It seems crazy that breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed a baby and women have been feeding their babies at the breast since time began and yet there is still a plethora of misinformation that can mess up a mother’s experience and feeding her baby can become a huge struggle. How many of these big fat lies have you heard – and what is the actual truth?
1)You need to space feeds to give your breasts time to ‘fill up’
This is one of the biggest lies about breastfeeding: breastfeeding works on a theory of supply and demand –the more milk that is removed from your breasts, the more milk your body will produce. By spacing feeds, rather than feeding according to your baby’s huger cues, your body will receive the signal to slow milk production. This can result in a reduced milk supply.
Babies will vary in the amount of milk they drink at each feed and women’s milk storage capacities also vary (this isn’t necessarily related to the size of your breasts) , so some babies will go longer between feeds than others. Babies also have ‘frequency days’ when they will feed more often, perhaps due to a growth spurt, a developmental leap or if they have been exposed to a bug and need a big dose of immune factors to fight off an impending illness. So the best advice to maintain a healthy milk supply is ‘watch your baby, not the clock.’
2) There is no goodness in your milk after 3 months, 6 months …..whatever
There is no ‘use by’ date on the immune factors or nutrition in breast milk. Breastfeeding continues to be an important source of nutrition and health protection, however long your baby breastfeeds. In fact, immune factors in breast milk increase during the second year of your baby’s life just as your baby is becoming more mobile and mixing socially with more people. In one study (Perrin 2016) breast milk from mothers feeding babies into the second year contained significantly higher concentrations of total protein, lactoferrin, lysozyme and Immunoglobulin A, than milk bank samples. Another study showed that milk from mothers nursing babies over a year old had significantly higher fat and energy contents compared with mothers who breastfed a shorter time.
According to a well known study (Dewey 2001) “Breast milk continues to provide substantial amounts of key nutrients well beyond the first year of life, especially protein, fat, and most vitamins.”
In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
- 29% of energy requirements
- 43% of protein requirements
- 36% of calcium requirements
- 75% of vitamin A requirements
- 76% of folate requirements
- 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
- 60% of vitamin C requirements
- (Dewey 2001)
3) Breastfeed babies are ‘bad’ sleepers
Breast milk is digested more easily than manufactured baby formula so breastfed babies will generally feed more often but they can also sleep more soundly. Hormones in breast milk calm babies and aid sleep: your breast milk contains a range of hormones, including oxytocin, prolactin and cholecystokinin (CCK) as well as a type of endocannabinoid, a natural neurotransmitter. Research suggests that your night time milk may even be more effective at helping your baby sleep: melatonin, a sleep inducing hormone is barely detectable in day time breast milk but peaks during the night. Recent studies by Spanish scientists show that components in mother’s milk can vary significantly over a 24 hour period and concentrations of sleep inducing nucleotides (proteins known to have a role in exciting and relaxing the nervous system), were stronger after dark than during the day. Dr Cristina Sanchez, the lead researcher of this study, advises that breast milk should be fed fresh or if you are expressing, it’s best to note the time you express and feed it to your baby at the same time of day
And, just in case you have been advised that a bed time bottle of formula will make your baby sleep longer, there is evidence that this could be another ‘lie’ . A 2015 study of babies aged 6 to 12months in the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Journal found that night wakings or night feeds didn’t differ between mothers who breastfed or formula fed. Another study showed that parents of infants who were breastfed in the evening and/or at night slept an average of 40-45 minutes more than parents of infants given formula.
By replacing an evening breast feed with formula, you could reduce your milk supply (see number 1 big fat lie above about supply and demand). Or, if your breasts aren’t emptied and they become engorged, you might find yourself with painful blocked ducts leading to mastitis.
4) The amount of milk you can pump is an indicator of your milk supply
The amount of milk you can pump shows how much milk you can pump, not necessarily how much milk you are making, unless you are an exclusively pumping mama (hats off to you if this is the case). However much milk you can express, even with the best hospital grade pump, a baby who is well attached and sucking effectively will almost always be able to get more milk than a pump.
If you are not able to pump much milk, please don’t let this create doubts about your milk supply. Some women respond better to pumps than others. A better way to affirm your milk supply is to watch your baby’s output – heavy wet nappies and bowel motions along with good weight gains are a much more reliable indicator that you are making plenty of milk and your baby is feeding effectively.
For effective strategies to boost your milk supply, download your FREE ebook,
by Pinky Mckay, IBCLC Lactation Consultant.
5)You need to drink milk to make milk
Have you ever seen a dairy cow drink milk?
No, you don’t need to drink or eat any specific foods to make milk. While some foods are lactogenic and can support a healthy milk supply because they influence prolactin (your milk making hormone) production and some nutrients, such as omega 3 fats, will increase in your breast-milk when your own diet is plentiful, milk isn’t necessary to make milk. In fact, if you drink a lot of milk you could be displacing other nutritious foods that would be beneficial to your health. Also, some babies are sensitive to dairy protein passing through your breast milk, especially if you have a family history of allergies, asthma or eczema (your baby is never allergic to your breast milk). The best advice regarding your diet while breastfeeding is to eat a variety of healthy, natural foods. This will maintain your own health as you breastfeed and the more you feed your baby, the more milk your body will be signalled to make (see number 1, above).
Australia’s most recognised and respected breastfeeding expert, Pinky Mckay is an IBCLC Lactation Consultant and best-selling author of 5 books, including “Sleeping Like a Baby” (download the first chapter FREE ) and “Parenting by Heart” (sleeping, feeding and gentle care for the first year). Pinky is also the creator of Boobie Bikkies, all natural and organic cookies to nourish breastfeeding mothers.