One of the most common reasons for breastfeeding problems is unhelpful advice. We have asked real mums, ‘what was the worst breastfeeding advice you have been told? ‘ Here is what they said – and why this is bad advice:
1)“My baby was only 4 hours old and I was told, ‘you don’t have much there as it is, so don’t make him work harder for it!’ Mind you, this was the third baby my small breasts had successfully fed.”
Breast size doesn’t influence milk production ability. However, individual women will have different breast milk storage capacities so, although this can influence how frequently your baby needs to feed, it won’t impact your milk supply as long as you follow your baby’s feeding cues.Your milk storage capacity isn’t necessarily related to breast size: smaller breasted women can have a good supply of glandular tissue while larger breasted women may have either plenty of glandular tissue (so a good milk storage capacity) or they may have more fat in their breasts and less glandular tissue.
Instead of worrying about the size of your breasts (unless you have had little or no breast development during puberty or pregnancy and have widely spaced tubular shaped breasts – this could be a red flag that you may have difficulty breastfeeding due to insufficient glandular tissue), watch your baby, not the clock and feed according to his hunger cues. This way you will support a healthy milk supply that is attuned to your baby’s needs.
2)”Oh you have red hair. Breastfeeding is always painful for red heads.”
This used to be a common belief due to red heads having fair skin. However, although sensitivity will vary among individual women and breastfeeding may hurt a bit initially (Rather like a new pair of shoes than actual pain), if breastfeeding hurts at all, please get a midwife or lactation consultant to obseve a feed and check your baby's latch and oral function.
Lactation consultants have done specialist training in breastfeeding so can help you trouble shoot and find a solution to breastfeeding problems. If you are seeing a lactation consultant privately (many will come to your home and help), please check you are seeing an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). This is the gold standard for lactation consultants and means the person you see will be up to date, since registration requirements include thousands of documented study hours plus an international exam and re-certification every 5 years.
3)”If your breast milk separates, that means that it’s no good and that you have bad quality milk”
Breast milk is breast milk – there is no ‘bad quality’ breast milk. If you leave expressed milk standing it will separate – it’s just a layer of fat floating to the top of the container. Your milk can vary in appearance from an almost watery bluish liquid to ‘creamy’ yellow or even differing colors such as green or orange tinged milk, depending on your own diet (for example beetroot or some vitamins may make your milk look orange or green).
Your milk will also vary in fat content, chemistry and appearance through a feed and throughout the day (night and day milk have different proteins too), but whatever color or consistency your milk is, it will be perfect for your baby.
4) “My milk was causing my baby’s colic and reflux and formula would make it better.”
There are a number of potential reasons for colic and reflux – from your baby’s immature nervous system being over-stimulated to food intolerance and air swallowing due to feeding issues such as poor latch or tongue tie. Although your baby’s discomfort maybe influenced by proteins, such as dairy protein, passing into your breast milk, your baby is never allergic to your milk.
The best solution is to address the cause of your baby’s pain and if necessary eliminate offending foods from your own diet. This is because switching to formula may create more problems by changing your baby’s gut environment and directly exposing your baby to potential allergens.
5) “Yeah it is really painful, you just have to push through the pain”. “You must not have a very good pain threshold”.
No, you don’t have to ‘push through’ pain while breastfeeding. You might experience some pain (but it shouldn’t be really painful) as your baby initially starts sucking but this should only last a few seconds. You can try relaxation breathing (deep slow breaths counting to 4 as you breathe in and 4 as you breathe out). If breastfeeding hurts ask for help to check your baby is correctly latched and sucking effectively and also ask a lactation consultant (see number 2, above) to check for tongue and lip tie (the person who checks needs to feel inside your baby’s mouth, not simply see if baby can poke his tongue out).
6) “When my son would go through his growth spurts, of course he’d be feeding more often and different people (mother and aunt) would tell me I’m not making enough milk so put him on formula… My mum didn’t breastfed me or my brother and my aunt doesn’t even have any children!”
It’s difficult when people who haven’t breastfed give you advice, especially when they are family members who really do care about you. Your baby’s frequency of feeding will be different to a formula fed baby because breast milk is so easily digested.
Breastfed babies regulate the amount of milk your breasts make by how often your breasts are ‘emptied’ – your breasts are never actually ‘empty’ even though they may feel ‘soft’ after a feed. The milk making process is continuous: as milk is removed from your breasts, your body is signaled to produce more so production speeds up. If you give formula your baby will drink less milk from your breasts so production will slow down. So, please trust your boobs and watch your baby, not the clock. Check out these signs that your baby is getting plenty of milk and try to dismiss advice like this.
If you are concerned about your milk supply, please download our FREE ebook ‘Making More Mummy Milk,Naturally” by Pinky McKay IBCLC Lactation Consultant for effective strategies to boost your milk supply.
7) “Don’t let the baby fall asleep on the breast as you’ll create a bad sleep association and then they’ll never sleep properly. Ever. Again.”
It is the most natural thing in the world for a relaxed mother and baby to snuggle and doze together as they breastfeed – and what could be a nicer ‘sleep association’? Although you may like to use other sleep cues as well as breastfeeding, advice that letting your baby fall asleep on the breast will create bad habits or that he will never learn to ‘self settle’ is unrealistic and impractical.
Breast milk contains a range of hormones, including oxytocin, prolactin and cholecystokinen (CCK) that are released in both mother and baby during breastfeeding and these have a sedating effect on both of you. Breast milk has also been shown to supply a type of endocannabinoid – the natural neurotransmitters that marijuana stimulates. This means that the chemistry of your milk makes it a magic soother for tired babies. So instead of worrying about bad sleep associations, enjoy every sweet cuddle as your baby relaxes into sleep. And, if at any time this isn’t working for you, you can make gentle changes, gradually, with love.
8) ”Your 6mo doesn’t need your breast milk now, there’s no nutritional value to your milk, so you should start giving bottles of formula.”
You may hear similar advice at any stage of breastfeeding but especially if you have an ‘older’ baby. There is no use-by date for breast-milk. Although you will introduce family foods from around 6 months, breast milk is still a very valuable part of your baby’s diet, providing nutrients, antibodies and immune factors that cannot be duplicated in formula. In fact, the immune factors in your milk become more concentrated from around six months and into the second year – just when babies are becoming mobile and exposed to more bugs.
9) ”You must wean off those nipple shields within 7days otherwise you’ll have trouble with latching (weaned off at 14weeks).”
A nipple shield would ideally be just a temporary ‘solution’ to a breastfeeding issue such as difficulty latching or nipple pain. However, rather than scaring mothers about the use of nipple shields, it is far more helpful to try and work out why a particular baby is having difficulty latching without a shield.
Please don’t worry about a time limit on weaning your baby off the shields if you are using them – some babies will happily wean and latch directly onto the breast even after several months of using a nipple shield. It is important though, to make sure your baby is sucking effectively while using a shield and that your breasts are being well-drained as otherwise, this could negatively impact your milk supply.
To try gently weaning off the shield, you can start feeding with the shield then, once your baby has had some milk and is calm (you can’t try new things with a very hungry baby), you can try offering the breast without the shield. Also offer your baby lots of skin to skin snuggles and try feeding in different positions. Often lying back with your baby between and above your breasts (Laid back breastfeeding) will support his natural reflexes and breastfeeding behaviour and he may surprise you by latching himself.If this isn’t working, please get a lactation consultant to observe feeding and check your baby’s mouth and oral function.
10) ”The baby is just using you as a dummy and you’ll create a bad habit.”
Please don’t take any notice of anyone who mentions the words ‘bad habits’. Your baby breastfeeds for many reasons (here are 75 right here!), including comfort . You are not a dummy – a dummy is a piece of rubber with no calories designed to replicate your breast, not the other way around. And, with regards to ‘bad habits’, while your newborn will feed frequently and take quite a long time each feed, this will change as he masters coordinating sucking, breathing and swallowing.
Usually, somewhere between 8 and 10 weeks or sometimes sooner, your baby will quite suddenly feed more efficiently so feeds will be significantly shorter . When this happens you will wonder, is he getting enough? Wet nappies and weight gains will reassure you. If you are worried about bad habits, please relax, your baby may want to snuggle up to a breast when he’s 18 but it won’t be yours! Seriously though, if any way you are nurturing your baby becomes unsustainable for you, you can make changes, gradually with love – when it suits you and your baby.
11) ”The baby has been feeding for a while which definitely means your milk supply is low. Might have to mix feed with formula bottles.”
There are so many comments that can undermine you and fill you with self-doubt about your milk supply. If you are feeling anxious at all, check your baby’s nappies – are they heavy and wet? If you don’t know how to assess this, pour a small amount (around 100mls) of water into a nappy and then feel how heavy it is. Remember what comes out must have gone in. Is he gaining weight?. Here is a checklist to help you assess whether your baby is getting enough milk. Get your child health nurse to check your baby if you need reassurance
The amount of time your baby takes to feed will vary from feed to feed – that’s the beauty of breastfeeding: sometimes your baby will just need a quick snack or a little drink if he is thirsty, other times he may feel like a ‘yum cha’ or extra comfort. He may step up feeds to boost your supply to match his needs during a growth spurt. Please trust your baby and your boobs. If you are having doubts, call the Australian Breastfeeding Association helpline. Their counselors are all trained to answer your breastfeeding questions and as mothers, themselves, they will understand how you feel.
12) Give baby water before breast feeding if they are getting too “fat!” (My little girl was only a week old )
No. Just no. Firstly, putting any baby on a ‘diet’ and restricting feeds is cruel and unsafe. Secondly, you can’t over feed a breastfed baby. Your milk is perfectly designed to meet your baby’s needs so whatever weight your baby is, as long as she is thriving, this is how she needs to be. Those delicious roly poly little legs will slim down as your baby becomes mobile and she burns up the calories.
As for giving water, your newborn’s stomach is so tiny that if you give water you will fill her tummy but she won’t be getting any nutrition. Also, because her tummy is already full with water she won’t breastfeed effectively so this can negatively affect your milk supply. Giving water to babies under 6 months is no longer recommended as it can dilute the sodium in the baby’s bloodstream to the point where a potentially life threatening condition known as “oral water intoxication” develops, and this can lead to symptoms like low body temperature, bloating, and seizures.
13) Scrub your nipples with a nail brush in the shower to toughen them up.
Do we even need to say why this is bad advice? This advice was common in your mother’s time and often told to women during pregnancy to ‘prepare’ them for breastfeeding. In case you are pregnant and wondering how to prepare for breastfeeding before you have your baby, the best thing you can do is line up your support team – your partner’s support is most important so read together, talk about your breastfeeding goals (these can change once you experience the reality of your own baby), plan for a natural birth and attend a breastfeeding class or see a lactation consultant before you have your baby to help you make a breastfeeding plan. You may like to discuss with your carers about ante natal expression of colostrum (see here). And consider joining the Australian Breastfeeding Association for support and trustworthy information.
Pinky McKay is Australia's most recognised and respected breastfeeding expert. She's an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and best selling baby care author. She’s also the creator of Boobie Bikkies, all natural and organic cookies and Boobie Brekkie, delicious toasted Muesli to nourish breastfeeding mums.
Please click here to download your FREE ebook “Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally.”