Busting Myths about Breastfeeding

Leila SABET, Pediatrician

This article was co-authored by Jennifer Lecleir, Lactation Counselor at Beijing United Family Hospital.

As a pediatrician and a lactation counselor, we’ve seen a fair number of new moms who have misconceptions about breastfeeding and its importance. As we progress further into the Year of the Horse, Beijing United Family Hospital and Clinics (BJU) expects to welcome many horse babies into our community. This World Breastfeeding Week, we hope to bust some myths about breastfeeding so that the moms in our community can make informed decisions about early childcare.

Myth #1: My breasts are producing a clear discharge that doesn’t look like milk. I don’t have milk.

Toward the end of pregnancy, every woman produces a pre-milk substance called colostrum for three to five days. Colostrum is extremely valuable to your baby’s health and is high in anitbodies, vitamins and protein and relatively low in carbohydrates and fat. It has everything your baby needs and has often been referred to as “Baby’s first vaccine.” Colostrum prepares the baby’s digestive system by coating the baby’s gut to form a protective barrier against harmful bacteria while promoting the growth of normal flora bacteria. On average, women start to produce mature milk between the 3rd and 5th postpartum day.

Myth #2: I’m not producing enough milk to keep my baby fed.

The average volume of a baby’s stomach immediately after birth is 5 ml. That’s tiny! Because the baby’s stomach is so small, she will get full easily, get hungry quickly, and want to nurse all the time. This is normal. Expect your baby to want to nurse every 1-3 hours, amounting to 10 12 feedings per day. Such frequent nursing is not a sign that you are not producing enough milk. In addition, babies that are fed formula routinely get 20 to 30 ml, which will artificially stretch their stomachs and increase their desire for more food.

Myth #3: My baby’s crying all the time. She’s hungry because she’s not getting enough milk from me.

It is normal for babies to cry; it’s how they communicate. Babies cry for a variety of reasons (dirty diaper, wanting to be held, gas, etc.). You can’t always assume that your baby is hungry whenever she cries. Once you get to know your baby’s cries, you’ll know which are caused by hunger and which are caused by other reasons. As mentioned earlier, babies need to nurse frequently, for food and for comfort. Nursing on demand and spending more time with your baby will help facilitate healthy bonding and an adequate milk supply.

Myth #4: Breastfeeding can be unhygienic. I need to wash my breasts before each feeding.

The normal flora bacteria on the mother’s skin can help colonize the baby’s gut with good bacteria that help the baby ward off the growth of harmful bacteria. Washing the breasts also washes away the necessary protective oils from the mother’s skin. Unless the mother’s breasts are dirty (have blood on them, have been thrown up on), there’s no reason to wash the breasts before every feeding.

Myth #5: I will spoil my baby if I hold her and nurse all the time.

We recommend that moms spend the first month bonding with their babies, preferably skin-to-skin. If possible, moms should ideally spend 23 hours a day with their babies. Research shows that babies are the happiest and healthiest if they are kept close to their mothers. This mother-baby bonding promotes faster growth, less crying, more breastfeeding and better sleep for both the mother and baby. Early bonding will give your baby a secure start in life, which will help her to become more independent as she grows.

Myth #6: Special massages and soups are required to stimulate milk production.

Breast massages can be good if you have clogged milk ducts, but it is not known to stimulate milk production. Milk production works on a supply-and-demand basis. The interaction between you and your baby signals your body to produce adequate amounts of milk.

Women often ask me (Dr. Sabet) about special soups that will increase milk production. I don’t know of any foods that have been proven to increase milk production. I usually tell patients that mothers all over the world eat their customary foods right after delivery and successfully breastfeed. The important thing is to stay hydrated.

Myth #7: I need to feed my baby breast milk and formula so that she will take a bottle when I go back to work.

There’s no need to mix formula with breast milk. In fact, we discourage it for the sake of the baby. As mentioned before, mothers produce milk on a supply-and-demand basis. If you consistently breastfeed in the first six weeks, you’ll produce enough milk to pump for your baby when you return to work.

Myth #8: I need to take care of myself. The baby’s grandparents and ayi are on hand to take care of the baby while I’m recovering from delivery.

The first month of life is crucial for Baby to bond with her mother and breastfeed. This time is also important for Baby to build her immunity before she is exposed to the outside world. Because formula doesn’t contain antibodies, formula-feeding can actually compromise the baby’s gut and result in a baby who has more allergies, increased risk for various medical conditions and decreased immunity. We recommend that mothers take care of their own babies and breastfeed on demand. Everyone else should take care of the mother.

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