The government is calling for more support for new mums to allow them to keep breastfeeding beyond the first few months.
Although 76% of women start out breastfeeding, this falls to 50% by six weeks – and one in four by six months.
Women will always give you reasons why you can’t breastfeed, but are they really true? We examine some of the myths and reveal the reality.
Myth: You can’t breastfeed if you’ve got small boobs
Reality: Alison Spiro, specialist health visitor and breastfeeding counsellor, says, ‘Breast size has no bearing on how much milk you produce. It’s the fatty tissue that determines breast size, and milk isn’t manufactured in the fat but in the glandular tissue. The same goes for large-breasted mums: women of all shapes and sizes can breastfeed successfully.’
Myth: If you’ve had a drink, you shouldn’t breastfeed
Reality: GP Dr Kerrie Spaul says, ‘You can drink a bit more when you’re breastfeeding than you can in pregnancy. Alcohol makes its way into breastmilk, but in smaller quantities than when it passes through the placenta to an unborn baby.’
‘Alcohol goes into your milk in the same way as into your bloodstream. While you’re drinking it’s whizzing around in your blood and in your milk, but when you stop your body metabolises it. Gradually your blood and your milk become less boozy and eventually return to normal.’
‘Pumping and dumping won’t make any difference; you just have to wait for the milk to become alcohol-free on its own. It’s not a good idea to drink heavily while you’re breastfeeding, though. Babies are much more sensitive to alcohol than adults, even in tiny quantities. If too much passes through to your little one, his blood sugar will drop and he could become dehydrated and floppy.’
Myth: You can’t breastfeed twins or triplets
Reality: ‘Breastfeeding two or more babies can be challenging, but with the right support it’s also extremely rewarding,’ says Janet Rimmer, parenting and information co-ordinator for the Twins and Multiple Birth Association (Tamba). The wonderful thing about breastfeeding is that you can produce enough milk to feed however many children you have, whether it’s twins, triplets or a baby and a toddler. This is called “tandem feeding”.
‘The chances of twins being premature is higher than with single babies. Prem babies really benefit from the rich, nourishing colostrum your breasts produce in the first days after birth, as well as the infection-fighting antibodies in breastmilk.’
Myth: You can’t breastfeed with inverted nipples
Reality: ‘Your nipples are just there to guide your baby. It’s not nipple-feeding, it’s breast-feeding,’ says Alison Spiro. ‘Your baby milks your breast by massaging the areola around the nipple, so although it might be trickier to get your newborn latched on at the beginning, you can still breastfeed.’
Myth: Your milk can dry up if you miss a feed
Reality: Missing the occasional feed won’t have much impact on your milk supply. But your breastmilk production works on a supply-and-demand basis: the more you feed, the more milk you’ll produce.
‘If you only feed your baby four times in a day for a few days, your body will assume that’s all your baby needs, and will adjust your supply to provide for four feeds the next day,’ explains Alison Spiro. ‘This isn’t a no-return situation, though: you can soon build your supply up again by feeding her more often.’
If your baby prefers one breast, then the less-used one will start to produce less milk: this is nothing to worry about, as your other breast will produce more milk to compensate.
Myth: Breastfeeding hurts like crazy
Reality: Alison Spiro says, ‘Many women experience a sharp, shooting pain when they first start feeding, which means that the baby is latched on to the nipple and not the areola around the nipple. If this happens, pop your finger in your baby’s mouth to break the suction and get him latched on again, this time waiting until his mouth is wide open, so he’s got a big mouthful of breast and isn’t sucking at the tip of your nipple.’
‘Breastfeeding should only be painful if your baby isn’t latched on well. If it hurts, ask a midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding counsellor to come to your home and help you get the positioning right. Blocked ducts and cracked nipples are problems that do crop up now and then, but they’re temporary and can be quickly sorted out so that you can get back to comfortable breastfeeding.’
Myth: You can’t breastfeed if you’re on medication
Reality: Many drugs, including some antibiotics for mastitis, and antidepressants, have been shown to be safe for breastfeeding, although there are some that haven’t been tested yet. ‘When you see your GP for any condition, tell her that you’re breastfeeding so that you can be prescribed safe drugs,’ says Dr Spaul.
‘In general, it’s thought the benefits of breastfeeding mean it’s better to try to continue feeding even if you need to take medication. If in any doubt, call the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) breastfeeding helpline on 0870 444 8708.’
Myth: You can’t breastfeed if you’ve got implants
Reality: ‘You can breastfeed if you’ve had breast enlargements, but it may cause problems with the implants migrating to a different part of your breast. This is because the glandular breast tissue enlarges when you feed your baby,’ explains breastfeeding counsellor Alison Spiro.
‘Another point worth mentioning is that if you’re figure conscious and worried about your breasts changing after a baby, it’s not breastfeeding that causes these alterations. Simply being pregnant and producing milk means that your breasts may not be the same afterwards, whether or not you breastfeed.’
Myth: You can’t get pregnant if you’re breastfeeding
Reality: You can still conceive while breastfeeding! Prolactin, the hormone that makes you produce milk, also hinders ovulation. Although nature helps you space out your babies so they all have a good chance of survival, you are also designed to have as many as possible.
‘As soon as your baby sleeps longer and feeds less at night, or you drop feeds once weaning starts, the effect is lessened, and your reproductive hormones seep through the protective prolactin barrier,’ says Dr Spaul.
‘Don’t wait for your first period as a warning: you ovulate two weeks before you bleed, so you could conceive before you even have a period.’
Myth: If you give your baby a bottle, he’ll reject the breast
Reality: ‘Lots of babies happily combine bottle and breastfeeding,’ explains Alison Spiro. ‘Wait until breastfeeding is well established and your baby’s got the hang of latching on (around 3 or 4 weeks) before offering a bottle. If you leave it later than 6 weeks, your breastfed baby may not be keen to take a bottle.’
Myth: Breastfeeding mums should avoid spicy food
Reality: ‘Breastfeeding is an international activity, and in every country in the world women eat different foods,’ says Alison Spiro. ‘Most babies are unaffected by what their mums eat, and one of the advantages of breastmilk is that it has a different flavour depending on what you’ve eaten, so it’s a good way of getting your baby used to different tastes!
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‘Some flavours are thought to pass through your amniotic fluid to your baby in pregnancy, so your little one may even get used to the taste of spicy food while in the womb!’
Myth: If you find you can’t breastfeed, you’re a bad mum
Reality: There are two things that a newborn needs more than anything else: plenty of milk, and plenty of love. But if breastfeeding really doesn’t work for you, move on and make the best of bottlefeeding by giving your baby lots of close, warm cuddles while he enjoys his milk.