Breastfeeding Myths To Avoid (Part 1)

We know that the World of Lactation can be a big, confusing mess! Everyone from family members to friends to doctors has an opinion or anecdote to share, and advice to give.   Even when you’re trying to use the most reliable resources, it can be frustrating when recommendations change–and this happens regularly!  Still, a quality lactation support person will strive to stay abreast (see what we did there?) of new research and recommendations.  Today, we want to share some advice and tips that are not shown, by research to be helpful.  In other words:  Breastfeeding Myths.

Here are some that we hear frequently (in no particular order):

To make more milk, drink more water.

  • As with many myths or legends, there is a shred of truth here–breastfeeding mothers need to be adequately hydrated, just like every other being on our planet.  Where this becomes myth, though, is when moms are forcing themselves to drink more and more water (or other beverage) in an attempt to increase their milk supply.  

There are several studies showing this technique is not helpful in increasing supply, and some experts believe it could actually decrease it!  It is thought that by pushing unnatural amounts of water, we could enter a vicious cycle–drinking too much water could artificially “plump up” tissues, tricking the  body into thinking it’s in a state of engorgement, which will ultimately  reduce milk supply.

Breastfeeding mothers must avoid certain foods.

  • Again, there is a shred of truth here that has grown to become conventional wisdom.  While some babies have severe allergies to certain components of milk (more commonly cow milk proteins, from the milk mother drinks), there is no reason for every mother to avoid any certain food.  Broccoli, cabbage and garlic as well as spicy foods are often accused of causing gas and fussiness in breastfed babies. The thought is, if the food causes Mother gas, it will get in her milk and cause gas in the baby.  

While that may seem logical, there is really no physiological mechanism for it to happen.  Breastmilk is made up from components of Mother’s blood…and the gas produced in her colon does not enter her bloodstream. Often these symptoms can be addressed by tweaking the breastfeeding routine, without changing Mom’s diet at all. As for spicy food, in many cultures, spicy food is the norm, and babies nurse without issue.  Different flavors in milk may help babies experience a “taste” of solid food, without eating it.  There is also some research showing that babies whose mothers ate garlic actually nurse longer!  Babies may actually like the flavor.

It is important to let the breasts fill up between feedings.

  • This is an old one which still gets passed around today.  This myth doesn’t even appear to have a shred of truth, but rather shows a misunderstanding about how our bodies make milk. Since our bodies seek to work in an efficient way, our breasts will not make more milk than necessary.  When breasts become full of milk, the signal is sent to the brain that “that is enough.”  

If breasts continue to stay full much of the time, our bodies get the signal that, “You’re making too much,” then our body begins making less milk.  The best way to ensure that your supply is sufficient is being sure milk is removed from the breast frequently–at least 10-12 times every 24 hours, for the first months of breastfeeding.

Infrequent stooling is normal for breastfed babies.

  • Again, that shred of truth…many exclusively breastfed babies do begin having less frequent bowel movements sometime around 6 weeks, but fewer than 4 poopy diapers per day in the first 6 weeks warrants a call to your lactation helper or doctor.  After Day 4 of life, expect to see frequent, yellow stools in your exclusively breastfed baby.  

If Baby is still passing meconium after about Day 5, it is important to contact your doctor right away.  Even after the 6th week, some professionals feel that infrequent stooling in an exclusively breastfed baby may be “common,” but not “normal.”  It is important to communicate with your health care professional about their thoughts regarding infant stooling patterns.

These are only a few of breastfeeding myths and misunderstandings that are floating around in the lactation world.  Every nursing mother can benefit from having a knowledgeable helper who can support and inform her as she begins her breastfeeding journey.

Authored by Amy Hall, CLC

Heidi ShulistaBreastfeeding Myths To Avoid (Part 1)

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