Debunking common breastfeeding myths

Mary Mathenge, lactation manager at the Aga Khan University Hospital shows Josephine Anyango, a new mother how to breastfeed a baby. PHOTO | COURTESY
Mary Mathenge, lactation manager at the Aga Khan University Hospital shows Josephine Anyango, a new mother how to breastfeed a baby. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Many myths and stories about breastfeeding have been passed down through family and friends, but some are inaccurate, or out-of-date. Here as common ones:

Myth: Breastfeeding will make my breasts sag

Breastfeeding does not cause breasts to sag, but the ageing and losing or putting on weight can all have an effect. Pregnancy, not breastfeeding, alters the shape of a woman’s breasts, but it is also important to wear a good bra to support breasts that are heavy with milk.

Myth: Infant formula is 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 that they are more like human milk, they are still far from perfect for babies.

Myth: Babies fed on formula milk are healthier than breastfed babies

Babies who are fed milk from their mothers’ breasts gain less weight in their first year than those fed 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 suffer from diarrhoea, abdominal pain, rashes and other symptoms when they have feeds that contain different kinds of protein.

Myth: Breastfeeding is easy for some women, but some don’t produce enough milk

Almost all women are physically able to breastfeed, it is a skill that every woman needs to learn and practice 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.

Myth: 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 both produce plenty of milk.

Myth: My nipples are flat or inverted so I can’t 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 of pulling and rolling of the nipples and nipple shields are not helpful.

Myth: I can’t get pregnant if I am 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 effectiveness of this form of birth control changes when the infant starts sleeping more and feeds less.

So if you don’t want to get pregnant, it’s best to use another reliable form of birth control as soon as you start having sex again after your baby’s birth.

Myth: If I breastfeed I can’t have a sex life

After you’ve had your baby, you’ll decide when its 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.

Myth: People don’t like women breastfeeding in public

Surveys actually show that a majority of people do not 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.


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 to the infant.

Breastfeeding helps mothers lose excessive weight

Not only does breastfeeding help the mother to lose weight gained during pregnancy it also helps the involution of the uterus and reduces the amount of bleeding during the puerperium.

The baby should be put on the breast immediately after delivery

Immediately after birth, a healthy 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 areola in the mouth when feeding. If correctly done, nipples should not be painful.

Mary Mathenge is lactation manager at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi.