By Anjana Motihar Chandra for Health Xchange, with expert input from the Division of Nursing and Lactation Clinic, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group
“Breast is best”, new mothers are told, and they are encouraged to breastfeed their newborn baby as long as possible. Breastfeeding is not only considered highly beneficial for a baby’s growth and development – it has numerous advantages for the mother’s health, too.
But this highly recommended practice is surrounded by myths such as: “Many women don’t produce enough milk” or “It is not safe to breastfeed if you are sick”. Ms Cynthia Pang, Assistant Director of Nursing and Senior Lactation Consultant at the Lactation Clinic, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group, dispels some of these false notions about breastfeeding and presents the facts.
Myth 1: Many women do not produce enough milk.
Fact: A woman normally does not have a lot of milk supply in the first few days after her baby’s birth. This first milk is called colostrum and the baby must be well latched on in order to get it. However, supply soon increases and the majority of women produce more than enough milk to feed their babies.
Myth 2: A breastfeeding woman has to drink lots of water and eat 500 calories more than usual in order to make enough milk.
Fact: A breastfeeding woman should drink water according to her thirst; she does not have to compulsorily consume a certain number of glasses per day. Likewise, provided she has a balanced diet, the number of calories should be dictated by her appetite. Some women do eat more when they breastfeed, but others do not, without any harm done to the mother or baby or the milk supply.
Myth 3: It is normal for breastfeeding to hurt.
Fact: Mild tenderness during the first few days of breastfeeding is common. Any pain that is more than mild is abnormal and is almost always due to the baby latching on poorly. If nipple pain does not get better by day three or four, or lasts beyond five or six days, you should seek a doctor’s or lactation consultant’s advice. A new onset of pain after a period of normal breastfeeding may be due to a yeast infection of the nipples and requires treatment.
Myth 4: If the mother is taking medicine or has an infection she should stop breastfeeding.
Fact: As a small amount of the medicine will appear in the breast milk, always let your doctor know that you are breastfeeding so you can be prescribed a breastfeeding-friendly medicine. A mother who breastfeeds while having an infection will actually protect the baby because of the antibodies she will be feeding the baby. When you fall sick, your body produces antibodies to counter the germs; these antibodies find their way to the baby through breast milk. Therefore the baby’s best protection against getting the infection is for the mother to continue breastfeeding. If the baby does get sick, he or she will be less sick because of the antibodies.
Myth 5: There is no way to know that your baby is getting enough breast milk.
Fact: You know your baby is getting enough milk if the baby drinks at the breast for several minutes at each feeding with a rhythmic jaw movement. Swallowing of the milk can be seen or heard. Another way to tell that your baby is getting sufficient milk is to check for wet and soiled nappies. If this is a constant occurrence, and your baby appears bright-eyed and alert and seems to be putting on weight, he or she is being well fed.
Myth 6: If babies feed every two to three hours, they aren’t getting enough milk.
Fact: It’s normal for breast-fed babies to want a feed every two to three hours even though they have had a full feed. This is because breast milk is easy to digest. A breast-fed baby gets hungry sooner than a formula-fed baby for this reason.
Myth 7: Skipping a day feed will ensure more milk for the night feed.
Fact: The more you breastfeed, the more supply you will have. Breaking your regular breastfeeding schedule may reduce your milk supply. The only sure way to have a steady supply of breast milk is to regularly feed your baby or express the milk.
Myth 8: Breast milk does not contain enough iron for the baby’s needs.
Fact: Breast milk contains enough iron and other nutrients for the baby’s needs for the first six months after birth. After six months, the baby should get iron from semi-solid and solid food. The World Health Organization (WHO) says: “Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants. It gives infants all the nutrients they need for healthy development.”
Myth 9: A mother should wash her nipples before feeding her baby.
Fact: Washing the nipples before each feed is not only unnecessary but has a negative outcome since it removes the natural protective oils from the mother’s breast. These oils cleanse, lubricate and protect the nipples against germs and bacteria in the environment.
Reproduced with permission from SingHealth’s Health Xchange, Singapore’s first interactive health and lifestyle resource portal. For more information, visit www.healthxchange.com.sg.