About 95% of Australian mothers start out breastfeeding, but a quarter of them have given up by the time their baby is 3 months, mainly due to a lack of
correct support at the right time.
To help mothers have more success at breastfeeding local eastern suburbs lactation consultant and midwife Lynne-Mckensey Hall explains how to avoid the
myths and be informed.
1. Breastfeeding hurts and it takes weeks to toughen up the nipples
Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, if it does there is a reason that needs to be identified and managed with appropriate interventions. In the majority
of cases, correcting the attachment and positioning of the baby is the key to resolving the pain.
Regardless of how the attachment may look to an observer, if you feel pain while breastfeeding something is not right.
The following maybe the cause of pain and need to be excluded:
ongue(and possibly lip) tie, nipple vasospasm, flat or inverted nipples, prematurity, physical and neurological anomalies affecting the baby’s ability
to latch properly, breast or nipple infection, if the mother has psychological issues requiring professional support. Managing the situations with
appropriate interventions can resolve breastfeeding pain so you are not complaining of, let alone breastfeeding with pain weeks after the birth of
I always explain to clients if you cut yourself badly, break a bone, pull a muscle, or have prolonged pain, you stop doing whatever causes the pain and
usually go to the doctor. Therefore it is staggering that many a poor breastfeeding mother is prepared to believe the number one worst myth that you
must put up with pain on one of the most sensitive areas of your body for anytime let alone weeks!
I often ask my clients this, how can nipples ‘toughen up?’ Do you toughen up your cervix before delivery? Do you toughen your feet before walking
over hot sand to the beach? If breastfeeding hurts, get the right advice as soon as you feel pain.
2. Never feed a baby to sleep
Where’s the evidence ? This statement fills so many new mums with unnecessary doubts and anxiety that they are doing something wrong. Your not!
The only possible way your very young baby won’t fall asleep while breastfeeding is by somehow extracting the wonderful hormones from the breast that are
produced to relax you and your baby during the feed! Let’s not bother trying, instead, appreciate how easy it is to get your baby to sleep with a breastfeed.
Do you worry the baby is ‘learning’ bad habits from being held too long, comforted, or fed to sleep at the breast? Consider what you do to settle
off to sleep at night. If you and your partner cuddle by ‘spooning’, lying back to back touching, hold hands or have any physical contact at all before
you go to sleep, is this a bad habit? Are you being spoilt when your partner cuddles or holds you in their arms?
Anytime you sleep by yourself you can do so, (perhaps not as quickly, but you can do it). Their need for physical contact is just as real as yours and
they don’t understand why they have to be ‘awake’ without a cuddle before they go to sleep. Your baby will be able to self-settle and fall asleep at
an age appropriate time. Some babies do need more gentle ongoing support than others reflecting their individuality rather than ‘naughty’ or ‘difficult’
behaviour with sleep.
Think about how you would feel if, out of the blue your partner began turning their back on you without their arms around you as you fell off to sleep.
Would you fall asleep or lie awake wondering what was wrong while potentially becoming stressed and distressed about your relationship?
Babies can always be gently transitioned into self -settling but it’s not a race so be patient with yourself and your baby.
3. Babies get all they need from the breast within the first 15 minutes of a breastfeed
When your baby can read the time I’ll agree to timing feeds! Haven’t you noticed that within a few minutes of breastfeeding your baby becomes sleepy
at the breast? Hormones are flowing between the two of you and newborns in particular fall asleep very quickly in the beginning of a feed. Tickling
helps prompt them to swallow and continue feeding. In the early weeks babies may need an hour to achieve an effective swallow time of fifteen minutes
from the breastfeed. As babies grow older, bigger and stronger they will feed more quickly and efficiently at the breast often taking less than ten
minutes to complete their feed.
Think about how long you take to eat a three course meal. It may take you well over an hour but the entire swallowing time may only be fifteen minutes.
Do you time your swallowing time or worry how long or effective you are? Interspersed throughout the day babies may need frequent short feeds just
as we want a coffee or frequent drinks of water which we don’t time or restrict in any way.
It’s interesting that so many ‘experts’ tell mothers how they must feed their babies a nutritionally perfect and easily digested food. No consideration
is ever given to the age, weight or stomach size of the baby, the mother, her breast capacity and her breastfeeding confidence or ability.
In any group of women breastfeeding their babies at the same time there is only one common denominator, the baby is breastfeeding. The rest of the breastfeeding
interaction has too many variables to claim the baby gets all the required milk in the first fifteen minutes of a feed.
4. Mothers don’t have enough breastmilk in the evenings because the baby is feeding frequently
One of the quickest ways to undermine a mothers’ confidence about breastfeeding is to watch her feeding frequently through the afternoon or early evening
and then tell her she has no milk. Babies may be unsettled and the word ‘colic’ often gets suggested.
Grandmothers, partners and ‘health’ professionals are all guilty of this regardless of how kindly the observation is intended. We know that towards the
end of the day, breastmilk supply naturally and normally drops in volume while retaining a higher fat content.
Just as we may graze though the afternoon when our energy drops, babies need the opportunity to do so as well. The difference is, they are having a nutritionally
perfect food, we, probably are not. Babies often require frequent short ‘cluster feeds’ to obtain the similar volumes of milk they receive during their
morning feeds. Rather than seeing this as a ‘problem’ changing the way mothers’ approach this time can make a difference.
Mothers and babies are both generally feeling tired towards the end of the day. Mothers because they haven’t eaten well or had a rest earlier in the day
and busily trying to keep number of ‘balls in the air’ and, probably trying to organise dinner. Babies because they may have not effectively breastfed
through some feeds, may have been overstimulated (often not intentionally) and, are generally feeling overwhelmed by their new world.
A few changes can make a big difference. Frequent feeding or ‘cluster feeding’ is normal behaviour and does not mean low or insufficient milk supply. I
suggest mothers can use this time to have a snack and a drink themselves, breastfeed comfortably while watching afternoon television and let the baby
snooze safely yet often briefly nearby. If mum is comfortable to rest or nap at the same time throughout the couple of hours the baby may need to cluster
feed, life can become very much easier.
By the time partner comes home, a baby can be very much more settled, mother has rested, eaten something worthwhile(low GI snacks), had some fluids and
is ready to have dinner made for her or place her order for take away!
Of course any concerns regarding milk supply should be addressed with an IBCLC who can reassure or offer interventions to boost supply if and as required.
5. All babies cry and will experience ‘colic’ in the early months.
It’s a toss up whether I put this ‘old chestnut’ first or last. Hearing babies crying for long periods and can’t be settled is distressing, frustrating,
bewildering and just plain hard work. Any parent who hasn’t wondered if boarding schools exist for babies under the age of six is probably lying. I
clearly remember a moment with great clarity when one of my babies could not be calmed and I understood how close a parent must come to crossing the
line and hurting or wanting to hurt their baby.
I strongly believe babies don’t need to experience ‘colic’. I think ‘colic’ occurs because babies are forced into by regulated feed play sleep routines
based on ‘that’s what we always do’ rather than any scientific rationale. Why would a week old baby need to have ‘tummy time’ when all they need is
a breastfeed (hopefully) and sleep? Isn’t it more sensible to put the baby to bed and let mum sleep at the same time?
The notion of waking a baby up after a feed for playtime and then putting the baby to bed without a feed has warts on it. Imagine if I told you when you
were going to eat, play/exercise and sleep inspite of the fact I can see you are tired and know you are hungry?
I think many parents are mislead by the myths surrounding what babies should do rather than being encouraged and supported to read their baby’s cues. If
a baby is awake after a feed, enjoy the time he wants to interact or, jump up and get something to eat while he gurgles on the play mat. When his movements
become jerky and his behaviour changes, pick him up, give him a drink and settle him down for sleep.
The myth of not offering a drink after his activity also has warts on it. Don’t you have a drink after a walk or some exercise? Why can’t the baby? Babies
use up a lot of energy relative to their ‘up’ time.
Watching for early cues, intervening promptly and effectively won’t make babies egocentric or self centred but easier to understand and manage. Babies
who are helped to calm down and sleep before they become overstimulated I believe, won’t get ‘colic’. If they need to be rocked a little more or even
held a little longer does this really matter if it prevents hours of uncontrolled crying and stress for all including the baby later in the day?
Baby’s brains are very underdeveloped at birth and they need calm regulated behaviour to process their world. Helping parents and mothers in particular
learn the cues and patterns while trusting their instinct regarding their baby’s needs, is better than any myth related daily plan that for many ends
in tears for all and ‘colic’ for the baby.
Lynne-McKensey Hall is a private IBCLC (International Board of Certified Lactation Consultant) and midwife with over thirty years
experience who operates in Sydney’s eastern suburbs doing private consultations and antenatal classes. She regularly does talks for mother and
community groups about antenatal care and breastfeeding.
She is also the author of a book series called Breastfeeding and Baby Matters and is a mum of 2 (now grown children).