The World Health Organization recommends that women breastfeed for a minimum of 6 months and up to 2 years. Over 90% of women can breastfeed, however many women do not and claim health reasons even though there are very few health conditions that prevent breastfeeding. Another reason given for not breastfeeding is baby’s poor latch or not latching on. Although this problem is real (especially with low birth weight and premature babies), it can usually be overcome with help from a good lactation consultant, and with mom’s patience and determination. Even when this problem cannot be overcome women can still pump milk to feed their infant. In the end, formula should only be used as a last resort as it cannot mimic breast milk 100%.
Many women are not informed that during the first 4-6 weeks (or longer) when breastfeeding is being established, baby will feed frequently (10 to 12 times/day or more) and may even feed for a long period of time (over 20 minutes). A lot of women feel overwhelmed or that they are not producing enough milk, even though a lack of milk production is rare. The fact is that Mother Nature created this period so that women’s milk will become well established and baby will be close to mom during this delicate period for bonding and comfort. Some pediatricians call this period the “4th trimester” because baby needs to be close to mom as much as possible to adjust to life outside of the womb without being shocked and overwhelmed. It is also a very important time for mom to recover from birth instead of jumping into her regular routine; being “stuck” to baby assures that proper rest is established.
Sadly in our society this bonding and comforting time is not commonly acceptable and right from the start a vulnerable mother is often told by others that baby is too clingy, or that they are setting themselves up to spoil baby, or are wrapped around their baby’s little itty bitty pinky or that they are just being used as a soother. Mothers are told to establish a feeding routine right away, even though it is recommended that mothers feed on demand (babies which are fed on demand thrive much better than babies which are fed on a schedule). The fact is mothers and babies both need this bond, and you cannot spoil a baby, nor are babies being manipulative, and there is really nothing wrong with baby using mom as a soother as long as mom can tolerate it (most babies will grow out of this habit when they are ready).
The first year of life is about bonding with baby and establishing trust and a relationship that will create a stable, independent and happy child and later adult. In many aboriginal cultures, always having baby near (baby wearing and co-sleeping) is acceptable and normal; however in our modern culture it is frowned upon even though we evolved and are designed this way. Babies are cute and cuddly for a reason, and when they cry it upsets parents for a reason. We are programmed this way for a purpose.
Women who are properly educated on the benefits of nursing and have proper support from friends and family (especially their partners) are more likely to be successful at breastfeeding then those that don’t have this support. It is also the responsibility of our society (which includes you) to make our culture more accepting of breastfeeding. Some women experience rude comments when breastfeeding in public or dirty looks that make them feel uncomfortable when leaving the house, and which can lead to resentment of breastfeeding. Some women find it inconvenient to breastfeed in public due to a lack of accessibility to quiet areas (not to be confused with hiding) and comfortable seating for nursing. It is everyone’s job to be educated on the importance of breastfeeding and to support women who are breastfeeding by not making them feel uncomfortable or like they are doing something wrong.
To help educate people and future breastfeeding moms and their partners, I thought I would post 10 common breastfeeding myths
1. Many women do not produce enough milk or enough nutrients in their milk:
False. Most women produce enough milk. In fact having too much milk is more common. Babies that do not gain weight properly usually do so because of poor latch or are not getting to the hind milk due to frequent switching of the breast. Women in third world countries that are malnourished have plenty of milk full of nutrients for their babies. It is only when the baby is no longer nursing that the infant becomes malnourished and sick.
Women who do have problems with milk supply can easily reverse this problem by taking teas and increasing milk by providing baby more time at the breast as breast milk is created by supply and demand. Providing baby with too much supplemented milk, smoking, not being well hydrated or even a negative attitude or resentment can also be a culprit in lack of supply. Feeding on a schedule as opposed to feeding on demand can create issues with milk supply; that is why feeding on demand is recommended and not scheduled feeding.
2. A breastfeeding baby needs water especially during hot weather and when their sick.
False. Breast milk is all that baby needs for the first 6 months. Breast milk contains all the water that an infant needs. Breast milk is 80% water.
3. Formula is just as good as breast milk:
False. Breast milk is designed for human infant consumption; it has the right amount of fat, protein & carbohydrates for a human baby. It has all the nutrients (vitamins & minerals) a baby needs for the first 6 months & contains antibodies (something that cannot be replicated). Formula has synthetic nutrients that are harder to absorb and/or not as effective at nourishing the body. Formula does not contain antibodies.
Most formula is created using cow’s milk as its base, which has the fat, protein, and carbohydrate rates for a calf, not a human. Cow’s milk contains two main proteins: casein (80%); and whey (20%). Breast milk contains the same proteins but in a different ratio: whey (80%); and casein (20%). As a woman breastfeeds and as her infant grows, this ratio slowly changes; once the infant is about 12 to 24 months (human weaning age) the ratio slowly reverses. Casein is a protein that is not easily digested by humans in high amounts. When an infant under weaning age consumes a cow-base formula, the infant is consuming too much casein. Casein has been shown to cause or aggravate many illnesses and conditions such as heart disease, type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune disorders. Cow’s milk also contains naturally too much estrogen for humans and in a lot of cases has had estrogen either fed to them or injected into them in the form of growth hormones (to help fatten them and their offspring), increasing the amount of estrogen in their milk and meat. Human mothers produce estrogen in their milk in the correct amount for their infants to promote bone growth and development. Too much estrogen can lead to serious health problems!
Formula containing goat’s milk also has some of the same issues as cow’s milk although the ratio of whey and casein is closer to that of humans. Goat’s milk still contains too much casein for human consumption.
Soy based formulas are also a concern due to allergies to soy and nuts. Non-organic soy contains protein from nuts and is estrogenic as opposed to its organic natural form, which contains an estrogen-balancing component called isoflavones , which is beneficial. Finding certified organic soy formula is hard and there is still a concern about an allergy to soy itself. Soy formula also does not contain all the nutrients and antibodies of breast milk.
4. Formula feeding is easier than Breastfeeding:
False. Breastfeeding is usually easier than bottle-feeding. Bottle-feeding requires sterilization of bottles and the proper preparation of the formula. Breastfeeding is as simple as putting baby to your breast. When breastfeeding, you don’t have to worry about packing bottles and finding a way to warm up milk. Most mothers who breastfeed dread pumping or preparing formula because it requires more prep time. Hence the expression “I am too lazy to bottle feed” which is commonly found on t-shirts worn by breastfeeding moms!
When a baby is hungry it may mean baby has to fuss or cry before his or her needs are met when bottle-feeding. When breastfeeding, a baby’s needs are generally met immediately. The faster a baby’s needs are met the less stress a baby has to go through, the more trust is created and the more confidence baby has with communicating (which is beneficial when babbling and talking commence). Babies which are left to cry for long periods also produce too much cortisol, a stress hormone that is hard on the body. There is also evidence that babies which are left to cry for long periods are pre-disposed to anxiety disorders when they are older.
5. Women should not night nurse, it can cause ear infections, dental cavities and mom will be too tired in the morning:
False: Although formula and cows milk or juice before bed or in the middle of the night can cause cavities, due to the antimicrobial and antibacterial properties of breast milk, this rarely happens to babies who night nurse. However some babies who have sensitive teeth may be more prone to cavities and breast milk may aggravate this.
Nursing in bed does not cause ear infections for several reasons. Babies who nurse in bed are on their sides as apposed to baby’s who are bottle-fed who are reclined or flat on their back. If night nursing caused ear infections so would a baby in a cradle or football position as they are in the same side lying position. Even if milk worked its way up the ear canal the antimicrobial and antibacterial properties would prevent an ear infection from occurring. Breastfed babies have fewer ear infections than formula fed infants, which is one of the reason’s it’s promoted by health care practitioners.
Women who nurse in bed and co-sleep or do partial co-sleeping get better sleep than mothers who do not or bottle-feed. Babies also sleep longer as they can nurse instinctively in their sleep and some mothers nurse without waking up or even realize they are doing so. Co-sleeping is perfectly safe as long as it’s done safely and can even prevent SIDS if done correctly. A well-rested mother has more patience, energy and responds better to a baby then an overtired mother. Many lactation consultants and pro-breastfeeding doctors and midwives often recommend nursing in bed at night so mom and baby get better rest and to create a wonderful bonding experience when baby needs it most.
6. Breastfeeding Hurts:
False: Breastfeeding should not hurt; any pain is usually due to a poor latch. A poor latch can lead to pain, cracked nipples, mastitis and other problems that can or will cause pain.
7. Breastfeeding ties mom down:
This depends on the mother’s attitude and situation but it does not have to be this way: Breastfeeding should not tie a mother down. However in some situations it can be difficult due to our society: although breastfeeding women have a right to breastfeed anywhere an infant is allowed, some situations make women uncomfortable due to comments made, looks and or no place to comfortably breastfeed. Some women are asked to leave even though they have a right to breastfeed.
Traveling in a vehicle for a long period of time can also be a little difficult as one would have to pull over in order to breastfeed as baby has to be strapped in a car seat while a vehicle is in motion. Some creative women won’t let this stop them however and will pull over gladly or breastfeed hovering over the baby in the car seat.
8. Women with small breast don’t produce enough milk or no milk.
False: Size does not matter when it comes to producing milk for your child; milk is produced by supply in demand not by the size of the container!
9. Doctors know a lot about breastfeeding:
False: Most doctors know very little about breastfeeding as they don’t learn very much about it in medical school and most of their knowledge is outdated. Most doctors don’t even use the proper growth charts for breastfed babies leaving mother thinking her baby is not getting enough milk or not growing properly. However, there are exceptions to this rule; some doctors take lactation courses and receive certifications. If you need help with breastfeeding or information seek the advice of a lactation consultant, a doctor who has studied lactation, a nutritionist who has lactation knowledge or certification, a breastfeeding support person or a Naturopathic Doctor who has lactation knowledge or certification. You can also visit several sites that will be listed at the end of this article for more information on breastfeeding.
10. Breastfeeding is just a nuisance:
False: Many people blame breastfeeding for women being tired, sick, moody and overwhelmed. Some people even blame marital stress on a woman breastfeeding. The fact is a woman who wants to breastfeed is happy, healthy, and as well rested or more than any other mother with an infant who is not breastfeeding. Babies do lead to lack of sleep but it’s not because they need to be nursed. Having a baby is a lot of work and even more so depending on the baby or the attitude of the mother and/or parents. Nursing is not the culprit in situations where the above is happening. Some mothers who resent nursing may have these problems but it’s their attitude not the nursing that is causing these problems. Marital stress is common during the first year especially with new parents, but most couples come out of this new adjustment fine and stronger and happier than before it has nothing to do with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is only a nuisance to those who make it so. Sadly again our society has the wrong attitude toward breastfeeding (although slowly changing) and this is the actual nuisance, especially to a breastfeeding mother, her child and partner.
August 1 to 7 is National Breastfeeding week. Talk about breastfeeding to others especially those who have issues with it and inform them how important it is. Talk about breastfeeding with mothers who are doing it and learn more from them. Stand up to your governments and demand full breastfeeding rights that do not just include the right of a women to breastfeed in public but to make it easier for her to do so. Many women stop breastfeeding due to financial issues that do not let them stay home from work even though they are entitled to a year. The fact that partners have to split the year instead of taking it off together is also another issue. Not having one’s partner around during the first few weeks or months when baby is breastfeeding frequently and mom needs help is also another deterrent in encouraging mothers to breastfeed for the minimum 6 months period. What about mothers who want to breastfeed the full term recommended by the WHO (2 years), one year is not enough for those who want to breastfeed? Mothers should be allowed up to 2 years with full financial support.
In the end, what breastfeeding moms want is support; so, give support to the breastfeeding mothers around you in any way you can. It can be as simple as giving her an encouraging smile when you see her breastfeeding in public.
NBCI: Dr Jack Newman’s website.
La Leche League Canada: http://www.lllc.ca/
The world Health Organization on Breastfeeding: http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/
Dr Sears on Breastfeeding: http://www.askdrsears.com/html/2/T020100.asp
Sudbury District Health Unit, Breastfeeding Resources: http://www.sdhu.com/content/healthy_living/folder.asp?folder=25&parent=4&lang=0
Dana Clark, CHC, CHA, CNHP
President, Sudbury Green Party of Ontario Constituency Association
Communicaitons Chair, Sudbury Federal Green Party Association
Dana Clark is a Certified Herbal Consultant, Community Health Advisor and Certified Natural Health Practitioner. She is also in the process of achieving her Nutritional Counseling designation. Dana is also experienced in breastfeeding and is proudly still breastfeeding her 12-month-old son.