Breastfeeding is unlikely to even cross the mind without first or secondhand experience. So hypothesising about it is a bit like believing maternity leave is vacation. (If not up to speed, caring for a baby is a 24 hr job where mom’s service is on demand typically every 2 hrs (for an hr or more each time). Given how short maternity leave is in the US, yes this basically lasts the entire maternity leave)
For the uninitiated, these preconceived notions can be downright wrong, and knowing them saves quite a bit of new mom anxiety. Anxiety can sometimes be enough to keep moms from trying to breastfeed, or giving up over an undiagnosed fear.
Myth 1: Breastfeeding in Public is Embarassing
Before understanding the mechanics, breastfeeding may seem like a little bit of a strip show. The supposed “controversy” of breastfeeding in public comes twofold:
Unfamiliarity of the mom- In the first week or 2 fumbling around with maternity bras and positioning babies does seem rather awkward. So if it’s necessary to nurse in public as a first time mom, of course it will seem challenging at first glance. After the 1 month mark is typically when moms start feeling more like mini experts on nursing.
The reality is that moms keep most of their clothes on while nursing. Nursing bras and tank tops allow the mother to unlatch one side only, completely covering the other breast. As for the breast the baby is feeding on, the baby’s head actually obscures the line of sight, and any view is not going to be any more titillating than the view into a v-neck shirt.
There are exaggerated videos of feeding that do reveal more than cleavage, but those are typically more for show. It is very easy to feed discreetly. For the concerned, nursing covers with a bone in collar to allow seeing the baby clearly are readily available. Within the cover the baby can even unlatch and start fussing without any visibility.
After moms try nursing in public, most quickly realize there’s no hangup about feeding in public. Baby’s got to eat!
Normally, bystanders are unlikely to notice or care because literally, they can’t see a thing anyway. Federal and state laws supporting breastfeeding have also brought some awareness that it is a normal event.
On the very rare occurrence that someone stops a mother, it’s actually more likely to be embarrassing for them to not understand the circumstances or the laws protecting nursing in public.
Tip: Try it and the fear will go away
Myth 2: Mom will naturally know what to do
While breastfeeding may be a natural and biological phenomenon, knowing how to breastfeed is not necessarily natural and definitely not easy. There are different ways to position the baby for maximum comfort and efficiency and for a new sleep deprived mom, learning these skills is crucial for a feeding sessions that may take 8 hrs or longer per day. It will save mom from actual pain.
Tip: Preparing for breastfeeding is as important as buying all the gear. Educate pre-baby and have plenty of postpartum support
Myth 3: Babies know what to do
Babies are little people and all slightly different. Not all of them are great eaters and know how to latch on properly, some of them are sleepy and actually need to be woken up to eat. Nursing is a skill they learn over time as well, which is why older babies typically have faster feeding times. Some babies will even show breast or bottle preference, complicating carefully laid out plans.
Tip: Nurses and lactation specialists can provide guidance in the hospital or at home
Myth 4:Small breasts produce less milk
Breast size is absolutely not a factor. Size is determined by fatty tissue, which does not impact the ability to make enough milk for your baby.
Myth 5: Feeding a baby on demand spoils them
New moms often get into a comparison game, mostly because the biggest change of their lives breeds insecurity about whether everything’s going well! Often the question of how often a baby feeds works its way into the mix. That nagging thought creeps in- If the baby feeds too often, is it because I’m doing it wrong?
Newborns are meant to be fed on cue. Breastfeeding works on a supply and demand system, meaning that the more a baby feeds, the more signals mom’s body gets to produce milk. This allows babies to dynamically adjust to different situations, since a mom’s milk production/calorie varies at each feeding. Babies also differ in their nursing “abilities”, so to speak, which amounts to the amount of milk they can produce. The stomach capacity of babies also varies.
Feeding on demand is rightfully exhausting, but it allows a baby to naturally manage the amount of milk they receive.
Tip: Hospitals teach moms to respond immediately to a baby’s hunger cues which in the early days ranges from sucking on anything, opening and closing the mouth, to smacking the lips. Crying is considered a late sign of a hunger.
Myth 6: Mom does not have enough milk
Moms are constantly plagued by the uncertainty of how much their babies are drinking and whether it’s actually enough. As long as the baby is gaining weight and doesn’t drop under 10% below birth weight, feeding is typically going well. Today’s measurement frenzied parents are bombarded with numbers and percentiles from day 1, adding unnecessary stress to a natural process that has worked for millennia.
Some of this anxiety is based on the frequency of feeding (see Myth 5) or pumping supply (see Myth 7). Before jumping to conclusions, remember that just as during pregnancy, a mom’s body is biologically predisposed to produce enough milk for the baby. No one else in the animal kingdom rushes their baby to the scale as soon as it pops out, do they?
Tip: Rest and water are key to generating milk, and not being stressed about it doesn’t hurt either
Myth 7: Amount pumped is indication of supply
Pumped milk production and actual milk production are apples and oranges, completely different outcomes that can’t be compared. A $2000 hospital pump remains, to this day, less efficient than a baby at extracting milk. Pumps are a far cry from being effective, and just as babies vary, so does the way a mom responds to a pump.
Tip: pump after the first feed in the morning to stimulate supply. Try to look at pictures of the baby, which can help stimulate letdown.
Myth 8:The breast has one nozzle
On a mechanical note, interestingly, milk doesn’t come out of one hole like some sort of hose or beer tap. When hand expressing or pumping, don’t be surprised to see the milk spray from several outlets.
Tip: When hand expressing, there will be stray droplets!
Myth 9: Mom can never drink
Timing does matter when it comes to drinking, because the level of alcohol will peak in the bloodstream around 90 mins after the drink. The running joke is that the best time to drink is while nursing. Having a drink may seem to add to the exhaustion of caring for a newborn, which is why many new moms end up cutting it out. Of course when alcohol is in the bloodstream, it does enter breastmilk as well, and a newborn lacks the filtration mechanisms to filter out alcohol. Heavy drinking obviously not recommended, but there is not necessarily an outright ban on drinking.
Tip: Before you know it, your baby will probably start spacing out feeds, so that timing a drink is not unfathomable.
Lactation fiction is not easy to get past because some of it seems intuitive (ie my newborn is feeding every hour, he must not be getting enough milk!). As a new parent it’s hard to fully grasp the tectonic shift in rules of the road. Don’t worry, the confidence will come.