The 1st to 7th of August is World Breastfeeding Week, a global campaign to raise awareness on breastfeeding themes such as healthcare, women and work, and human rights.
Despite the fact that women’s bodies are biologically built to breastfeed, many new mothers find it challenging and so may abandon it early – or they may believe certain myths about it and not attempt it at all. In South Africa specifically, research shows that just 23% of babies are exclusively breastfed for their first six months of life – one of the lowest breastfeeding rates of all African countries. Because breastfeeding offers numerous benefits, including providing the perfect (free) nutrition for your baby, it’s worthwhile to try.
If you’re expecting a brand new bundle and are intending to breastfeed your baby, here are four myths you should know:
Myth #1: If you have small breasts, you won’t produce as much milk
The amount of breast milk you produce is determined by the amount of breast tissue you have. It’s your fat cells that determine breast size, and these have no bearing on your milk production. Breast milk production can also be affected by other things, such as your hormones and your baby’s demand for milk. In other words, the more your baby feeds – and the more milk they can get in a breastfeeding session – the more milk your body will produce. On the other hand, things like stress, tiredness or depression can actually reduce the amount of milk you produce.
Myth #2: You should breastfeed on a schedule
The typical breastfeeding recommendation is to feed your baby every two to three hours (or 8-12 times over 24 hours) during their first few weeks of life. Then, once they’ve regained they’ve birth weight, you can start widening the window between feeds. But just like every adult, every baby is different. If your baby naturally falls into a routine of predictable feeds throughout the day, that’s great. But if not, that’s fine too. By far the best rule of thumb is to follow your own intuition and watch your baby for when to feed – not the clock. Cues that they’re hungry include things like crying, restlessness, sucking or licking lips, sucking hands, or opening or closing their mouth. If you’re worried about whether your baby is getting enough milk, regular wellness or paediatrician check-ups are a good way to check in and see that you’re on the right track.
Myth #3: If you give your baby a bottle, she’ll refuse the breast
Plenty of mothers are successfully able to alternate between breast and bottle, whether they’re bottle feeding breast milk or formula. The key here is to give you and your baby time to be fully comfortable with breastfeeding, at around the six week mark. If you offer them a bottle after that, they should be able to switch back and forth without much trouble. Again, there are exceptions to this and every baby has their own personality – some may prefer the breast while others may prefer the bottle. Remember the golden rule here: do whatever you feel is best, and try not to judge yourself for the choices you make.
Myth #4: Breastfeeding should come naturally
You may not realise it, but breastfeeding is actually a learned skill. Even in bygone eras, other women such as midwives were present to help a new mom get the hang of things. As with any other skill, breastfeeding takes time, patience – and sometimes some frustration – in order to master. While some new mothers take to it immediately, many others need support and guidance on things like ensuring a correct latch, and what to do if your baby is fussy at the breast. If you’re struggling, it’s important to tap into the resources available to you, whether it’s a midwife, a nurse, a lactation consultant or a trusted friend or family member. If you’re on a medical aid like Fedhealth, you’ll also have additional support in the form of access to the 24-hour Baby Medical Advice Line as part of your maternity benefit.
Breastfeeding is a significant rite of passage for any woman entering motherhood, and there’s no doubt of the many benefits it offers for both your baby and you. But we’re all individuals, and you may struggle with it initially. What’s important is to realise that you’re not alone, and that you may be holding unrealistic expectations about what’s involved. Ensuring you know the common myths, and have a good combination of support, self-love and patience can make all the difference for a smooth-sailing breastfeeding journey.