Breastfeeding, is my milk enough? Busting the myths around breastfeeding.
It’s been an absolute honour to team up with Olivia who’s a practising midwife from Nottingham and owner of Lotus Maternity. We met through women’s networking in Nottingham. She shares her thoughts on Breastfeeding myths and how to bust them out of the water! Thanks so much Olivia.
I’ll start by setting the scene, it was my second year of training to be a midwife at The University of Nottingham, I was on the postnatal ward and asked to go and check on a lady who had just been admitted following a normal birth. I introduced myself, we begun chatting about her experience and I asked how she was planning on feeding, with an immediate response of “bottle”. I asked her why she had made this choice (which we don’t ask because we’re nosy by the way, it’s part of the conditions of being breastfeeding-friendly accredited and as part of this it’s important for midwives to understand and gauge mother’s understanding and knowledge of breastfeeding.
Her response was, “my boobs are for my boyfriend,” which quite frankly couldn’t be more wrong, I went on to explain that this is not the case but I knew it would be very difficult to change her opinion, so off I popped to get her some formula and we discussed responsive bottle feeding together. Now do I blame this young mother, who was around 17 years old for having this misconception of breastfeeding? No, I do not, I blame the porn industry and the sexualisation of breasts. Unfortunately though, the majority of us are products of our own environments and as discussed in my article, ‘Breastfeeding, how important is support,’ where there is little support and minimal education regarding infant feeding, mothers are likely to be influenced by their peers and the people around them and for this young woman, that was generations of families that all formula-fed.
So that was one of the first statements I can remember vividly about breastfeeding which was completely untrue and there have been many more since, which naturally comes with the territory of supporting mothers with their babies. The purpose of this blog, however, is to demystify the misconceptions of breastfeeding, for which there are many and what’s worse is that there is tonnes of conflicting advice!
Myth no. 1:
“Will my boobs sag if I breastfeed?”
No! You’ll hear loads different antidotes on this but the truth is you could choose not to give your baby one drop of breastmilk and found that your boobs are not as pert as they were before having a baby. It comes down to lots of different factors but pregnancy itself is a culprit. Progesterone which is really high in pregnancy since it acts to support and maintain the pregnancy, as a hormone also acts on smooth muscles and tissues, great for helping to relax the hip flexor muscles for birth, not so great if you’re suffering from pelvic girdle pain (symphysis pubis dysfunction)! Therefore your breast tissues can also fall victim to progesterone, as it stimulates the growth of maternal breast tissue which your skin and bras may struggle to support!
All of our bodies are different and some people have more collagen and elasticity to their skin, which is great for avoiding stretch marks in pregnancy but allowing the skin to stretch so easily may not be so forgiving post-pregnancy, so these mothers may speak of having saggier breasts compared to antenatally or pre-pregnancy. Moreover there are various other factors that can contribute to this such as age, genetic makeup, pregnancy, dieting, putting on weight etc. certainly not feeding your baby.
A comment on a forum which made me laugh on this subject though was this, “when I have
finished having kids I will use all the money I’ve saved on formula for a boob job 🙂 lol only kidding!” Inevitably it’s luck of the draw, so taking a light-hearted approach like this is best and remember that breastfeeding doesn’t make your boobs go South.
Myth no. 2:
“If I breastfeed, I will need to top up”
A constant concern that I have noticed over the years from mothers is, ‘have I got enough breastmilk?’ It is extremely rare for mothers not to be able to produce enough milk for their babies so in short you do not need to give formula to babies who are being breastfed. It’s actually one of the worst things you can do in terms of negatively affecting your breastfeeding. Imagine that you are finally becoming confident with your feeding and then you become worried about slow weight gain, or are talking with other mums who have babies the same age but look twice as big, you give formula in a moment of panic and you have taken 5 steps backwards with your breastfeeding journey. Which sounds dramatic but giving formula when you have been exclusively breastfeeding can cause the following:
- Doubtfulness in your own ability to feed your child.
- If the formula is given via bottle, the baby’s ability to breastfeed can be interrupted through what is referred to as ‘nipple/teat confusion’.
- The lining of the gut (microbiome) is stripped of its natural flora. Bifidus factor creates an acidic pH in the gut, discouraging bacterial growth. This is destroyed when formula is given, making baby more susceptible to infections and/or allergies.
- A reduction in supply as your baby has not demanded the breast for that feed and even if you have pumped, a pump cannot strip the breast as efficiently as a baby can.
- Babies feeding less frequently.
- An increased risk of SIDS as babies will go into a deeper sleep with formula, compared to a baby who’s breastfed with heightened levels of arousal.
- Your baby feels less satisfied following breast feeds, as they’re trying to achieve the same amount of fullness they felt from the formula, causing you to feel like you’re forever playing catch up.
- Constipation from slower bowel movements in baby.
If you have a healthy, term baby who has the ability to breastfeed effectively you shouldn’t ever need to top up with formula. There will be times when it’s tough no doubt and nursing your baby isn’t always the most fun but if you need or want to take a feed off, by all means do so, but give expressed breast milk via a sterile cup rather than supplementing with formula. And be sure to pump to avoid reducing your supply.
A piece of advice one of my midwife mentors gave me was this and I shall pass on to you her words of wisdom. “Don’t have formula in the house if you want to breastfeed because at 4am on day 10 when you’re knackered and the baby has been relentless with feeding overnight and given no respite, the temptation may be there in those sleep deprived moments to get the formula out of the cupboard. If it isn’t there, you are unable to do so.” Fortunately nowadays if there was an emergency and you needed to desperately feed your baby formula, most supermarkets are open 24 hours.
Remember: Breastfed babies should continue to grow steadily but mothers should be supported to watch for signs of thriving such as wet/dirty nappies, moving to the next size up in clothing or nappy, rather than relying on frequent weight measurements.
Myth no. 3:
“Breastfeeding is painful”
Breastfeeding should not be painful once established. Whilst you are getting used to breastfeeding in the first few weeks you may experience some nipple pain, as your breasts aren’t used to something suckling on them so often and it’s important to use lanolin based nipple cream after every feed during this time. As midwives we advice lanolin based creams as you don’t have to wipe these off your nipples prior to feeding. Breastmilk also has natural healing properties so also works very well for soothing painful, sore or cracked nipples.
If you experience pain following a period of pain free feeding this could be related to thrush or a different problem, engorgement can cause breast pain for example. If breastfeeding is constantly painful it’s important that mothers have their latch checked as a poor latch can cause nipple pain. If the latch is good but pain is still present for mum then it could be that your baby is tongue tied, which would need to be checked by a professional who’s qualified to diagnose, such as an infant feeding lead or tongue tie practitioner.
That’s all for now, I will be busting further breastfeeding myths in subsequent articles, so please check back at www.lotusmaternity.co.uk/blog soon.
Ps. I’ve just reread the title of this blog and there was genuinely no pun intended, just a very appropriate choice of words!
PPs. Breastfeeding is not always easy but I’m sure you’ll agree it’s always worth it.
Founder of Lotus Maternity.