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Common Breastfeeding Myths Debunked

There has been a lot of misinformation spread around lately in the press regarding breastfeeding. Unfortunately, celebrities have a lot of influence over society and those influences can be pretty detrimental to people’s health. Don’t believe me? Just look at the role former Playboy bunny, Jenny McCarthy had in the “anti vaxx” movement. This woman, with zero qualifications in anything, managed to convince millions of people that vaccines were responsible for autism. Even though Dr Wakefield, the man who was responsible for these falsified reports had his license revoked. There are still millions of people across the world that believe vaccines give children autism. Even though scientific studies are now showing that the condition is in fact, a consequence of genetics. So when celebrities such as Amanda Brunker spread false information like “watery breast milk”, what she is doing, whether she means to or not, is solidifying the doubt in some woman’s mind that she may not actually be “good enough.” Women are generally so hard on themselves and unsurprisingly really, with magazines and products telling them they are not enough, that they need to change themselves beyond recognition. We are a culture obsessed with having it all and being it all.

Celebrities have a huge responsibility when they speak in public. They should be informed on the subject matter they are talking about. Amanda’s recent column just goes to show women are not educated about breastfeeding at all. We all hear the “breast is best” mantra but what the majority of people don’t know is that breast is just the biological norm, it doesn’t have this long list of advantages, it’s just that formula has it’s disadvantages. We are barely educated about infant feeding, never mind feeding past infancy. It’s funny, if you want to get married you have to jump through so many hoops, like doing a pre marriage course but, when it comes to children we have a very “ah sure it’ll be grand” sort of attitude. In some respects, it is best to have a laid back attitude but, all choices regarding our children, especially when it comes to their health, should be evidence based and researched. And by researched I mean using official sites such as who.int, not some “truth” website.

If people did go and actually educate themselves about breastfeeding and breastfeeding past infancy, they would learn that in the second year of life 448mls of breast milk contains:

29% of energy requirements

43% of protein requirements

36% of calcium requirements

75% of vitamin A requirements

76% of folate requirements

94% of B12 requirements

60% of vitamin C requirements

Of course the longer a mother breastfeeds, the more protection she builds against illnesses such as breast and ovarian cancer. In fact, feeding for three years or more can reduce your chances of developing breast cancer by 94% That is huge! Yet society begrudges the women who do feed beyond the year mark-some even believe a child should be weaned earlier.

It was recently reported in the Irish Times that our low breastfeeding rate is costing the state €800 million a year. Nestlé recently announced they made a profit of nearly €80 million from Ireland alone in 2014. Formula is big business. Many I’m sure would be shocked to know that just €100,000 is spent promoting breastfeeding while maternity hospitals such as CUMH and UHL spend between €30,000 to €40,000 of tax payer’s money on formula every year, and that’s excluding the teats. So why do we have such poor breastfeeding rates?

If you ask me, and yes I know, nobody has, it’s because of misinformation. Pure and simple. So, with that in mind, I spoke with two experts about some of the most common myths surrounding breastfeeding.

Jack Newman, MD is a Canadian physician specialising in breastfeeding support and advocacy. He is also the co-author of ‘Dr Jack Newman’s Guide to Breast Feeding.’

Jack and baby

Based in Cork, Midwife and Breastfeeding Consultant Clare Boyle has been working in Ireland for the past 10 years. Clare teaches antenatal classes, breastfeeding preparation classes and provides breastfeeding support. See breastfeedingconsultant.ie for more information.

clare-new

Myth: Many women cannot physically breast feed or don’t produce enough breast milk.    

Dr Newman: This is not true.   There are a very few women who truly cannot produce all the milk the baby needs, but that doesn’t mean they cannot breastfeed.  They can supplement the baby at the breast with a lactation aid. In the vast majority of cases, mothers could have produced enough milk, but poor advice and poor ‘help’ undermined their breastfeeding.

Myth: Breastfeeding is supposed to hurt.  

Clare Boyle: Breastfeeding is actually meant to be a pleasure and joy to do and pain is not normal. Think of it from a biological point of view; would our foremothers continued with breastfeeding if was painful and difficult to do continue?   No, they would have given up and we, as a species, wouldn’t be here!   When a baby is latched on correctly there should be nothing more than a gentle tugging sensation and then the hormones we produce with breastfeeding – oxytocin, prolactin and endorphins – all help the mum bond and fall in love with her baby making it a pleasure and joy to do.

Myth: You can’t take medicines and breastfeed.  

Dr Newman: There is almost no drug that requires a mother to interrupt breastfeeding.   The real question is which is safer for the baby: Breastfeeding with tiny amounts of drug in the milk (and it is almost always tiny) or formula?   Clearly, in the majority of cases it is safer for the baby to breastfeed.

Myth: You can’t work and continue to breastfeed.  

Clare Boyle: I routinely help mums at around the six-month stage to co-ordinate breastfeeding and work requirements.   It takes a little organisation and planning but in the vast majority of cases, it can be done quite straightforwardly and it is lovely for both of you to connect through breastfeeding after being separated for the day.

Myth: You can’t drink alcohol and breastfeed.  

Dr Newman: The amount of alcohol that gets into the milk is tiny.   If you have 0.05 per cent alcohol in your blood, your milk will contain 0.05 per cent alcohol.   A baby could drink this all day and all night and not be harmed.

Myth: You can’t breastfeed a baby with disabilities such as Down Syndrome.  

Clare Boyle: Any baby with a disability can benefit hugely from breastfeeding.   The act of breastfeeding can help with neurological development and can help the baby mature and reach their full potential.

Myth: Premature babies must be ‘topped up’ with formula.  

Dr Newman: The majority of premature babies are not tiny, but born at 32 or more weeks gestation.   If the mother gets the help she needs for such a baby, there is no reason the baby cannot breastfeed exclusively.   For the very small premature babies, they can get to exclusive breastfeeding, again with good help, which unfortunately is rarely available in countries outside of Scandinavia.

Myth: It is easier to formula feed than it is to breastfeed.  

Clare Boyle: Breastfeeding is a learned skill, for most women it takes about two to four weeks to get the hang of it.   Feeling a bit overwhelmed and stressed about it in the early days is completely normal.   Once a mum has mastered breastfeeding, it just gets easier and easier.   It is important to remember that you will be feeding your child for many years to come and with breastfeeding it will never ever be so easy to feed your child the best food there is. There is no shopping, no sterilising, no mixing, and no cleaning up. Just pop baby on anywhere, anytime.

Myth: Formula is just as good as breast milk.  

Dr Newman: Not according to thousands of studies.   In fact, breast milk is so different from formula; you cannot consider them even similar, except that both are white.   Breast milk contains dozens of immune factors, not just antibodies, growth factors that help the brain, the gut, the immune system, the hematological system to develop stem cells, none of which are present in formula.   Human beings are very adaptable, that’s why many babies do OK on formula.   But they don’t, as a group, do as well as breastfed babies.

Myth: It is selfish to breastfeed because Dad can’t bond with baby.  

Dr Newman: This is the formula company line.  Every ‘information’ brochure I have seen that comes from a formula company mentions giving ‘dad a chance to feed the baby’. They know that bottles interfere with breastfeeding and that one bottle often becomes two bottles and then three and then the mother can’t keep up with pumping and so they end up giving formula and then eventually the baby stops breastfeeding.  But who said that feeding the baby is the only way a father can bond with his baby? Most mothers would be extremely grateful if the father helped out in other ways.  Walking, talking, holding the baby, changing the baby’s diaper, singing to the baby, bathing the baby.

Myth: Feeding a child past infancy is weird and unnecessary.

Dr Newman: The reason breastfeeding beyond infancy is “unsettling” is that many people, even health professionals who should know better, think it is and thus mothers are shamed because they are breastfeeding toddlers, they are told they are causing their children harm, and this without any basis in fact.  The WHO/UNICEF state, as do paediatric societies in most countries of the world, that baby should be exclusively breastfed for 6 months and then breastfeeding should continue to two years and beyond.  There is no distinction made for “advanced countries” and “less advanced countries”.Furthermore, one reason that breastfeeding a toddler is consider unnecessary is that people look only at the nutritional aspects of breast milk.  Sure, if a child is a wide variety of foods in ample amounts, does he need the protein from breast milk?  No.  But breast milk is more than just protein, fat and carbohydrate.  Breast milk is also immunity, and that continues as long as the child is breastfeeding.  We have good evidence that children in daycare, for example, who are breastfed are much less frequently affected by the epidemics of infectious diseases that sweep through daycare and if the breastfed infant or child does get sick, s/he is usually much less severely ill than their mates who are not breastfed.  In addition, breast milk contains growth factors that stimulate the development of the brain, the gut, the immune system itself.  Indeed, every system of the body.And finally, breastfeeding is much more than breast milk.  Breastfeeding is a relationship, a close, intimate relationship between two people who are usually in love with each other.  We should all have been so lucky as to have had such a relationship.

So there you have it, straight from the experts.

Till next time,

ZM