrition of frequent feeds to optimally grow and develop. Sit back, watch your baby’s patterns emerge, and build your own plans around that. You will have a much better time than if you are trying to enforce a system that was never meant to work.

4. Your breasts are too big or too small to breastfeed

With the exception of a fairly rare genetic condition in which the breasts do not develop normally in puberty, there isn’t a shape/size breast that is unable to breastfeed. Nor are there certain ‘types of breast tissue’ that cannot produce milk.

5. You cannot breastfeed if you had previous breast surgery

There is no way that we can determine beforehand to what extend previous breast surgery will influence your breastfeeding journey. It will really differ between women. Most women who had breast augmentations will be able to feed without additional difficulties. Breast reductions may cause more problems, but once again you would need to breastfeed and see. It would be wortwhile seeing a certified lactation consultant to assist you from the start, to make sure that you are on the right path.

6. The myth of milk supply

This is one of the biggest breastfeeding myths. The term ‘supply’ implies that milk is something that you can run out of. The truth is that breastmilk is a bodily fluid like any other, and that your body can produce what your baby needs. What you can know is that up to 70% of women stop breastfeeding because of the perception that they don’t have enough milk. Medically speaking a very small percentage of these medically didn’t have enough milk. The rest simply heard and believed the wrong myths, and didn’t receive the right advice and support.

READ THIS: How to boost your milk supply

7. You have to stop breastfeeding if you are  on medication

Most medications are safe to use while breastfeeding. But you should know that sadly pharmacists and even doctors are often not up-to-date on this topic and will advise mothers to stop breastfeeding for a medication/condition that was actually completely safe. Before stopping breastfeeding because you need a medication or have a medical condition, consider first seeking a second opinion from a healthcare provider that is skilled and comfortable with treating breastfeeding mothers. The harm of stopping breastfeeding may well be greater than the harm of continuing while on a medication.

8. You cannot exercise while breastfeeding

Many believe that vigorous exercise will affect milk supply. The truth is that it has no effect whatsoever and that you can do any amount of exercise that you wish to do. Just be sure to stay well hydrated and to adapt your diet as necessary to accommodate any extra calorie needs (which most professional athletes do anyway).

9. You cannot fall pregnant while breastfeeding

As many mothers can tell you, this is indeed not true and one of the many breastfeeding myths going around. Breastfeeding can suppress ovulation and menstruation, making it a natural contraceptive, so to speak. However, it is far from fool-proof. Remember that even if your period has not returned yet, at some point you are going to ovulate before you menstruate. It is even possible to fall pregnant before your very first period at 6 weeks. So unless you are OK with having another baby soon, you should be chat to your doctor about contraception while breastfeeding.

ALSO READ: Top 5 Things You Need for Breastfeeding

10. You cannot breastfeed if you are pregnant

If you fall pregnant while you are still breastfeeding, know that you can very well continue to breastfeed throughout the pregnancy, if this is what you wish to do. There is no evidence that breastfeeding increases the risk of miscarriage or premature labour. Should you develop any symptoms of any of those you can consider stopping, but there is no reason to do so preventatively. Furthermore, the pregnancy hormones won’t be harmful to your breastfeeding baby, just as breastfeeding won’t steal anything that your unborn baby needs.

When it comes to breastfeeding and breastfeeding myths, it is important to always separate fact from fiction. Contact your healthcare provider if you are unsure.

Christine Klynhans is a midwife and lactation consultant with a firm believe that gentle parenting can change the world. She has worked in midwifery since competing her B.Cur nursing degree in 2004, and has a special passion for education and for writing. She currently works in a well-baby clinic and give antenatal classes and breastfeeding support. She enjoys working with parents of babies and toddlers, aiming to help them find gentle solutions to their parenting problems and assisting them in incorporating healthy habits and natural health alternatives into their daily lives.

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