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Our Favourite Breastfeeding Myths Set Straight

We're in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week (August 1 to 7th), so we decided it was time to debunk some of the myths we regularly hear about breastfeeding


World Breastfeeding Week

World Breastfeeding Week started in 1992 as a way to promote the Millenium Development Goals set up by the United Nations, in partnership with governments around the globe, to fight poverty and promote breastfeeding the world over.

World Breastfeeding Week this year aims to remind us that we're on the countdown to achieving the goals, which are:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development.

With the deadline approaching (in 2015), there has been much progress, but there's still a long way to go. According to the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action:

"Poverty has gone down, but 1 in 8 people still go to bed hungry. Undernutrition affects about a quarter of all children globally. In the last two decades, child mortality has decreased by about 40%."

Choosing to breastfeed

Closer to home, weTo breastfeed or not to breastfeed? know that breastfeeding can be a controversial topic. Breast or bottle, public or private - something so simple and natural leaves a large part of the population divided. Choosing to breastfeed or not is up to you. It doesn't make you a better or worse mother either way - but we know there is a lot of false information out there about breastfeeding.

We teamed up with Cathy - a mother of two, training to be a breastfeeding peer supporter - to comment on a few common breastfeeding myths.

As a peer supporter, Cathy is an advocate of breastfeeding; however, we know that not every mother can breastfeed and some choose not to for personal reasons. If you are struggling with breastfeeding, please speak to your GP or midwife, or find a local support group.

Myths about breastfeeding

"It's normal for breastfeeding to hurt" 

I can't stress this enough; it is not normal for breastfeeding to hurt! It is a new sensation, can be intense, and your nipples may be more tender and sensitive during the first few days due to hormone changes.

But it shouldn't hurt, and if it does, it's your body's way of telling you something is wrong. The most likely explanation for any soreness or discomfort during feeding is that your baby is not latched on properly. Take your baby off the breast and try again; a nice wide mouth will allow your baby to get a good mouthful of breast tissue, as well as nipple. Sometimes, getting it right doesn't happen immediately, so be patient and give yourself a chance.

If you've tried re-attaching and are still in pain, make sure you consult your midwife, health visitor, a peer supporter, breastfeeding counselor or lactation consultant who can help you with any latching problems.

Pregnancy changes your body

"Breastfeeding causes your breasts to sag" 

Pregnancy changes your body: this is a fact. Your breasts may change in appearance and firmness after you've had a baby, but this applies regardless of whether you breastfeed or not. In fact, breastfeeding can help keep your breasts firmer!

"You can't get pregnant while breastfeeding" 

As many mothers of earlier-than-expected second babies will testify - including my own mother - that this is not the case!

Breastfeeding can delay the return of your monthly cycle, but you should not count on this - and, if another pregnancy would be unwelcome, it's recommended that you discuss an additional method of contraceptive with your GP.

"You shouldn't breastfeed while you have a cold" 

You absolutely should! If you have a cold, your baby has already been exposed to whatever virus you've come down with.

Your wonderful breasts will be working hard to create antibodies against it, which will be passed on to your baby. Breastfeeding your baby is the best thing you can do to protect him or her.

"If you breastfeed, you can't have a sex life" 

Why on earth not? There's absolutely no reason you can't have a sex life while breastfeeding - in fact for some women and their lucky partners, it's a positive turn-on to discover new ways to enjoy their new, life-giving bodies.

Breastfeeding doesn't have to kill your sex lifeYou might not want to have a sex life - and you and your partner should be aware that you might not want to hop back on the horse within six weeks of giving birth (this applies to all new mothers regardless of method of delivery and whether or not they breastfeed).

There are, however, many women who break this 'curfew' because they feel comfortable, happy and ready for sex. Go with your body. If you don't feel like sex, chances are you're not ready yet - remember you have just created and given birth to an entire human being!

"Infant formula is basically the same as breast milk" 

Regardless of what companies say, formula is not 'just like' breast milk. Your milk has absolutely everything your baby needs to grow, thrive and flourish. It is created by your body, in the perfect concentration and quantity for your baby.

Formula is mass-created and does not adapt to the individual child. Breast milk is packed with a complex, unique and tailored blend of antibodies, vitamins, minerals and nutrition that cannot be scientifically reproduced or recreated.

Formula provides babies with the basics and is a feeding substitute for mothers who cannot, or choose not to, breastfeed. It's not a like-for-like substitute for breast milk.

"I won't be able to make enough milk for my baby's demands" 

While a low supply can be an issue for some women, in most cases your body will respond to your baby's appetite - supply and demand.

If you feed your baby on demand, anytime he or she asks, your body will automatically produce the exact amount of milk he or she needs. When your baby goes through a growth spurt - which happens regardless of whether you breast or formula feed - your body will catch up and produce more milk within a day or two.

"Small boobs produce less milk than big boobs" 

There is absolutely no truth to this. If you choose to breastfeed and are able to, you will produce exactly the right amount of milk for your baby - regardless of shape or size.

"A baby shouldn't be fed both breast milk and formula"  

There's no factual or medical reason why a baby can't be 'topped up' with formula or fed a combination of breast milk and formula.

Follow your instinct

Consider the reasons why you want to use formula in addition to breast milk and decide what works for you and your partner. If you are feeding your baby on demand and are concerned that you won't have enough milk for your baby, remember that in most cases your body will produce the right amount of milk.

Remember you can boost your supply by offering your baby the breast between feeds - these little 'snacks' are a lovely way to reconnect and will have the added bonus of improving your milk supply. As long as your baby is gaining weight steadily and their weight-gain is compatible with a chart designed for a breastfed baby then you have no need to worry.

If your partner or a family member wants to bond with the baby, this can be achieved by bottle feeding; however, there are other ways this bonding can take place that are unrelated to feeding. They can cuddle, rock, change nappies, play with the baby, strap them into a sling, carrier or buggy and take him or her for a walk - it doesn't have to be related to a bottle.

Many mums may choose to use formula when they need to be away from their baby at feeding times. However, if you want your baby to remain exclusively breastfed try expressing and storing or freezing your own milk to use on these occasions.

"Women with flat or inverted nipples can't breastfeed"  

There are very few women who truly 'can't' breastfeed. As La Leche League's useful set of online resources reminds us, babies breastfeed, not nipplefeed. As long as your baby can get a good mouthful of breast tissue, he or she should be able to breastfeed effectively.

There are many options available for mothers with nipples that make latching on a little more challenging. Discuss all these with your midwife, health visitor, GP, or lactation consultant.

If you're not happy with the advice you have received, get a second opinion. In many cases nipple shields, breast pumps, and some manual techniques can help. It may be as simple as working on your baby's latch with a trained lactation consultant.

"Babies fed with formula sleep better than those who are breastfed"  

As breast milk is custom-made for your baby, it's often easier to digest, while formula usually takes longer.

Breast milk is easily digested

This means that a breastfed baby will probably want to feed more often than a formula-fed baby. It doesn't mean your breastfed baby is 'hungrier' than a formula-fed baby, or not getting enough to eat.

Because formula takes longer for babies to digest, and babies feed less often, they may also be able to sleep for longer periods.

But before you swap the breast for the bottle in hope of eight hours sleep, bear in mind that every baby is different. Some breastfed babies sleep through beautifully, some formula-fed babies still wake frequently to feed. Every baby is different!

"Breastfeeding makes you lose weight"  

During pregnancy your body lays down stores of fat to help you create breast milk for your baby. As you breastfeed, these stores of fat are used so some women do find that they lose weight whilst breastfeeding. However, many others find that breastfeeding makes them hungrier than usual, and that the baby-weight does not simply 'melt away'. As ever, it depends upon your body.

Many new mothers are in a rush to lose the baby weight, but it can take up to two years for your body to completely 'return to normal' after a pregnancy and birth. Bear in mind you have created and sustained an entire separate life - it's kind of a big deal!

A healthy balanced diet and moderate exercise when you feel ready is the best way to lose the baby weight long-term. Avoid crash diets or dramatic solutions such as fasting when you're breastfeeding. You need energy to be attentive and responsive to your baby - and he or she will love you whatever your shape or size.

"Mums who breastfeed are better than mums who don't"  

Combining formula with breast milk is

There is not a single aspect of becoming a parent that doesn't have an alternative option. Breastfeed or bottle feed? Co-sleep or sleep separately? Go with the flow or have a routine? Go back to work or stay at home? As your child gets older, the list of options increases, and so does the opportunity to feel criticised or judged for your decisions.

Here's the truth: regardless of the decisions you make as a parent, there will always be somebody who makes a different choice to you. This does not mean one of you is better. It simply means you are two different people with two different lives and two different babies!

Listen to your baby and your gut instinct, not the chatter.

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