The truth about breastfeeding

By Australian Breastfeeding Association

Taking your new baby home is a time of great excitement, yet not without its challenges; one of which can be breastfeeding. Below we share with you some truths to dispel a number of common myths about breastfeeding that can affect the breastfeeding relationship between you and your baby.

It is not normal for breastfeeding to hurt

Many mothers feel some nipple pain that ceases beyond the initial attachment in the early weeks. If pain lasts beyond the initial attachment or if there are signs of nipple damage, these things usually mean that a baby is not attached well to their mother’s breast. If your nipple becomes sore after a period of comfortable feeding, you may have a nipple infection. If breastfeeding hurts, gethelp as soon as possible. For example, call one of our breastfeeding counsellors on the Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 268). The earlier a breastfeeding problem is dealt with, the easier it is to fix. If a counsellor feels you need more help, she will suggest a lactation consultant or a medical adviser.

Most mothers can produce enough breastmilk

Most mothers can make more than enough milk for their baby (or babies!). Indeed, having too much breastmilk is common. If a mother has a low milk supply it is usually because her baby is not feeding often enough.

Breast size has nothing to do with milk production

Breast size depends on how much fatty tissue you have. The larger the breast, the more fatty tissue and vice versa. It is the amount of glandular (milk producing) tissue in your breast that matters. If you follow your baby’s lead and breastfeed whenever your baby shows that they need a feed (by squirming, grunting, mouthing their hands and nuzzling into your breast), you will have plenty of milk.

Night feeds are important for babies and mothers

Prolactin (the hormone that tells the breast to make milk) is highest at night, so night feeds are important for your milk supply. Babies have small stomachs that need to be re-filled often, including during the night. Night feeds ensure that a mother and her baby have close contact around the clock. This helps a baby’s fast growing brain.

Breastfeeding mothers get more sleep

During the first 3 months, parents of exclusively breastfed babies may actually sleep longer at night (by 40 minutes on average) than parents of babies who are given formula. Giving formula at night to try to get more sleep doesn’t work. It may make things worse (e.g if your baby doesn’t react well to the formula). Missing nighttime breastfeeds can reduce your milk supply. In the time you take to make up a bottle in the middle of the night, your baby may become more distressed. Once they get used to it, most mothers find they can pick up and feed their baby without waking fully. Breastfeeding hormones help both mother and baby relax and get back to sleep quickly.

You don’t need to wait for your breasts to fill up with milk

You don’t need to wait a certain amount of time before putting your baby back to your breast – there is always milk there. Your breasts are making milk all the time. The rate is related to how much your baby drinks. If they drink more/ less, your breasts will make more/ less. So if your baby still seems hungry after a feed, you can put them back to the breast and there will be more milk there for a top up.

It is easy to tell how much breastmilk your baby is getting

There are ways to tell whether your baby is getting enough (e.g plenty of wet and dirty nappies, gaining weight, meeting developmental milestones etc).

Soft breasts do not mean you have ‘lost’ your milk

Many mothers worry that they don’t have enough milk if their breasts feel soft, or if they cannot feel their let-down reflex. After the early weeks, your body adjusts to your baby’s needs. The full feeling that you may have had in your breasts in the early weeks disappears. This simply means that your milk supply is now in sync with your baby’s needs. Some mothers never feel their let-down reflex. Fortunately there are other ways to tell when your let-down reflex occurs. Your baby’s sucking changes from a shallow, quick suck to a deeper, more rhythmic suck and milk may drip from the other breast.

Your breast is more than a dummy

A breast cannot be a dummy, as the dummy (like the bottle teat) was invented to be an artificial breast! Babies don’t breastfeed just for food. This often comes as a surprise to parents, but babies go to the breast for many reasons — they may be hungry, thirsty, tired, hurt, over-stimulated, bored, lonely, in the mood for cuddles, etc. All are equally valid reasons to breastfeed.

How to separate fact from fiction?

  • Speak to an ABA breastfeeding counsellor by calling our Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 268)
  • Look at the ABA website breastfeeding.asn.au and other ABA resources for current and accurate breastfeeding information
  • Mix with other breastfeeding women (e.g attend ABA group get-togethers).
  • Seek a second (or third etc) opinion
  • Be confident in your innate ability to breastfeed.
  • Nature has designed mothers and babies to breastfeed

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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