There are so many barriers and roadblocks to successful breastfeeding that make it so hard for so many women who want and do try. Medical professionals often get in the way of breastfeeding -- sometimes even lactation consultants can give bad advice.
No wonder our country's breastfeeding rates are so low, eh?
The number one weapon we have against bad information and advice is to SQUASH IT LIKE A BUG! By perpetuating myths, we only continue to make things harder for women in the future. That's why it's so important to really listen when someone tries to explain to you where someone misled you if you're discussing reasons why breastfeeding didn't work out for you -- even if it's too late for you, any time you discuss your baby's feedings, you can help quell the myths that were your downfall so maybe where you failed, someone else can succeed!
So, here we go -- reasons people didn't breastfeed and why they're not true. Some of these I'm surprised anyone could even say with a straight face.
#1. A well-meaning but sorely misled writer at Parenting.com says, "... [Since] he was a preemie I had to supplement with special formula for six weeks so he could get the phosphates he missed in utero."
While it's true that preemies require special formula if you're not breastfeeding, it is not accurate to claim that preemies need to be formula fed instead of being breastfed. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Not only does breastmilk tailor itself to even premature babies (including making lots of extra phosphorus), but studies show that while special-formula-fed preemies may gain weight more quickly, that breastfed preemies do better in physical, cognitive and motor skills and are released from the NICU an average of two weeks sooner than formula fed counterparts, and escape the risk of deadly necrotizing enterocolitis as preemies, whereas that risk continues for formula-fed infants.
Of course, babies who are only getting IV sustenance are totally another story, and preemie moms have their own issues with making enough milk, but as long as mom is making enough -- either feeding from the breast or pumping, there is absolutely no reason to not give the breastmilk -- formula is unnecessary. For moms who are struggling with supply, breastmilk banks and milkshare programs give special priority to NICU babies, who have the most to gain from breastmilk. Call up or attend meetings of the Le Leche League as well to get the best help with upping your supply, such as an Supplemental Nursing System (SNS).
#2. "No matter how long I waited until feeding, my breasts didn't fill up."
Somewhere, people got the idea that your breasts have to feel engorged or there's no milk, and that they need time to fill before you can feed again. Thank god this one isn't true, because feeling really full can be very uncomfortable! Fortunately you only feel engorged when your milk first comes in because you body is overproducing initially (what if you had triplets to feed?) and then will begin to level off to a comfortable amount once it sees how much your baby needs. If you wait until your breasts feel full, you've waited too long and they're over-full and will signal to your body to make less milk, therefore damaging your breastmilk supply -- and resulting in a really hungry baby. After breastfeeding is established and your supply is as well (done by nursing ON DEMAND!), the only time you're likely to ever feel full is if you've missed a feeding.
An analogy from Kellymom.com: Imagine you are using a straw to drink from a glass of water. As you drink, a friend is very slowly pouring water into your glass. The emptier the glass, the faster your friend pours the water. Would you be able to drink all the water in your glass?
#3. "Unless you want to eat really healthy, your breastmilk is no better than formula."
Also extremely untrue. In fact, just like in pregnancy, malnourishment actually does more harm to you than the baby because you're designed to reproduce and continue the species, therefore your body is made to care more about the baby than you! If you don't eat properly, your milk is still fabulous -- but it's sucking nutrients away from you that you need to be healthy instead.
The only risk to a breastfed baby from a poor diet is that the mother will not be able to produce enough milk, and that's often more linked to hydration than nutrition.
#4. "My baby was allergic to my breastmilk."
Now, before I outright say this isn't true, it can be -- but the chances of a baby having the only true allergy to human breastmilk or lactose in any form, called galactosemia, affects only 47 babies in the US per year... however, 150 people die annually from a falling coconut hitting them on the head. It's safe to say that this condition is insanely rare. Also, this allergy is discovered within the first couple days or at the most, the first week of life with specific testing and the diet is changed immediately or the baby dies. In fact, 75% of babies with galactosemia die if it's not discovered and treated promptly.
So while this allergy really, honestly does exist and the newborn has no choice but to go immediately onto a soy or meat-based formula, the myth I'm addressing is people saying their baby was allergic to their breastmilk so they had to wean at 2 weeks, 5 weeks, etc. While it may present itself like an allergy to your milk, it's actually an allergy to a protein you are passing through your milk (almost always milk and/or soy) and you do not have to wean your baby -- you just have to take a break from eating or drinking things containing milk or soy for a bit. It's certainly not a reason to wean -- it just takes the tiniest bit of effort from the mother.
#5. "I had to supplement until my milk came in since it took five days."
Your breasts already produce colostrum before your baby is even born, and it is all you need! Here's a little lesson in the newborn's stomach, via the Le Leche League:
When mothers hear that colostrum is measurable in teaspoons rather than ounces, they often wonder if that can really be enough for their babies. The short answer is that colostrum is the only food healthy, full-term babies need. The following is an explanation:
A 1 day old baby's stomach capacity is about 5-7 ml, or about the size of a marble. Interestingly, researchers have found that the day-old newborn's stomach does not stretch to hold more. Since the walls of the newborn's stomach stays firm, extra milk is most often expelled (spit up). Your colostrum is just the right amount for your baby's first feedings!
By day 3, the newborn's stomach capacity has grown to about 0.75-1 oz, or about the size of a "shooter" marble. Small, frequent feedings assure that your baby takes in all the milk he needs.
Around day 7, the newborn's stomach capacity is now about 1.5-2 oz, or about the size of a ping-pong ball. Continued frequent feeding will assure that your baby takes in all the milk he needs, and your milk production meets his demands.
So you see, newborn babies barely need to eat anything at all and giving them more than their tiny tummies can handle only makes them vomit. As everyone knows, breastfeeding is supply and demand -- if you supplement in the first days of life, you're already telling your breasts to make less milk so when your milk DOES come in (which takes an average of 3-5 days!), you will have less because you supplemented. Trust that your body can make enough milk in the first week of life, and plan on keeping your baby on you pretty much all day and the majority of the night -- it's perfectly normal for a newborn to nurse for 12 times in one day, sometimes 40-50 minutes apart -- that is not a sign of a lack of milk.
If you received an epidural, there's some evidence that it can make initial breastfeeding a little more difficult as well, though no differences were noted even at 6 weeks... as long as the mom didn't give up or supplement.
So there we go. If any of these affected your nursing relationship, I hope you take some of the information you've now learned, do a lot more of your own research, and discuss the true facts any time you talk about how you fed your baby so that no one else falls into the trap you did. Maybe even consider presenting some of your new-found knowledge and information to whoever misled you in the first place.
After all, one of the best things about learning from your mistakes is the ability to be proactive in helping prevent others from making the same ones!
Images via © iStock.com/najin ; Le Leche League International