Breastfeeding is a challenge for almost every new mother. From latching on to soreness, a delay in mother-child bonding, stress, milk supply issues – these are the most common issues we keep hearing about. So, while we are in the ‘breastfeeding week’ I had the privilege to chat with Dr Sonali Santhanam about the myths concerning breastfeeding.
Dr. Sonali Santhanam, PhD., Ms. PT is a US-Certified Lactation Specialist, Childbirth Educator and Physical Therapist specializing in gynecological conditions. Her perinatal programs support women from pre-conception to well after they have birthed their babies. Her goal is to ensure women stay fit and pain-free through pregnancy, have a safe and gentle birthing experience and a joyful transition to motherhood. Sonali consults at Suman Clinic, Apollo Cradle and Motherhood birthing center in Chennai.
Here is how Sonali is addressing the myths about breastfeeding.
When it comes to breastfeeding, everyone has an opinion on how its done. In our society some of this advice is rooted in cultural beliefs and has been passed down through generations. While this advice is always well intentioned it may not be accurate, sometimes even harmful. As a Lactation Specialist I routinely come across mothers who are confused by such contradictory advise and finally succumb to the general belief that her milk is not enough for baby.
The kind of support a new mother receives from her family and friends greatly influences her decision to exclusively breastfeed in the first 6 months. How can we collectively ensure that more mothers and babies get the support to help them through this critical period?
To start with let’s take a look at some things you must NEVER say to a breastfeeding mother.
– Breastfeeding will hurt.
Not when its done right! Babies need a large mouthful of the breast so the nipple can reach a comfortable spot in the baby’s mouth. When the latch is shallow the nipple gets pinched between the baby’s tongue and the hard palate and this leads to painful cracks. It is possible mom will have mild discomfort in the first few seconds of the feed until the milk lets down. If pain persists through the session, seek the help of a Lactation Specialist.
– You don’t have milk in the first few days.
She does! Just as much as her baby’s tiny stomach can hold. In the early days the mother makes Colostrum, which is packed with antibodies and protects her baby from infection. Colostrum is less calorific and is produced in minute quantities so it is normal for babies to feed often. This will also help establish her milk supply.
– Milk is not enough, newborns need water to stay hydrated in hot weather.
Not at all! Breast milk is both food and water for the baby in the first 6 months. In some places in India, however it is believed that the ‘first milk’ is bad or insufficient for the baby and is discarded. Babies are given honey or sugar water before initiating breastfeeding. These are both dangerous practices, as it will seriously undermine the baby’s immunity, in addition to affecting the mothers milk supply. Plus, giving honey to a baby under the age of 1 can risk a serious and possibly fatal allergic reaction.
– Pump to see how much you are getting.
DONT! Pumping output takes time, regularity and a stress free environment. It depends on the age of the baby, the time of day she pumps, type of pump she has and many more factors. If mum is pumping to see how much she is getting, she probably is looking at the pump and counting each drop. This stress will delay milk let down and drop the output. If the baby is peeing enough she is getting enough! Diaper counts are a much better estimate of the milk supply.
– A crying baby is a hungry baby.
Babies cry! That’s what they do to communicate their needs. This may be hunger, maybe the baby is too hot or cold, needs a diaper change or simply a cuddle. Babies demonstrate early signs of hunger by puckering and smacking their lips, moving the head from side to side and bring hands to mouth. Help the mother identify these early signs of hunger before baby cries to be fed.
– You cannot feed the baby if you are sick.
She can and she must! When the mother falls sick her body produces antibodies against the illness and these pass to the baby through breast milk. So even though the baby’s defence system has not kicked in yet, mother’s milk will protect baby from falling sick. So its less likely the baby will catch what Mom has and even if she does, it will be a milder version.
– If you are not leaking, you probably don’t have enough.
No, she is simply lucky! Everyone is different. Some women leak even while pregnant, some in the early weeks after birth, or some not at all. First time mothers are especially nervous about how much milk they are making and a stray comment about someone else’s experience with overabundance might put her in a downward spiral.
– Exercise will reduce milk supply or make milk sour.
No on both counts! Studies have shown that exercise does not have a negative impact on milk production. One small study found that exercise might marginally increase milk supply. Exercising to the point of fatigue can cause lactic acid build up in breast milk and alter its taste. The lactic acid stays in breast milk for about 90-mins post-exercise, but this does not affect the baby’s health according to research published in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Wearing a sport bra that’s too tight may cause discomfort to mom, lead to plugged ducts and bring down her milk supply. You can encourage mum to feed right before the workout to avoid overfilling and pressure during exercise. Have her drink a lot of water and recover adequately before the next feed.
– You can eat whatever you want, as you loose weight when you breastfeed.
She needs a balance! A breastfeeding mother uses up about 500 calories per day! This DOES NOT translate to weight loss. That a breastfeeding mother is always hungry is not new and if her calorie intake far exceeds what’s burnt she will gain weight. Moderate intensity exercise such as a 45-minute daily walk will improve the mothers cardiac health but will not help with weight loss unless accompanied by a nutritious diet, according to a review of literature published in The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, in 2011. Once breastfeeding is established at 3 months it is safe for mothers to bring in a 500 calorie deficit in addition to strength and cardio training to boost metabolism and burn fat. A small snack rich in good fats and proteins after each feed and lots of water, will sustain her energy levels and milk supply. Almonds, walnuts, soup, yogurt are all great options. Plan her nighttime meals as snacking on biscuits and sandwiches at night will tip the balance in favour of weight gain.
– Your baby will get too attached to you if you are breastfeeding.
Quite the contrary! Breastfeeding not only satisfies the baby’s hunger it satisfies the babies need to suckle, for comfort and security. If baby is awake at the breast encourage Mom to make eye contact and return the baby’s gaze. Have her gently caress the baby’s cheek or fingertips during the feed and talk to baby in low tones. Meeting these basic needs will mean her baby will cry less and this will set the stage for a secure attachment. A secure attachment fosters emotional growth and independence in the toddler years leading up to adulthood!
Conclusively, breastfeeding is a healthy choice for both for mother and baby. We have a responsibility to help her take it one day at a time and take care of her as she cares for her little one. After all a happy mom is a happy baby!