Breastfeeding is a natural and “green” way for a mother to feed her baby. Yet misconceptions about how to breastfeed and for how long pervade our modern world. These misunderstandings can lead to frustration and distress for the whole family during a challenging period. Green Prophet gives you 10 reasons to shatter any myths and misconceptions.
Misunderstandings vary, depending on your country and culture, but in Israel, which is similar to European and North American countries, I preface my examples with a telling anecdote. Keep reading for 10 very important misunderstandings and tips about breastfeeding that can change the way your new baby is nourished.
A mother, who worked from home, had just enrolled her 14-month-old daughter in kindergarten (Hebrew: gan) in Israel. Until starting gan the toddler nursed freely throughout the day.
When the mother arrived to pick up her daughter on the first day, she found the staff quite upset. Apparently the little girl had tried to lift up the shirts of the different caretakers, as if she were asking to breastfeed.
The shocked caretakers insisted that the mother wean immediately. The mother called me to ask for suggestions. She didn’t want to wean, but couldn’t have her baby undressing the daycare workers either. She wondered whether cutting out morning nursings would be enough.
After hearing the story and empathizing with the mother’s obvious distress, I pointed out that even six-month-old babies don’t ask to nurse from anyone other than their mothers. I doubted that her daughter’s behavior had anything to do with breastfeeding. But whether or not that was true, the caretakers needed to handle it like they would any other inappropriate behavior.
That mother’s situation highlights a common difficulty. Back when breastfeeding was the norm, girls grew up seeing their mothers, aunts and neighbors nursing. Even though breastfeeding never completely died out in Israel, a generation or more of nursing know-how has been lost, and is only gradually being retrieved. The toddler who started gan was playing “find the pupik” (navel) — a game she had recently learned. But breastfeeding — and the mother — were blamed when the toddler began acting strangely. In this case it was understandable, but breastfeeding has been blamed for all kinds of unrelated conditions and behaviors. Such misconceptions often lead to nursing difficulties and weaning.
Below I list examples of ways in which lack of understanding about breastfeeding can lead to confused parents and a frustrated baby.
- On-line production. We think of milk being stored in containers, but most milk consumed during a feeding is made on-line–while the baby is nursing. “Waiting for the breasts to fill up” is counter-productive, because frequent nursing signals the body to produce more milk.
- Holding position. In the most common nursing position babies are held under the breasts, facing the mother’s torso. Breastfeeding expert Diane Wiessinger points out that bottle-fed babies must be held far from the breast in the crook of the elbow, so that the “mountain” won’t get in the way of the bottle.
- Where is the action? When the baby opens her mouth wide, the mother brings the baby toward her nipple, keeping the breast stable. Bottle nipples are inserted into the baby’s mouth.
- Angling for success. Babies approach the breast at an angle, with the head back, so that the nipple points toward the roof of the mouth. This keeps the baby’s working jaw away from the sensitive nipple, preventing soreness, and allows the baby’s tongue to reach further back on the breast and express milk effectively. Bottles are pointed toward the back of the baby’s mouth.
- For good measure. With no lines on the breast to measure how much the baby has eaten, we look at the number of wet and dirty diapers, behavior during and after nursing, and weight gain. Lines wouldn’t help, because the amount a breastfeeding baby eats varies widely from feeding to feeding. Once the baby is gaining well the mother can relax–as long as she follows the baby’s cues and not the clock, the baby will continue to get enough milk. If she has doubts she can check the baby’s weight or consult with an experienced counselor.
- All babies have a schedule–it just might not be your schedule, at first. But by two or three weeks most breastfed babies nurse infrequently during the morning, “cluster feed” during the afternoon or evening, then sleep their longest stretch at night, for about 3-5 hours.
- Pacifiers. Many breastfeeding mothers find pacifiers useful at times (once breastfeeding is established after a few weeks), but they are not a necessity and overuse can interfere with milk supply. Pacifiers were popularized for bottle-fed babies to continue to suck after the bottle has been emptied.
- No pain, gain. Breastfeeding is not supposed to hurt. Pain, especially throughout the feeding, may be a sign that the baby is not latched on correctly, and often accompanies poor weight gain. Breastfeeding is meant to be enjoyable, and all pain that does not improve rapidly should be evaluated by a qualified breastfeeding counselor.
- Weaning. Nursing is more than just food, and the breastfeeding relationship can continue for months and years after the baby eats solids and drinks from a cup. Babies who nurse on cue and begin solids gradually from the age of six months continue to get most of their calories from breast milk until about twelve months of age. They continue to receive calories, nutrients and antibodies for as long as they nurse.
- Size doesn’t matter. Big babies, small breasts, twins–it doesn’t matter. Except in rare cases almost all mothers can produce enough milk for their babies, and there are many ways to jump-start a questionable supply.
After feeding my friend’s bottle-fed baby recently, I realized that I’m guilty of my own misperceptions. When I tried to lay him down in his crib he continued to fuss until I picked him up again. I always thought that only breastfed babies did this, because mine did and I get calls about it all the time.
Now I know that fussiness between feedings is universal–it just takes longer for breastfeeding mothers to feel confident that their babies are eating well.
For more great reads by this author Hannah Katsman, on breastfeeding your baby, please see the following articles:
Breastfeeding and Judaism: Why Moses’ Mother Didn’t Put Bottles into the Ark of Bulrushes
Why Baby’s First Gift Shouldn’t Be Formula From the Hospital