By Shahrzad Tayebi, IBCLC
Unfortunately, we have forgotten that we are mammals.
If we had not, we wouldn’t be making breastfeeding such a dilemma. Seriously, we’re mammals. The word “mammal” is modern, from the scientific name Mammalia coined by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, derived from the Latin mamma (“teat, pap”). All female mammals nurse their young with milk, which is secreted from special glands, the mammary glands. (Wikipedia)
Different cultures have different beliefs around breastfeeding, but many of these are merely myths. Here, we’ll go through some breastfeeding myths more common in North America and focus on the ones I, as a lactation consultant, face almost everyday. I spend quite a bit of time with moms explaining why they are not true.
Myth #1 (In my experience, the most common one): It’s normal for breastfeeding to hurt in the first few days.
If breastfeeding hurts, there is something going wrong, period! You’ve GOT TO FIX IT ASAP. I just love what Dr Christina Smillie says about this myth: “It’s normal for your feet to hurt if there is a pebble in your shoe. But it’s not normal to keep walking with the pebble in your shoe”. A good deep latch will not hurt the nipple because the nipple is way back in the baby’s mouth, in a place we call ‘the comfort zone’. I always use this practical demonstration in my breastfeeding classes to explain the difference between how a shallow latch feels and how a deep latch feels. Go ahead and try it:
Imagine the first knuckle of your index finger is your nipple and the second knuckle is your areola (of course you’ll have to imagine a little volume to it J). Then suck very hard on your first knuckle (the nipple). One thing that is no myth is that babies are strong “suckers”, so go ahead and suck hard. This resembles a shallow latch where only the nipple is in baby’s mouth (of course, the nipple is way more sensitive than your finger). Then put your finger in deeper, all the way up to your second knuckle and suck hard again. Compare the sensation on the first knuckle (your nipple). The first knuckle is now in the comfort zone, no immediate pressure on it, only a soft sense of suction. This resembles a deep latch. Ladies, set your bar there!!! Do not accept any pain in breastfeeding, no matter who tells you it’s normal.
Myth # 2 : Many women do not make enough milk.
Almost every pregnant woman can make milk once baby is born. They actually start making colostrum (the very rich first milk) BEFORE they even have the baby. (only about 1-5% of women might have insufficient glands to make enough milk)
The initial milk production is hormonally driven (endocrine control system) and is triggered by the removal of the placenta. This happens regardless of breastfeeding or not—it is simply a part of mammalian reproduction. After that, it is controlled by milk removal (autocrine control system). This is where the demand and supply factor steps in. Most of the time when we truly see low milk supply, it is because the baby is not removing the milk from the breast hence sending a signal to the production centers to slow down production. So it’s not about “not producing enough” it’s about “not removing enough”!
Myth # 3 Babies should feed for a certain amount of time at each feed and on both breasts. Wrong again!
What happened to babies before we had clocks? You have to watch your baby, and not the clock. If a baby is satisfied at a breast, that is simply good enough. If a baby is still fussy or seems hungry after feeding at one breast, then maybe he wants the other breast. The milk composition changes as baby feeds, getting richer towards the end (foremilk and hindmilk). If a baby has a good latch and is transferring milk well, usually one side is enough and he can drain it quickly. If a baby’s latch is poor, and milk transfer is not happening, he can be on the breast for an hour and still come off hungry. Switching breasts too soon may result in baby getting only foremilk at each feed and so getting hungry sooner. Getting the rich hind milk will satiate baby for longer and help with weight gain.
Myth # 4 Pumping is a necessary part of breastfeeding.
I sell breast pumps, and still say they’re not necessary for most people. Pumping is helpful in some situations, such as when the baby is in the NICU and mom needs to mimic the stimulation that baby would have been giving her breasts. And in that case, the hospital grade pumps are more effective than the personal use ones. Most of the articles and information we have are from the States. Since moms there have much shorter maternity leaves, they tend to need to pump when they are separated from baby, which does not apply to most of us in Canada. Also, many moms get disappointed when they see how little milk they pump. A baby with a good latch will always get more milk than a pump does.
Myth # 5 We have to switch to formula at some point!
Why on earth?
Breastfeeding gets easier with time, and mother’s milk never loses its nutritional and immunological properties.
Myth # 6 Mom doesn’t have enough milk in the first few days and should supplement.
Seriously, how have we survived then?
Mom’s milk in the first couple of days is very little, in drops. But the reason for it is that baby’s tummy is also very small and can fit only a few drops. Babies thrive on those small amounts of colostrum. They are supposed to lose weight until mom’s full milk supply comes in, and there is no need for supplementation unless there is some specific medical indication. Of course, that tiny tummy goes through those few drops of colostrum very quickly, so frequent feedings in the first few days are crucial. Many moms try to squeeze their breasts to see if they have any colostrum, and when they don’t see any, they get disappointed. Colostrum is so rich and sticky, it’s very hard to squeeze out, but the baby can get it with the help of his tongue and chin (doing the milking of the ducts) and lips (forming a seal to make suction).
Myth #7 Engorgement is a normal part of breastfeeding.
Not if the baby has been removing the milk efficiently!
Engorgement can be easily prevented if there is a good latch from the beginning and baby has been draining the breasts well.
Myth #8 A mother should drink milk to make milk.
No other mammal does!
Shahrzad, a mother of two, was a registered midwife in Iran for 18 years. They moved to Canada in 2009. Searching for her passion, she found the Childbearing Society. She is also a certified doula who loves attending births and helping mothers and families in any way she can. In 2013, Shahrzad added the title of International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to her credentials. www.tayebichildbirth.com