By Kimberly Hampton, RN, IBCLC

We are privileged to live in an era of information, research, and support. Science tells us that breast milk is the best food for babies, and more and more mothers are initiating breastfeeding. That is great news for babies and mothers alike, since both benefit from breastfeeding. Unfortunately, over the years as breastfeeding rates have risen, breastfeeding myths seem to linger on. Well meaning friends and family may offer advice, and sometimes that means planting seeds of doubt when it comes to breastfeeding. What are some of the most common myths?

Breastfeeding makes it hard to tell how much milk baby gets.

Nature gives us two wonderful signs that a breastfed baby is getting enough milk – swallowing and stools. When a breastfed baby swallows, it sounds a lot like a whispered “keh” sound. Some babies are quiet and some babies are loud when they swallow, but rest assured, you will hear it. You will also see slower, wider jaw movements when baby begins to swallow. Watch and listen for at least 10 minutes of swallowing during feedings. Newborn stools should be frequent after day 5 of life, and most babies who are getting enough milk will have between 4-8 stools per day during the first couple of months.

Never wake a sleeping baby.

Newborn babies can be very sleepy in the first few weeks of life. This can make it difficult to watch for feeding cues, because there will be times when baby will be sleeping contentedly at feeding time. This is particularly true when a baby is swaddled and being held. Newborns need to wake to nurse about every 2-3 hours, with no less than 8 feedings in 24 hours. Some tricks that help wake baby up are dimming the lights, undressing except for a diaper, and simply lying baby down unswaddled to move about and wake himself up. Once baby is gaining weight and growing, it’s okay to follow his lead when it comes to feedings. Keep in mind that a breastfed baby’s feeding pattern varies greatly from a formula fed baby’s pattern. Breast milk digests quickly, which makes more frequent feedings necessary.  

Feedings should be spaced out so breasts have time to fill up. 

When a mother is lactating, her breasts are constantly making milk. However, when feedings frequent, milk production speeds up. The longer milk remains in the breast, the slower milk production will be. Infrequent milk removal actually hinders milk supply, so it’s important to allow baby to nurse often or use a breast pump frequently when separated from baby.

The amount of milk pumped is the amount that is available for baby.

Babies are much more efficient than breast pumps. The skin-to-skin contact with baby paired with a good latch allows more milk to be removed from the breast than a pump could remove. It is common for a mother to have a more difficult time with milk let-down when pumping, and some mothers may need practice to get more milk with the pump. The amount mothers pump can range from 1/2 ounce to 4 oz. Pumping output does not indicate low supply. The more important way to measure milk production is weight gain, urine output, and stools.

The baby is using mom as a pacifier.

Babies nurse for food, but they also have a strong biological need to suck and be close to mom. When a baby begins to nurse, he will do short, chopping sucking with little swallowing. This sends a signal to mom’s brain to cause the milk-ejection reflex, or letdown. The baby begins to swallow rhythmically and this is when he receives his “first course.” As the baby continues to nurse, the sucking changes again to short, fluttery sucks. Swallowing sounds decrease, although they are still heard occasionally. Then, as baby is allowed to continue to suckle, an amazing thing happens. Once again, mom’s brain is signaled to release another milk letdown, and baby begins to take some bigger gulps again. The longer baby nurses, the higher the fat content of the milk. Soon all of the cluster-feeding sessions baby has pays off, and all of the newborn clothes are soon outgrown as baby grows and thrives.

Learning the ropes of breastfeeding takes time, but with knowledge and a good support team, mothers can meet their breastfeeding goals. Over time, breastfeeding becomes second nature as mom and baby bond day after day.