Family Health: Confused by myths about breast-feeding? Here are the facts

Over the years, a quirky array of misconceptions has discouraged many women from breast-feeding their babies. For example, at one time or another people believed that redheads shouldn’t nurse babies because their hot temperaments could harm their breast milk, that breast-feeding was unsanitary, and that babies would do fine drinking cow’s milk mixed with malt flour, potassium bicarbonate and sugar.

Thankfully, science prevailed. Most people today understand that breast milk is the perfect food for babies, and breast-feeding is on the rise in the U.S. Studies show that breast-fed babies have fewer allergies, ear infections, intestinal upsets, skin problems, respiratory infections and other childhood illnesses. They are less likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome, and they have lower risks for some serious conditions as they grow up, such as diabetes, obesity and some cancers.  And yet, myths about breast-feeding persist.

Here are five incorrect notions that make breast-feeding seem difficult and demanding, along with the facts that prove the contrary:          Breast-feeding

Myth 1: Many women can’t nurse their babies because they don’t have enough milk.
Fact: Most women – regardless of breast size – produce more than enough milk. So while infants do get hungry soon after a feeding, it’s rarely because they didn’t get enough to eat. Instead, it’s because they have tiny stomachs that must be filled frequently. As babies grow and need more milk, the mother’s milk supply will increase with the demand. Older babies also stay happy longer between feedings.

Myth 2: Breast-feeding hurts.
Fact: Breast-feeding sometimes causes mild discomfort at the beginning of a feeding, but that should quickly fade. If it lasts longer, it’s probably because the baby is latching on poorly. Latching on refers to how the baby’s mouth attaches to the breast, and it’s something mothers and babies learn. A lactation consultant can help you get started right. And contrary to some advice, you do not need to toughen up your nipples by rubbing them with a washcloth.

Myth 3: Nursing a baby takes a lot of effort and preparation.
Fact: Breast-feeding is simple and convenient. Breast milk is there when you need it, with no bottles to sterilize or formula to warm. You don’t have to worry about switching formulas because of allergic reactions or problems with digestion. And all that advice about washing your nipples before each feeding and pumping your milk to make sure your baby is getting enough? Not true.

Myth 4: It’s hard to find a place to breast-feed away from home.
Fact: Societal views on breast-feeding in public have changed, and most people treat it as a normal part of everyday life. You also have the law on your side – most states, including Montana, have statues that give mothers the right to nurse anywhere in public or private. Montana law also requires employers to accommodate and even encourage employees who breast-feed.

Myth 5: Breast-feeding will ruin your figure.
Fact: Women who breast-feed their babies find it easier to lose weight than those who don’t. And any changes to the size or shape of your breasts are from hormones released during pregnancy, not nursing.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women breast-feed their babies exclusively for about six months, and then combine breast-feeding with foods for another six months or until mother and baby choose to stop. However, any time you breast-feed benefits both you and your baby.

Montana has one of the best rates in the nation, with more than 90 percent of women breast-feeding at least some length of time. A good way to get started right with breast-feeding – or to get some help if you’re having trouble – is to talk to a lactation consultant. These experts are dedicated to helping mothers and babies have the best breast-feeding experience possible.