REALITY: Unless your baby happens to have unusual food sensitivity, there are no diet rules for nursing mothers. There is no proof that ‘gassy’ foods, such as broccoli or cabbage, cause gas in the baby, or that spicy food will upset the baby’s stomach. You can have small amounts of caffeine and alcohol. Since alcohol will leave your milk automatically at the same rate that it leaves your blood, there is no need to ‘pump and dump’ your milk to remove the alcohol. To reduce your baby’s exposure to alcohol, breastfeed before having a drink. Many experts say not to breastfeed again for two hours afterwards, especially if you have a younger baby. Also, there are no foods or drinks, such as cow’s milk, that a nursing mother must have in order to make breast milk. Though you should eat healthy foods while breastfeeding, if your diet is not perfect it will not affect the quality or amount of milk you make.
REALITY: Even though children may start drinking cow’s milk at one year of age, breastfeeding is still important for the child’s health into the toddler years and beyond. Health Canada, the Canadian Pediatric Society and the World Health Organization all recommend breastfeeding for at least two years. While the idea of nursing an older child may seem bizarre, try taking it one day at a time. Wean (stop breastfeeding) when you and your child are ready, rather than because you feel your child is ‘too old’ to keep nursing. Some families allow the child to wean herself, ensuring that the child’s breastfeeding needs have been fully met. This is called child-led or natural weaning
REALITY: In rare cases, mothers are not able to make enough milk to completely meet their babies’ needs, but almost all women can do so with proper information and support. Medical problems in the mother, such as past breast surgery, untreated hypothyroidism or heavy bleeding after giving birth, can reduce milk supply. Problems with the baby, such as prematurity or cleft palate, can reduce the supply because the baby cannot suck well enough to produce more milk. A lactation consultant (breastfeeding expert) can help in these cases. Women often worry that they are not making enough milk even though they are doing so. Some think you can tell by how long your baby sleeps, how long or how often he nurses, leaking or feeling of fullness in your breasts, or the amount of milk you can pump. However, these are not good signs of how much milk you make. If your baby is gaining weight as expected, and wetting and soiling a normal amount of diapers for his age, he is getting enough milk. If your baby is not growing or there are not many wet or dirty diapers, you still do not need to start giving formula right away. Instead, talk to your baby’s doctor and get breastfeeding help. Giving formula can lower your milk supply even more. Though a few babies do need formula in the end, only give it after trying to fix the breastfeeding problem. Your doctor or lactation consultant will tell you if your baby really needs formula. Most babies do not.
REALITY: Breastfeeding may be a bit uncomfortable in the beginning, but painful, cracked, or bleeding nipples are not normal. These signal that there may be something wrong with the baby’s latch (attachment to the breast while feeding). If you have bleeding or a lot of pain with breastfeeding, get help from a breastfeeding expert. Shooting or burning pain may be a sign of infection or other problems. See your family doctor for help. Your doctor can refer you to a lactation consultant if you
REALITY: In many ways, breastfeeding is more convenient than formula feeding. There is no need to go to the store to buy formula, and no bottles to mix, heat, or wash. Outings with a breastfed baby can be spontaneous and flexible. If the mother needs or wants to be apart from her baby for a time, breast milk can be pumped or expressed by hand for a caregiver to feed to the baby.
REALITY: Most medications can be used safely during breastfeeding. Some mothers worry that the medication may pass into the milk. Even it does, the amount is usually very small and does not affect the baby. It is also important to consider the risks of not treating the mother’s medical condition, and the risks to both mother and baby of switching to formula. Still, ask your doctor or pharmacist before using medication while breastfeeding. If you are told that you must stop nursing, or pump and discard your milk, ask if you can use a safer medication instead. You may also want a second opinion. Free information on medication use in pregnancy and breastfeeding is available from the Motherisk program at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Kids (1-877-439-2744 or motherisk.org).
REALITY: It is rare for babies to truly wean on their own before one year. If your baby suddenly starts refusing the breast, this is most likely what is called a ‘nursing strike.’ The baby wants to keep nursing, but something else such as teething pain or a stuffy nose is bothering him. Keep trying to breastfeed. If your child is under one year and seems to lose interest in breastfeeding gradually, again, there is usually a reason. For instance, the baby may be distracted by noise in the room. Keep trying to breastfeed, and try to figure out what is bothering your baby.
REALITY: Breastfeeding is good for both mothers and babies. For instance, breastfeeding may help with weight loss. Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of cancer in the ovaries, uterus and breasts. They may even have a lower chance of getting heart disease. Although some think breastfeeding causes lowered levels of vitamins or minerals in the mother, this is not true. Even though calcium and iron are used in making breast milk, breastfeeding actually lowers the mother’s risk of anemia (low iron levels) and her long-term risk of osteoporosis (fragile bones).
REALITY: Friends and family members may want to feed the baby, but there are many ways that they can help. Babies need plenty of holding, rocking, bathing and changing, and these are all great ways to be involved with infant care. Many fathers carry their babies in slings or soft carriers. This can help the father and baby bond with each other, calm crying and help the baby sleep. Remember that it will not be long before your baby can start solid food (at about six months). Grandparents, siblings, and other people can all help with feeding at that time.
REALITY: Rather than breastfeeding by the clock, follow your baby’s signals for how long to nurse and when to switch breasts. It is also okay to feed your baby whenever she shows signs of hunger rather than using a schedule (such as nursing every three hours). The longer and more often your baby nurses, the higher the fat content of the milk he receives. Following his lead ensures that he receives the right mix of lower-fat and higher-fat milk. Babies often want to nurse for reasons besides hunger, such as thirst or comfort, so do not worry that you are nursing your baby too much or too often.
REALITY: Many women notice a change in the shape or firmness of their breasts after having a child. While it is commonly believed that breastfeeding is the reason for this, research shows that the pregnancy actually causes these changes. Smoking and being overweight are also associated with greater changes in breast appearance after pregnancy. Choosing to breastfeed will not have any lasting effect on how your breasts look.
REALITY: Many people refer to the increase in milk volume that happens a few days after the baby’s birth as the milk ‘coming in’. However, milk production begins partway through pregnancy, so your milk is ‘in’ even before your baby is born. The early milk your baby receives in the first days after birth is called colostrum. It is yellow, sticky, and rich in antibodies. Even though you do not make very much of it, it is all a healthy baby needs in the beginning. In fact, giving unneeded formula shortly after birth can reduce your future milk supply, and disrupt the healthy bacteria in your baby’s gut.