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Home / Baby Care

Common myths and facts about breastfeeding

 Aga Khan University Hospital Lactation Manager Mary Mathenge shows a new mother how to position a baby while breastfeeding

Stories abound about how breastfeeding makes the breasts sag. But this is just one myth among many that have been passed down and that need to be debunked as the world celebrates nature's nourishing formula.

Among the myths are:

Breastfeeding will make breasts sag

Breastfeeding doesn't cause your breasts to sag, but the ageing process as well as losing or gaining weight can have an effect. In addition, pregnancy, not breastfeeding, alters the shape of a woman's breasts. However, it is important to wear a good bra to support breasts that are heavy with milk.

Infant formula is basically the same as breast milk

Infant formula is not the same as breast milk. It is not a living product so it doesn't have the antibodies, living cells, enzymes or hormones that protect your baby from infections and diseases later in life. Formula milk is made from a variety of proteins, including animal milk, soybeans and vegetable oils. Although they have been adjusted so they are more like human milk, they are still far from perfect for babies.

Babies fed on formula milk are healthier

Babies who are fed on milk from their mother's breasts gain less weight over their first year compared to babies fed on milk from a bottle. Research indicates that breastfed babies are less likely to be obese children or adults than babies who were formula-fed, and have fewer health problems. Artificially-fed babies may develop intolerance to protein animal milk. They may also suffer from diarrhoea, abdominal pain, rashes and other symptoms when they eat foods that contain different kinds of protein.

Breastfeeding is easy for some women, but some don't produce enough milk

Almost all women are physically able to breastfeed. It's a skill that every woman needs to learn and practise before it becomes easy. It happens more quickly for some women than others, but nearly all women can produce the amount of milk their baby needs. The diet of the breastfeeding mother plays a major role in the production of milk.

My breasts are small so I will not have enough milk

The shape and size of the breasts and nipples is determined by the fat and supportive tissue in the breasts, hence large or small. The gland tissue in both small and large breasts is the same, and therefore they can both produce plenty of milk.

My nipples are flat, or inverted, so I cannot breastfeed

After delivery, many flat or inverted nipples will correct once breastfeeding starts. The infant is the best treatment for flat or inverted nipples. During pregnancy, no routine preparation is needed. Hoffman's exercises, which entail pulling and rolling the nipples, and nipple shields are not helpful.

I can't get pregnant if I'm breastfeeding

Exclusive breastfeeding helps delay a new pregnancy. Breastfeeding as a natural form of birth control works when your infant is younger than six months and breastfeeds exclusively around the clock, and you aren't yet having menstrual periods. Breastfeeding can delay ovulation but the effectiveness of this form of birth control changes when the infant starts sleeping more and feeding less. So if you don't want to get pregnant, it's best to use another, more reliable, form of birth control as soon as you start having sex again after your baby's birth.

If I breastfeed, I can't have a sex life

After you've had your baby, you'll decide when it is time to have sex with your partner. The same hormone that helps to release your milk for the baby (oxytocin) is also made when you have sex. When having sex, you may leak a little breast milk. This is normal.

People don't like women breastfeeding in public

Surveys actually show that the majority of people don't mind women breastfeeding in public. Babies should be fed on demand and sometimes this means the mother does not have a private place to breastfeed. Wear clothes that allow easy access to your breasts, such as breastfeeding bras and tops that pull up from the waist, or button down. Use a light blanket around your shoulders to cover anything you don't want to expose in public.

Some facts to bear in mind

Babies can be breastfed exclusively for six months

It is recommended that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. Breast milk has perfect nutrients in the correct amounts and proportion for the normal growth and development until the age of six months. Breast milk is easily digested, efficiently used, clean, warm and has less chance of being contaminated, it also decreases the risk of allergy and obesity in the infant.

Breastfeeding helps the mother lose excessive weight

Not only does breastfeeding help the mother to lose excessive weight gained during pregnancy, it also helps the involution of the uterus and reduces the amount of bleeding during the puerperium (period of about six weeks after childbirth during which the mother's reproductive organs return to their original non-pregnant condition).

The baby should be put on the breast immediately after delivery

Immediately after birth, a newborn baby should be placed on the mother's abdomen even before the cord is cut, and then put to the breast when ready to start breastfeeding. A baby's suckling drive is usually strongest in the first hour or two after birth. For Caesarean sections, the mother should be given the baby immediately after surgery (especially epidural and spinal) as the mother is fully awake.

The baby is refusing the breast

If the baby is refusing the breast, he may have sores in the mouth due to thrush. The baby might also be ill or upset. These problems should be looked into and treated. Sometimes the mother may have too much milk and the milk flow too fast, causing the baby to choke or gag when feeding. Express some of the milk before putting the baby on the breast. This can be stored in a sterile container in the freezer for future use.

Painful nipples make it difficult to breastfeed

Painful nipples happen when the baby is incorrectly latched to the breast. The baby should be fed on the breast, not just the nipple. Make sure that the baby has all of the nipple and most of the areola (small circular area, in particular the ring of pigmented skin surrounding a nipple) in the mouth when feeding. If correctly done, nipples should not be painful, even in the first few days.

Working mothers can breastfeed exclusively for six months

A mother can continue to breastfeed exclusively for six months and beyond while working.

The writer is Lactation Manager at the Aga Khan University Hospital

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