Much of the work I do with lactation clients involves helping them unlearn and overcome breastfeeding myths. Our society has lost the art of breastfeeding. Unfortunately, breastfeeding myths and misinformation have filled in that gap. Let’s debunk some of them, shall we?
Breastfeeding Myth #1: Your baby isn’t getting enough.
I have seen many clients with low supply or “nipple confusion” because a well-meaning person questioned whether the baby was eating enough. This caused the mother to stop nursing the baby, begin pumping and bottle feeding, or worse, start feeding formula unnecessarily.
Want a reliable way to determine if your baby is eating enough? Look at diaper output. Expect one wet diaper per day of life through the fifth day of life. After that, your baby should have a minimum of six wet diapers per day until they potty train. Your baby should have two to three dirty diapers per day, although breastfed babies often have many more than that.
Do you need more reassurance? Is your baby alert and active and waking for feeds? Is your baby meeting milestones? Is your baby gaining weight? If all of these things are true and diaper output is appropriate, your baby is eating enough!
Breastfeeding Myth #2: You need to feed formula until your milk “comes in.”
Colostrum is the milk your body makes for the first few days after delivery. This milk is nutrient dense and packed with immunoglobulins. If your baby is making an appropriate number of wet and dirty diapers, weight is appropriate and you hear and see swallowing during feeds, things are likely just fine!
Breastfeeding Myth #3: Newborn weight loss is always a problem.
I’ve seen far too many breastfed babies supplemented with formula purely based on their percentage of weight loss in the first few days of life. We expect newborns to lose up to 10% of their body weight in the first week. This number can be affected by maternal IV fluids during labor and use of different scales between midwife/labor and delivery, postpartum and the pediatrician. I always remind my clients to request that babies are reweighed at admission to postpartum. This ensures that daily weights are taken on the same scale and gives babies a fair chance.
Newborns should be back to birthweight by two weeks of life. If a breastfed newborn is gaining weight under the supervision of a lactation professional, it may be acceptable for this to take three weeks. After the first two to three weeks of life, babies should gain 1/2 to 1 oz per day on average. However, it is also important to look at diaper output and behavior, not just weight.
Breastfeeding Myth #4: Breastfeeding is painful.
We’ve all had friends or family regale us with their stories of excruciatingly painful breastfeeding. They will tell you that breastfeeding hurts and that’s just how it is. This myth has been perpetuated so extensively that it has almost become the accepted norm. Just because something is common doesn’t make it normal. If you have nipple damage or pain with breastfeeding, please seek professional help immediately. It doesn’t have to be that way, nor should it be.
Breastfeeding Myth #5: You must “toughen up” your nipples.
How many times have you had a grandmother or great aunt say that you need to toughen up your nipples before you deliver? What are you going to do? Sandpaper your nipples? I don’t think so. I can tell you that I have been breastfeeding since 2014, and my nipples are no different today than they were eight years ago.
Breastfeeding Myth #6: Don’t nurse the baby overnight.
This myth takes multiple forms. There’s the ever popular “someone else should feed the baby a bottle at night so you can rest.” Breastmilk production is supply and demand. If you don’t nurse or pump overnight, you’re training your body to make half the amount of milk that your baby needs. A better approach would be to have someone bring the baby to nurse and then put them back to bed. This way, you can go back to sleep immediately after nursing.
Then, we have the “if you feed the baby formula at bedtime, he/she will sleep longer.” This simply isn’t true. In fact, breastfeeding at night helps both mom and baby get approximately 45 minutes more sleep per night. Breastmilk also contains melatonin at night. This helps your baby regulate their circadian rhythm. Everyone wins.
Another red flag is the myth of the “good baby” who sleeps through the night. There are no “bad babies” robbing banks and stealing cars. All babies are good babies. They are meant to feed frequently because breastmilk is more easily digested. Night waking and frequent feeding is protective against SIDS. A “good baby” who sleeps long stretches in the newborn days is most likely not getting the calories needed to wake up and do the hard work of nursing. This always warrants a call to the pediatrician and lactation professional.
When you hear anything that plants seeds of doubt regarding your breastfeeding journey, treat it as bad advice until proven otherwise. Knowledge and support are your defense against these myths and others like them! Lactation professionals are ready and waiting to assist you. Please reach out for help!