How much do you really know about breastfeeding?
Scientific studies clearly show the importance of breastfeeding for both mother and baby. It is nature’s best protection for a baby’s nutrition and health, and it also helps mothers’ mental health and physical recovery after childbirth.
Unfortunately, many women find it difficult to nurse, sometimes due to illness, or strict work schedules (and the absence of laws that promote nursing) … and sometimes due to misconceptions about breastfeeding itself.
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Mothers need our help to keep up their breastfeeding! And that help can come from an informed community, family, health workers, employers, and the government. But do we have the right idea about breastfeeding’s benefits? Check this list to see if you have any lingering misconceptions.
True or false?
“The sooner you start breastfeeding, the better.”
Yes, it’s true. Babies can already suckle from their first hour after birth, because the sucking instinct is most intense then and they also usually need less help at that point to do it correctly.
“My child isn’t gaining enough weight because I don’t produce quality milk.”
False. Studies show that even malnourished women are able to produce milk of sufficient quality and quantity to meet the child’s growth needs, and when these women’s babies are breastfed, they gain the same weight and grow to the same height as the children of well-nourished mothers. If the baby is not gaining enough weight, it’s because he isn’t getting enough of his mother’s breastmilk, possibly because the she has him on a strict schedule, or because he is not latching properly, or because the baby himself has a physical or health problem.
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“Before six months of age, the baby does not need to drink water or other fluids in addition to breast milk.”
This is true. During this first period of the infant’s life, breastmilk is sufficient because it contains all the liquid the baby needs to quench her thirst. Keeping the baby on breastmilk can also prevent diarrhea or infections. See more here.
“If I have breast implants, I won’t be able to breastfeed.”
This is not true. The presence of a silicone implant or a past breast reduction surgery does not affect the glandular system and ducts. If the ducts, vessels, and nerves are intact and not severed, the breast will still produce milk and not pose any danger to the infant.
“Prolonged breastfeeding beyond 12 months of age is very valuable.”
This is true. Even though breastmilk needs to be supplemented with solid foods to provide a greater caloric intake, it still has great nutritional value during the first 12 months of life. In addition, the quality of breastmilk does not diminish over time, since its composition varies according to the needs of the child as he matures. Breastmilk continues to complement and support the immune system as long as the child receives it.
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“I have flat or inverted nipples, so I can’t breastfeed.”
This is false. Inverted nipples are not an impediment as long as the mother knows what to do. A few tips: take advantage of the moment when the baby is more reactive, which is in the morning. Wet the nipple with cold water before breastfeeding so that it protrudes, or use a breast pump to pull out the nipple. Or briefly replace the nipple with a finger to get the baby to open her mouth.
“The more the baby nurses, the more milk the mother produces.”
This is true. One of the basic principles of successful breastfeeding is to let the baby nurse as long as she wants. Breastfeeding on demand means letting the baby call the shots regarding the length and frequency of each feeding. Skipping a breastfeeding session causes a decrease in production, because it tells the brain that your body is accumulating too much milk for the baby’s needs and that it has to slow down production.
“I have to give him both breasts equally every time he nurses.”
No, you should breastfeed him on one side until he no longer wants any more, and then offer him the other, even if he does not always accept it. If not, you might end up with a perpetually hungry baby, because the hind milk that comes at the end of each breast is the richest in calories and fat, and it keeps the baby full. If the baby doesn’t empty out one breast at a time, he won’t ever get to that rich, filling hind milk.
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“Breast size doesn’t affect breastfeeding.”
True. The mother’s cup size does not have anything to do with milk production. If she is small breasted, she can compensate with more frequent feedings. As a guideline, a healthy newborn baby nurses 8 to 12 times per day in the first week.
“My milk is watery and it’s not enough for my baby.”
False. For many years, people have believed the myth that not all women produce good quality milk. But this is simply untrue. Human milk will always be more transparent or watery than cow’s milk, but that doesn’t mean it’s less nutritious. The first drops are the most watery and the hind milk (obtained as baby empties the breast) is much thicker because it is richer in fat and calories. For this reason, it is recommended that the baby take everything she wants from one breast and only then be offered the other.
Breastfeeding offers so many benefits to both mother and baby! We all need to help promote breastfeeding and support nursing mothers.
This article was originally published in the Spanish edition of Aleteia and has been translated and/or adapted here for English speaking readers.