Common Breastfeeding Myths Debunked

There has been a lot of misinformation spread around lately in the press regarding breastfeeding. Unfortunately, celebrities have a lot of influence over society and those influences can be pretty detrimental to people’s health. Don’t believe me? Just look at the role former Playboy bunny, Jenny McCarthy had in the “anti vaxx” movement. This woman, with zero qualifications in anything, managed to convince millions of people that vaccines were responsible for autism. Even though Dr Wakefield, the man who was responsible for these falsified reports had his license revoked. There are still millions of people across the world that believe vaccines give children autism. Even though scientific studies are now showing that the condition is in fact, a consequence of genetics. So when celebrities such as Amanda Brunker spread false information like “watery breast milk”, what she is doing, whether she means to or not, is solidifying the doubt in some woman’s mind that she may not actually be “good enough.” Women are generally so hard on themselves and unsurprisingly really, with magazines and products telling them they are not enough, that they need to change themselves beyond recognition. We are a culture obsessed with having it all and being it all.

Celebrities have a huge responsibility when they speak in public. They should be informed on the subject matter they are talking about. Amanda’s recent column just goes to show women are not educated about breastfeeding at all. We all hear the “breast is best” mantra but what the majority of people don’t know is that breast is just the biological norm, it doesn’t have this long list of advantages, it’s just that formula has it’s disadvantages. We are barely educated about infant feeding, never mind feeding past infancy. It’s funny, if you want to get married you have to jump through so many hoops, like doing a pre marriage course but, when it comes to children we have a very “ah sure it’ll be grand” sort of attitude. In some respects, it is best to have a laid back attitude but, all choices regarding our children, especially when it comes to their health, should be evidence based and researched. And by researched I mean using official sites such as who.int, not some “truth” website.

If people did go and actually educate themselves about breastfeeding and breastfeeding past infancy, they would learn that in the second year of life 448mls of breast milk contains:

29% of energy requirements

43% of protein requirements

36% of calcium requirements

75% of vitamin A requirements

76% of folate requirements

94% of B12 requirements

60% of vitamin C requirements

Of course the longer a mother breastfeeds, the more protection she builds against illnesses such as breast and ovarian cancer. In fact, feeding for three years or more can reduce your chances of developing breast cancer by 94% That is huge! Yet society begrudges the women who do feed beyond the year mark-some even believe a child should be weaned earlier.

It was recently reported in the Irish Times that our low breastfeeding rate is costing the state €800 million a year. Nestlé recently announced they made a profit of nearly €80 million from Ireland alone in 2014. Formula is big business. Many I’m sure would be shocked to know that just €100,000 is spent promoting breastfeeding while maternity hospitals such as CUMH and UHL spend between €30,000 to €40,000 of tax payer’s money on formula every year, and that’s excluding the teats. So why do we have such poor breastfeeding rates?

If you ask me, and yes I know, nobody has, it’s because of misinformation. Pure and simple. So, with that in mind, I spoke with two experts about some of the most common myths surrounding breastfeeding.

Jack Newman, MD is a Canadian physician specialising in breastfeeding support and advocacy. He is also the co-author of ‘Dr Jack Newman’s Guide to Breast Feeding.’

Jack and baby

Based in Cork, Midwife and Breastfeeding Consultant Clare Boyle has been working in Ireland for the past 10 years. Clare teaches antenatal classes, breastfeeding preparation classes and provides breastfeeding support. See breastfeedingconsultant.ie for more information.

clare-new

Myth: Many women cannot physically breast feed or don’t produce enough breast milk.    

Dr Newman: This is not true.   There are a very few women who truly cannot produce all the milk the baby needs, but that doesn’t mean they cannot breastfeed.  They can supplement the baby at the breast with a lactation aid. In the vast majority of cases, mothers could have produced enough milk, but poor advice and poor ‘help’ undermined their breastfeeding.

Myth: Breastfeeding is supposed to hurt.  

Clare Boyle: Breastfeeding is actually meant to be a pleasure and joy to do and pain is not normal. Think of it from a biological point of view; would our foremothers continued with breastfeeding if was painful and difficult to do continue?   No, they would have given up and we, as a species, wouldn’t be here!   When a baby is latched on correctly there should be nothing more than a gentle tugging sensation and then the hormones we produce with breastfeeding – oxytocin, prolactin and endorphins – all help the mum bond and fall in love with her baby making it a pleasure and joy to do.

Myth: You can’t take medicines and breastfeed.  

Dr Newman: There is almost no drug that requires a mother to interrupt breastfeeding.   The real question is which is safer for the baby: Breastfeeding with tiny amounts of drug in the milk (and it is almost always tiny) or formula?   Clearly, in the majority of cases it is safer for the baby to breastfeed.

Myth: You can’t work and continue to breastfeed.  

Clare Boyle: I routinely help mums at around the six-month stage to co-ordinate breastfeeding and work requirements.   It takes a little organisation and planning but in the vast majority of cases, it can be done quite straightforwardly and it is lovely for both of you to connect through breastfeeding after being separated for the day.

Myth: You can’t drink alcohol and breastfeed.  

Dr Newman: The amount of alcohol that gets into the milk is tiny.   If you have 0.05 per cent alcohol in your blood, your milk will contain 0.05 per cent alcohol.   A baby could drink this all day and all night and not be harmed.

Myth: You can’t breastfeed a baby with disabilities such as Down Syndrome.  

Clare Boyle: Any baby with a disability can benefit hugely from breastfeeding.   The act of breastfeeding can help with neurological development and can help the baby mature and reach their full potential.

Myth: Premature babies must be ‘topped up’ with formula.  

Dr Newman: The majority of premature babies are not tiny, but born at 32 or more weeks gestation.   If the mother gets the help she needs for such a baby, there is no reason the baby cannot breastfeed exclusively.   For the very small premature babies, they can get to exclusive breastfeeding, again with good help, which unfortunately is rarely available in countries outside of Scandinavia.

Myth: It is easier to formula feed than it is to breastfeed.  

Clare Boyle: Breastfeeding is a learned skill, for most women it takes about two to four weeks to get the hang of it.   Feeling a bit overwhelmed and stressed about it in the early days is completely normal.   Once a mum has mastered breastfeeding, it just gets easier and easier.   It is important to remember that you will be feeding your child for many years to come and with breastfeeding it will never ever be so easy to feed your child the best food there is. There is no shopping, no sterilising, no mixing, and no cleaning up. Just pop baby on anywhere, anytime.

Myth: Formula is just as good as breast milk.  

Dr Newman: Not according to thousands of studies.   In fact, breast milk is so different from formula; you cannot consider them even similar, except that both are white.   Breast milk contains dozens of immune factors, not just antibodies, growth factors that help the brain, the gut, the immune system, the hematological system to develop stem cells, none of which are present in formula.   Human beings are very adaptable, that’s why many babies do OK on formula.   But they don’t, as a group, do as well as breastfed babies.

Myth: It is selfish to breastfeed because Dad can’t bond with baby.  

Dr Newman: This is the formula company line.  Every ‘information’ brochure I have seen that comes from a formula company mentions giving ‘dad a chance to feed the baby’. They know that bottles interfere with breastfeeding and that one bottle often becomes two bottles and then three and then the mother can’t keep up with pumping and so they end up giving formula and then eventually the baby stops breastfeeding.  But who said that feeding the baby is the only way a father can bond with his baby? Most mothers would be extremely grateful if the father helped out in other ways.  Walking, talking, holding the baby, changing the baby’s diaper, singing to the baby, bathing the baby.

Myth: Feeding a child past infancy is weird and unnecessary.

Dr Newman: The reason breastfeeding beyond infancy is “unsettling” is that many people, even health professionals who should know better, think it is and thus mothers are shamed because they are breastfeeding toddlers, they are told they are causing their children harm, and this without any basis in fact.  The WHO/UNICEF state, as do paediatric societies in most countries of the world, that baby should be exclusively breastfed for 6 months and then breastfeeding should continue to two years and beyond.  There is no distinction made for “advanced countries” and “less advanced countries”.Furthermore, one reason that breastfeeding a toddler is consider unnecessary is that people look only at the nutritional aspects of breast milk.  Sure, if a child is a wide variety of foods in ample amounts, does he need the protein from breast milk?  No.  But breast milk is more than just protein, fat and carbohydrate.  Breast milk is also immunity, and that continues as long as the child is breastfeeding.  We have good evidence that children in daycare, for example, who are breastfed are much less frequently affected by the epidemics of infectious diseases that sweep through daycare and if the breastfed infant or child does get sick, s/he is usually much less severely ill than their mates who are not breastfed.  In addition, breast milk contains growth factors that stimulate the development of the brain, the gut, the immune system itself.  Indeed, every system of the body.And finally, breastfeeding is much more than breast milk.  Breastfeeding is a relationship, a close, intimate relationship between two people who are usually in love with each other.  We should all have been so lucky as to have had such a relationship.

So there you have it, straight from the experts.

Till next time,

ZM

 

5 thoughts on “Common Breastfeeding Myths Debunked”

  1. Wow, this breastfeeding post (like hundreds of others) is SO incredibly biased and insulting to people who either cannot or choose not to breastfeed. I am not going to sit here and argue with you all the potential flaws in the “thousands” of studies you claim prove the unassailable superiority of breastmilk. (And there ARE flaws, but I know I’m never going to win that argument.) Let me point out to you, however, that the final paragraph of this article is ridiculous, outlandish, and offensive. I think you are confusing the physical act of breastfeeding with the “intimate relationship” known as MOTHERHOOD. I defy you to locate one mother-child couple on this planet who feels less “bonded” because they did not breastfeed. (On the contrary, I have one child with whom I found it very difficult to bond as a newborn precisely BECAUSE I was breastfeeding her, because our very first interactions as mother and child were fraught with this absolutely torturous and dehumanising supply-and-demand dynamic. In contrast, I have another child with whom I was free to form an instant and uncomplicated attachment– as one person to another, rather than faulty milk machine to starving animal–because I’d decided beforehand not to put myself through any of that again.) I am sick to death of the implication, or outright CLAIM, by those who breastfeed that they have experienced some magical bond unattainable by those who do not. Feed your kid however you want to–and by all means, breastfeeding moms absolutely have my support in doing it whenever, wherever, and for however long they want to–but never, NEVER imply that your “bond” is different or superior to that of a parent who feeds their kid another way.

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    1. Hi Fiona,
      Thanks for taking the time to read. I’m not sure how you would go about arguing against science. Sharing factual information isn’t judgement and it should not be called out as so. Women deserve to be given the correct information cause we don’t get it from the health care professionals. The supply and demand aspect is exhausting for the first six weeks, I don’t argue with you there. I know how hard it is especially since I had to pump for the first four weeks due to tongue tie. It sounds as though you were not receiving enough support or the right information which is so typical here in Ireland. Very few PHNs are up to date with the recommendations or right information. Sadly, it means normal women like myself have the task of sharing the right information based on professional and expert sources like Clare Boyle and world renowned author and paediatrican, Dr Jack Newman. They are both wonderful people and in no way judgemental, they recognise that there is a serious lack of support and that women who are not able to breastfeed successfully are let down by the health system. Frequent feeding isn’t a sign of anything faulty but it’s how baby builds up your supply. Finally, I never said you can’t bond with your baby. Bottle feeding your baby doesn’t mean you don’t love or bond with your child. But, science shows us that lactating women produce prolactin, oxytocin etc etc which allows the mother to be intuitive and connected to the baby in a biological way. I must point out that I bottle fed my first child after 2 weeks of breastfeeding. In my experience, I do feel more connected to my baby who is breastfed but that doesn’t mean I don’t love my boy just the same or don’t have a bond with him because I do. We are each others world. The last paragraph are the words of Dr Newman and are not aimed at anyone. Jack is purely speaking from a biological point of view. I hope that clears things up for you a bit. Hope you have a wonderful day 🙂 x

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      1. I’ve breastfeed 4children and reading these great facts which I found very misleading to say anyone who breastfeeds for 6months or more reduces breast cancer and ovarion cancer by such a high percentages is reckless I have as I said breast fees 4children I set of twins in that and have still gone on to have breast cancer breastfeeding is not an easy thing to do and yes you do get sore and you do have a hungry baby for the first few days its not for everyone and no mother should be made feel a failure by so called experts and as for medical facts they would want to make their mind up about these so called myths which incidentally they had us believe you can’t do for instance medications drink and top up formula while breastfeeding they keep changing the rules but one thing is for sure no mother should b bullied into breastfeeding and then end up feeling a failure it is our choice and they are our babies and remember mother knows best and that’s where bonding comes into it we all know our own child

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      2. Hi Esther. Thanks for reading my blog. Breastfeeding CAN reduce your risk but it doesn’t not mean you are immune to getting it. I’m terribly sorry you had to go through that. Breastfeeding is a learned skill and it certainly is not easy for the first six weeks when baby is building the supply. Most health care professionals have very limited knowledge regarding breastfeeding and unfortunately tell mothers that they should stop feeding to begin taking medications. This is why we need more funding here in Ireland so that we can train people properly so that they can provide support and the correct advice to new mothers. Women should be angry that there isn’t more help available. I felt very guilty when I couldn’t breastfeed my first child. I was told all sorts of ridiculous reasons why it hurt to breastfeed and it turned out my son had a tongue tie and it should have been picked up on but it wasn’t. 3 years later I found out that he did have a tongue tie. I turned the guilt into anger. I am angry that thousands of women are told pain is normal and that the only answer is the bottle. For every breastfeeding problem, there is a breastfeeding solution. I am now nursing my 11 month baby girl who again, had a tongue tie. Luckily, I was informed this time but had to fork out €400 to sort it out because the system let us down, again. I am on several medications which I checked with knowledgable professionals. 99 per cent of medications are breastfeeding friendly. Again, it is health care professionals with no training that are misleading women. I turned my guilt into anger and then my anger into a passion, a passion to help other Irish women who are being let down left right and centre by the health system and our Government. Nobody can make someone feel judged. If you make informed decision that is right for you and your family, own it. Nobody has the right to comment on your parenting choices. Thank you for having your say and I wish you good health in the future.

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