Trying to nurture your child safely can be overwhelming – and false information doesn’t help
There are plenty of myths surrounding breastfeeding. It’s easy to jump online for some helpful tips and find yourself knee-deep in misinformation. Between old wives’ tales and new social media influencers, it can be difficult to know what to believe. I am going to break down some of the most common myths about breastfeeding to provide new mothers with research-based responses to their everyday questions.
Breastfeeding and pregnancy
For many years it was thought that a woman couldn’t get pregnant while breastfeeding. It has also been said that you have to cease breastfeeding immediately if you do become pregnant. These are very vague statements that can be very misleading.
Myth: You can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding
This is not true. While breastfeeding can suppress ovulation, this effect is not guaranteed and can vary from woman to woman. This natural form of contraception is only effective for the first 6 months after childbirth and has a failure rate of 0.5%-1.5% when exclusively breastfeeding with latching. To truly be in lactational amenorrhea (temporary infertility during breastfeeding) the following is required:
- A period has not returned.
- There is no breast milk pumping.
- The child is only breastfed with suckling at least every 6 hours at night and 4 hours during the day, causing suppression of the hormones that lead to ovulation.
- The child is less than 6 months old.
The best way to prevent pregnancy during breastfeeding is the use of birth control. Breastfeeding mothers can use low-hormone birth control in the form of pills, intrauterine devices (IUDs), shots and implants. Condoms can also safely be used during intercourse to prevent pregnancy during this time.
Myth: You have to wean if you get pregnant while breastfeeding
This is untrue, though it can be a healthy choice for some mothers. It is not necessary to get your child to eat other food sources instead of breast milk if you become pregnant while nursing. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) notes that breastfeeding during pregnancy is appropriate if the pregnancy is low risk.
Although this may not be a danger to the baby growing inside, some mothers still choose to wean after becoming pregnant as the breast milk may decrease. It may also change in taste and consistency, which could lead to the existing child refusing to nurse. This is something that the mother and her provider should discuss in order to decide what is best for the mother’s situation.
Breast milk and a mother’s body
Providing the largest amount of the most nutritious breast milk to your child while maintaining your own health can be challenging. There are so many fun infographics and articles that talk about what you should consume, what you should avoid and how you should feel throughout the whole process. But how much of that information is true?
Myth: You must stick to a breastfeeding diet
This is not the case. Many women are told that there are certain foods they must avoid or add to their diet to produce the most milk with the highest nutritional value and the least discomfort for their child. While there are some cases in which diet needs to be monitored, it is not generally a factor when it comes to the amount and quality of breast milk you can yield.
Eating to increase breast milk supply
Oatmeal, barley, brewer’s yeast, ginger, basil, banana and pumpkin are all said to boost breast milk production, but there has been no scientific evidence proving that is the case. These foods are nutritious and fine to have in your diet, but don’t expect to see a change in breast milk supply after ingesting them.
What’s more important is that you are eating enough food to produce nutritious breast milk. Although the numbers differ by activity level and body type, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that an active, healthy mother consume 2,000 calories per day while breastfeeding. It is also critical to get enough water and stay hydrated as nursing causes a mother to lose significant fluids.
Eating to avoid irritation for your child
This one is tricky, as some babies and infants may have allergies or sensitivities to certain foods. Your diet can also change the taste of your breast milk, which may lead to your child being reluctant to try flavors that differ from your normal diet, especially if they are spicy or garlicky. If your child seems to be uncomfortable each time you eat or drink something specific, you should consult with your provider for further testing and guidance.
This does not mean, however, that there is a set rule for which foods a nursing mother should avoid. For most mothers, the things they eat will not cause any harm or discomfort to their child.
Myth: It’s normal to have pain while breastfeeding
This depends on the level of pain. It’s typical for a mother to experience a tugging sensation on the nipple while breastfeeding and possibly some slight discomfort in the first few days, but the process should never hurt. If you are experiencing pain during or after nursing, try different positions with your baby and ensure the child is latching properly. You may want to consult a lactation expert if any discomfort continues.
Myth: Taking a break from breastfeeding increases breast milk supply
This is simply not true. Some women believe that taking a break from nursing will allow the breast milk time to replenish, increasing supply. But breastfeeding is more of a supply and demand situation. The more you breastfeed, the more milk you will produce. Taking a rest from nursing your child can actually decrease your breast milk.
Myth: You should not breastfeed while sick or on medication
This depends on the illness but is typically untrue. Breast milk is very important for babies who have been exposed to a virus as it contains helpful antibodies that help fight off illness. Depending on the illness, continuing to nurse after discovering you are ill will make your child less likely to catch the bug you’ve likely already exposed him or her to.
If you find yourself ill while breastfeeding, it is important to get the right treatment, including plenty of rest, healthy food and liquids. If medication is required, make sure you tell your provider that you are currently nursing. The CDC notes that, with some exceptions, most medication is safe to take during this time. Your provider may instruct you to take a breastfeeding-safe alternative to some medications, or simply to take the medication at a specific time or dosage to be safe.
Breastfeeding versus formula
Although this blog is about breastfeeding, I want to remind you that feeding your baby looks different for every woman, and that you are not a “failure” if you are unable to breastfeed or choose not to. Formula has come a long way in the past several years, and even breastfeeding mothers are using it to help supplement their baby’s diet.
Myth: You can’t mix breast milk and formula
This can be interpreted in two ways:
- You can’t supplement formula when you are breastfeeding.
- You can’t mix formula in a bottle with breast milk.
Either way, this is false.
There are rumors that nursing children shouldn’t be given a bottle of formula or they will become confused and stop eating. While this is untrue, it is best to introduce your child to a bottle between 2 to 6 weeks of age by using it for one or two feedings a day. This will help your child develop the ability to take a bottle while still allowing for the breastfeeding necessary to keep your milk coming in.
Combining breast milk with formula in the same bottle is safe if the formula is properly prepared before adding to your milk. Ready-to-feed formulas can be added in directly, but concentrated liquid and powdered formulas must be prepared according to the instructions on the packaging before adding to breast milk. It is never appropriate to add undiluted powdered or concentrated liquid formula directly to your breast milk.
Myth: You can’t start with formula and switch to breastfeeding
This myth is also untrue. Many mothers are able to successfully breastfeed after weeks of having to use formula. This is called relactation, and it is perfectly normal and healthy. The ability of your child to begin nursing after being on a bottle depends on their age and how long it has been since they breastfed if you were able to do so previously.
It is likely that you will still have to supplement some of your child’s feedings with formula as your breast milk increases. Balancing the timing and amount of formula and breastfeeding should be discussed with your provider or a lactation expert as you begin this new feeding routine.