In monthly LLL Meetings, we often hear statements that we know are untrue but are delivered with conviction, either as “common knowledge” or “statements of fact” by health professionals whose training, sadly, does not include much about breastfeeding. I will try to refute some of these myths.
1) “You have too little milk.” This arises at almost every single LLL Meeting the whole world over. As mammals, if we did not have enough milk to nourish our young, we would have died out as a species long ago. There are some women who do not have enough milk, but this is exceedingly rare, and it is unlikely that this applies to you. If your health professional says you will never have enough milk, try to find someone trained in human lactation before weaning completely. Many women often regret a rash decision to wean, which they later discover was probably based on unsubstantiated claims.
2) “You should breastfeed less often so your breasts can fill up”; and its partner “If your breasts are soft, you certainly have too little milk.” Such statements seem reasonable. However, they are based on a false assumption: that the breasts are always producing milk at the same rate, and between breastfeeding sessions are “filling up” so that there is milk for the next feed. But breastmilk is made on demand – it contains a feedback component that tells the breasts to stop production. When the baby starts nursing, the breastmilk that has been stored in the breast since the last time will quickly be used up and none of this feedback component will then be present; the breasts respond by going into full production, with letdown after letdown as the milk is produced. Most women only feel only the first, if at all. When Baby has drunk his fill, the breasts will still make milk, but in lesser amounts and the amount of the feedback component in the breast increases, slowing milk production still further. So, keeping the breasts empty by breastfeeding often will help ensure a plentiful milk supply. In the beginning, the breasts may be hard and engorged between feeds, but as they become more experienced, this will happen less often. An experienced breast knows when to make milk and when to stop so that the breasts do not go into over-production between feeds and will feel soft and comfortable.
3) “The baby must always take from both breasts at each feed.” Only the baby knows how big his hunger is. Some babies take large amounts of milk at one time and have long breaks between feeds, and then there are “snackers,” who feed a little and often. A mother can offer both breasts at each feed (or even each breast two or three times) but the baby does not have to accept this offer. If the baby has nursed effectively on the one breast and refuses the second, the second should be offered first at the next feed. If he has frequent quick snacks, it might be best to offer the same breast several times to ensure that both breasts are emptied and properly stimulated.
4) “Poor weight gain in a baby is due to poor quality milk.” There are many factors in this assertion. Not all babies should be on the 50th percentile, there are perfectly healthy babies on the third percentile and perfectly healthy babies on the 97th percentile. When deciding if baby is gaining enough/too little/too much, first look at the baby and not at his percentile chart. If he is developing properly, is alert and interested when awake, and is otherwise healthy, then it is likely that you simply have a baby who is not “average”. Regarding poor milk quality: studies show that even malnourished mothers have sufficient milk quality and quantity to support their infants. When resources are low, a breastfeeding mother’s body preferentially gives nutrients to the baby instead of to the mother. If your baby does not seem to be gaining enough weight, check first for proper attachment and breastfeeding management before doubting the quality of your milk. Consulting a lactation consultant or an LLL Leader or attending an LLL meeting could be very helpful.
I have dealt here with just a few of the many myths about breastfeeding in our culture. Please do contact us for answers to other questions about breastfeeding by telephone, email, or at one of our monthly meetings. Information can be found on our webpage lalecheleague.ch/en. Also highly recommended is the LLL manual The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, available from the LLL online shop.
By Beth Brupbacher
Beth has three children and is originally from Canada. She has a background in science, which helps her understand the scientific benefits of breastfeeding, and she keeps abreast of the latest research. She has been an LLL Leader since 2008.
Illustration by Susana Gutierrez
Susana is the mother of two little girls and a freelance illustrator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org